Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.
Why choose Georgian? I have wanted to learn Georgian and the other languages of the Caucasus countries since I was an undergraduate studying the area as part of my major but had never found the opportunity to do so. Then five years ago I had the opportunity to study Armenian in Armenia. I would be so close I knew I must visit Georgia while I was there. I took a weekend trip to Sighnaghi in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. Traveling through Georgia reinforced my desire to learn the language. I again travelled to Georgia on two subsequent trips to Armenia and explored Tbilisi and spent more time with Georgians. I knew I had to learn Georgian, but how?
I didn’t have plans to study abroad this summer so when American Councils moved their Georgian program online it was the perfect opportunity. I knew it wouldn’t be the same as an actual classroom or in country experience, yet nevertheless it has helped me progress in my Georgian proficiency. Many thanks to the instructors, I can now read the Georgian alphabet and can figure out words much more quickly than when I tried studying on my own. After only four weeks I can greet people, talk about my family, talk about personal interests and describe basic wants and needs.
This isn’t to say there aren’t pitfalls to learning a language online. There is of course the obvious time difference, but that has turned out to be a minor issue. Learning correct pronunciation of words has been difficult in the online format. Sometimes it is hard to hear certain sounds and therefore I am sometimes left wondering if I said a word correctly. Using an online textbook has its challenges too. We can’t write in the textbook for example. And homework is typed instead of written which in my opinion doesn’t help with memorizing new words. It is also difficult to find online resources for Georgian language study and it is not possible to immerse oneself in the Georgian language and culture.
The American Councils instructors have been adept at handling these challenges. They repeat words to help us with pronunciation and have us repeat them to help us memorize them. The textbook is used as a basis of instruction and the instructors bring in outside materials to supplement our learning. They have also introduced cultural information to our language lessons. We have learned a famous children’s poem, “The Goat and The Vineyard” to help us learn past tense. When anyone in the class has questions about the language the instructors are happy to provide an in-depth answer.
The American Councils program goes beyond the online program. My online language partner has proven invaluable in reinforcing vocabulary and boosting my speaking and listening abilities by talking about everyday activities. Having the chance to put into practice what I learn in the classroom has been extremely important given the fact that we are not studying in Georgia.
Cultural activities provided by American Councils have been very informative. Online excursions have included tours of Tbilisi, Georgian foods and Georgian musical instruments. My favorite was the food presentation despite not being able to have any! I’ve been craving Khinkhali ever since! The tour of Tbilisi was fantastic as I saw parts of the city I didn’t see when I was there and others that I did. I also learned several new facts about the city. Of course it also made me want to return for another visit!
I am only halfway through the program and do not want to see it end. My classmates and I have helped each other and have become friends along the way. We discuss what we learned and share our knowledge about Georgian outside of class. It has been a pleasure to study with others devoted to learning Georgian. I hope next year we will all be able to study in Tbilisi!
By: Wayne Seifried
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Summer 2020