Tongues Untied

Photo: Dhuss

New at Stanford this academic year: Nahuatl. That’s an indigenous language used in Mexico and Central America, and it has joined a course list that includes Cherokee, Georgian, Quechua, Sanskrit, Kazakh, Hawaiian and Tagalog.

All are taught through the Special Language Program, which tries to fulfill student needs and requests even if it means holding a class for just one person. That’s the case with Georgian, back after a long absence because of an archaeology student’s work in Eastern Europe. Quechua, a language of the Central Andes, was added because of a medical student’s research on altitude disease at Machu Picchu (above), the high-mountain remnant of Inca civilization in Peru.

Sometimes the instructors aren’t local and conduct a course through videoconferencing. It’s up to program coordinator Eva Prionas, MA ’76, PhD ’81, to find them where she can. “I’m the talent agent,” she says, smiling. “It’s not easy.”

When a language is made available—the program is providing 21 for 2015-2016—it’s offered in three-quarter sequences for three years, with each year representing another level of proficiency. Students can use these courses to fulfill the university foreign-language requirement.