Creating UHCL's Foreign Language and English Enhancement Programs

As we approach the next academic year, it is a great opportunity for me to tell you about the Foreign Language Program at University of Houston-Clear Lake. You see, we are just completing our twentieth anniversary of service to the Clear Lake area, and it has been an eventful twenty years.

Back in August 1985, we started a small program with three French classes, offered on a non-credit basis to anyone with a desire to learn. The theory was that adult learners in a small comfortable environment would learn better, and have fun at the same time. Somewhere along the way that first year a new slogan was born: “Learning a Foreign Language at UH-CL is Fun!” It was true then and it is still true now. And why not? Learning should always be fun!

Those three French classes were a great success and word spread to JSC about the possibility of doing non-credit language programming. At that time in the late 1980’s, some visionary folks at NASA realized that they would one day be working closely with Russian colleagues. Speaking to them in their own language would be a tremendous asset in building a productive working relationship. So our second program in Russian was implemented initially onsite, and shortly moved to Regent’s Park to accommodate the community, and by 1989, all Russian classes were held at UHCL.

In the next few years German, Spanish and English Enhancement were added to the already growing list of classes. It may seem unusual that German was offered before Spanish. At that time, there were numerous people in Clear Lake who had worked closely with the rocket scientists in Huntsville, Alabama. I recall enrolling them in our program and learning of their earlier exposure to German. Those were interesting stories!

English Enhancement was originally created to help non-native English speakers at JSC to communicate more effectively in the workplace. Soon after, our program was asked to provide English training to the first Russian cosmonauts who came to JSC to prepare for STS 60 and 63. This was a really exciting time for me personally, as I was on the training crew for these two flights, and was able to learn about space flight and Russian culture, while helping the cosmonauts to improve their English skills. To say that the Foreign Language Program at UH-CL touched history at that time would be an understatement.

Spanish quickly became our most popular language and it comprises at least half of our student body each session. With the demographics changing so rapidly, we are seeing increased interest in learning Spanish everywhere, from Hispanic students who were not encouraged to speak Spanish as kids, to business travelers, as well as those who are avid soccer fans and salsa dancers!

The Asian languages have been included as well, with both Japanese and Mandarin Chinese offered since 1994. In addition, we have occasionally offered Vietnamese on demand. In recent years, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, and American Sign Language have joined our family of languages, and have drawn more enthusiastic learners on campus for the first time.

And who are our students, who keep coming back session after session, some for over ten years? Our students represent all ages and educational backgrounds. What they have in common is a desire to learn to speak another language and to learn about another culture without the pressure of final exams. They achieve their goals at UH-CL, while meeting similarly-motivated students.

Some of my fondest memories of our first twenty are those of students who worked together on their homework, and developed life-long friendships at the same time…about the students who were planning to adopt a Russian or Chinese infant…or the mother who wanted to talk to her new Mexican in-laws…or the girl who was preparing to go into the Peace Corps in Africa…and of course there was the young couple in my class who met, fell in love and eventually married! It does not get any better than this!

Our next session will begin soon. If you would like to join thousands of other Clear Lake residents in learning a new language, please call me at 281-283-3033, email me at paul@uhcl.edu. I would love to meet you and include you in the best Foreign Language Program anywhere. Remember: Learning a Foreign Language at UHCL is Fun!

Videos on Youtube: 

Language Classes for Professionals -- Learn a different language!

Language Classes for Professionals -- Enhance your English communication skills!