The Diagora Project at SDSU-LARC

The Language Acquisition Resource Center at San Diego State University (SDSU-LARC) has embarked on a new, multi-year project. The project name Diagora is a combination of the Greek prefix dia-, which is like the Latin inter- and means through or between, and agora, a public gathering space in ancient Greece.

The goals of Diagora are

  • the creation of a language-and-culture learning space for intensive, iso-immersive courses,
  • the design and implementation of effective, sustainable language-and-culture courses for U.S. government personnel from across the nation, high school students from SoCal, and minority language communities, and
  • the professional development of community language teachers in less commonly taught, heritage, and Indigenous languages.

At the core of the Diagora project, the Language Hub is an on-campus venue that comprises technology-rich training rooms, resource and administration space, and—most importantly for the immersive nature of all courses—residential space for course participants, students, and their instructors. As an iso-immersive learning environment, the Language Hub immerses participants in the target language and culture here in San Diego for the duration of the course, as they would be in a study abroad setting, for example. The short, intensive courses consist of five or seven full training days per week for two to five weeks, educational and cultural encounters with speakers of the target language, excursions to local cultural and business venues where this language is spoken, and visits with host families. Each course is tailored to the specific group of participants and taught by specially trained community language teachers.

Over the years, SDSU-LARC with its pool of about 100 contractual instructors has developed expertise and accumulated experience in iso-immersive language-and-culture training for students and professional development for world language teachers in the context of its federally funded projects:

  • Iso-immersive language training courses for active-duty military in languages such as Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Pashto, Persian, Russian, and Spanish
  • Language summer camps for high school students in less commonly taught languages, currently in Chinese, Persian, and Russian
  • Intensive summer language courses for ROTC students from universities nationwide, currently in Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, and Chinese
  • Tailored, intensive training courses in more than 20 critical languages for active-duty military
  • Intensive summer training courses for community language teachers
  • Professional development workshops and courses for world language teachers.

Diagora consists of seven sub-projects that focus on four interconnected areas: building infrastructure, language-and-culture training, language teacher professional development, and language-learning technology.

1. Language Hub

  • SDSU-LARC has been upgrading its technology-rich Language Space and its training rooms in Storm Hall and at Alvarado.
  • We propose a public-private partnership for a venue/building that will include technology-rich training rooms, office space, resource room(s), a communal kitchen and cafeteria space, and residential space for participants and their instructors.

2. Language Immersion

  • SDSU-LARC has run iso-immersive language training courses for students from the Defense Language Institute. These 13-full-day courses include standard training sessions, guest lectures and discussions, structured, individual conversation sessions (interviews) with first-language speakers, and excursions and host family visits. Students stay (at a high cost) in local hotels.
  • We propose relocating these training courses to the Language Hub, which would also allow us to offer additional courses geared toward non-US-military groups, and to further improve the quality and the language proficiency outcomes of our iso-immersive courses.

3. Language Camps

  • SDSU-LARC has been offering STARTALK summer camps with pre-camp and post-camp phases (overall duration 12 months) for high school students.
  • We propose additional camps for high school students in languages that cannot be offered through STARTALK but for which there is a need in the community and in the country.

4. Language Professionalization

  • SDSU-LARC has a strong track record of collaborating with the federally funded Center for International Business Education and Research, the International Business program at the College of Arts & Letters, and its language departments.
  • We propose to expand our portfolio of intensive training courses. In these courses, professionals, entrepreneurs, and scientists who are heritage speakers of a minority language such as Spanish and Chinese can reach professional language proficiency in their field of expertise, both in speaking and writing.

5. Language Revitalization

  • SDSU-LARC has considerable expertise in less commonly taught, heritage, and minority languages and in the training and professional development of community language teachers.
  • We propose to collaborate with Indigenous communities, their organizations, and educational institutions to support their efforts in language education and language revitalization through offering intensive teacher development courses, which include advanced language training.

6. DiaConnect

  • SDSU-LARC has been offering language proficiency-oriented language training courses online. Recently, we have purchased the Sanako Connect language lab solution, which we adapted as DiaConnect.
  • We propose to expand our portfolio of intensive language training courses online, by incorporating this innovative web-based learning solution, which enables the teacher to foster authentic speaking opportunities fully online, hybrid (part of the course — on campus, part — online), and hyflex (part of the group — in the training room, part — online). This broadens access to the courses in our Language Camps, Language Professionalization, and Language Revitalization subprojects, without impeding their quality.

7. Augmented Reality

  • SDSU-LARC has been using a wide variety of learning technologies in its language training courses. Over the years, we have broadened the set of classroom and extramural activities in our iso-immersive language courses with a particular focus on their learning affordances.
  • We propose to use augmented reality tools in these activities to make these cultural and linguistic experiences a richer educational experience.

SDSU-LARC has an excellent track record of securing external funding ($15M in the last 5 years alone). We intend to leverage this capacity to finance the seven Diagora subprojects in several ways:

  • Public-private partnerships for the Language Hub, for example with a hotel company
  • Continued federal grants and government contracts for running training courses
  • New federal grants for, especially, the Language Revitalization subproject
  • Continued state funding for language teacher professional development
  • Private and community fundraising for, especially, the Language Camps
  • Private fundraising for the Language Hub
  • Industry collaboration for language-learning technologies.