An inside look at the Language House: the oldest living and learning community on campus

Next to the Health Center and seconds from McKeldin Library, you can find St. Mary’s Hall, home to the University of Maryland’s oldest living and learning program, the Language House.

Language House was started in 1989 by French and Italian professor Ralph Tarica in order to create a community where students with a mutual passion for a certain language could live together.

This semester, about 97 students live in apartment-style dorms called “clusters,” which are divided into the ten different languages offered: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Russian and Spanish.

Each apartment includes a mentor and a tutor who are there to help residents with any questions they might have, such as how to pronounce a word or use proper grammar.

The language of their choice must be spoken exclusively while inside the House or at any Language House event in order for students to be fully immersed in the language and gain as much practice as possible.

Although residence at the Language House is very exclusive, several events are hosted throughout the semester that are open to the public. Open events such as Coffee Conversations and Around the World: Film Festival give a public window into the inner workings of Language House.

Coffee Conversations are held every Monday from 4-5 p.m. and anyone is welcome. The event was started to invite non-residents to come and practice the language of their choice while sipping coffee and nibbling on cookies with speakers of all levels and ages.

“Anyone can come, it’s open to the public, and all one has to do is lose one’s inhibitions and become less shy in order to start getting the language out and develop one’s skills,” Language House Assistant Director Naime Yaramanoglu says. “It is a very relaxed and informal setting, you should come with questions and be prepared to do small talk.”

Coffee Conversations was started by one of the directors of the Language House in 1999, who adapted the idea from the German saying “Kaffee klatsch,” which translates to “a casual social gathering for coffee and conversation.”

This public event started out with eight languages but now includes 12 languages under Phoenix Liu, who has been the director since 2002.

Natalie Lusardi, a sophomore double major in Spanish and government and politics, describes the environment of Coffee Conversations as “just having very casual conversations with people who really want to learn and are super willing to teach each other.”

There are always native speakers at each table and students from all different speaking levels are encouraged to come in.

“It is amazing because you are surrounded by people who love language,” Lusardi said.

Junior bioengineering major Noam Gannot has a French minor, and is currently a Hebrew mentor. She attributes her love of language to the Language House. She attends the weekly Coffee Conversations in order to practice her French even though she is a Hebrew mentor in the Language House.

She highly encourages students of any year or major to apply to the living and learning community.

“[The Language House] is not just a program with events and clubs, but a place where the people that live here are not just people you see in the hallway and give them a casual nod, but people that you care about and are here for you.”


Photo courtesy of Alicia Cherem

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