Duke-UVA-Vanderbilt Partnership for Less Commonly Taught Languages

Image of several word bubbles, perhaps a visual metaphor for multiple languages

Shared Course Initiative

Duke University, the University of Virginia, and Vanderbilt University are partnering to offer courses in languages not often taught in the Western academic curriculum through a shared course initiative. Classes are taught to students on all three campuses through high quality video conferencing and telepresence classrooms. These are regular, face-to-face classes (not “online” courses) in which students in one classroom interact with students in classrooms at the respective partner schools, during the same class period. These courses will be offered at the elementary, intermediate, and in some cases advanced levels, and will also count towards the foreign language requirement at each university.

Currently, each university is offering one language, although we hope to be able to offer more languages in the future. Duke is offering Haitian Creole, the University of Virginia is offering Tibetan, and Vanderbilt University is offering K’iche’ Maya. The first (Elementary I) and third (Intermediate I) semester of each language will be offered every fall, and the second (Elementary II) and fourth (Intermediate II) semester courses will be offered every spring. In these classes, students learn to speak the language, and study it in its cultural as well as historical contexts. They are open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole, often called simply Creole or Kreyōl, is a language based largely on 18th Century French, some African languages, as well as languages, such as Arawak, English, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, Spanish, and Taino. It is spoken by 10 – 12 million people, in Haiti, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Ivory Coast, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, parts of the United States, and Venezuela.

Fall 2019 Courses 

CREOLE 101 / 701 (Elementary Creole I) MWF 3:05 – 4:05 pm

An introduction to the essential elements of Haitian Creole or Kreyòl language and aspects of Haitian culture. The first of the two-semester sequence of elementary Haitian Creole or Kreyòl, the course provides practice in understanding, speaking, reading, and writing the language, culturally contextualized through units on health care, Haitian women¿s rights issues, and unpaid child servants (restavèk). Students will acquire enough vocabulary and idioms to be able to interact with Haitians. Taught in Haitian Creole. No pre-requisite

CREOLE 203 / 703 (Intermediate Creole I) MWF 1:40 – 2:40 pm

First semester of intermediate Haitian Creole or Kreyol. This course moves beyond survival skills in Creole to more complex social interactions and expressions of analysis and opinion. Intermediate skills in understanding, speaking, writing, reading will be contextualized within a broad range of issues such as rural life in Haiti, religion, frenchified Creole vs popular Creole, through texts, poems, and excerpts taken from novels in Haitian Creole. Students will learn to carefully follow contemporary events and debates in Haitian culture using internet resources in Creole. Pre-requisite: Creole 102 or equivalent. Taught in Haitian Creole.


Tibetan is the language of a vast region at the heart of Asia and is used in China, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, India, Russia, and Mongolia. In addition, Tibet is home to Tibetan Buddhism, which is itself the source of one of the worlds' richest contemplative traditions. Learning Tibetan gives students the ability to explore this uniquely rich and diverse culture in today’s Asia, as well as learn about Buddhist philosophy, contemplation, and other forms of knowledge.

Fall 2019 Courses 

TIBETAN 101 / 701 (Elementary Tibetan I) MTWTh 11:00 – 11:50

Introductory Tibetan language course for students who have little to no knowledge of Tibetan. Development of speaking, listening, reading, writing skills through Tibetan concepts, grammar and syntax of spoken and written Tibetan. Topics include situations of everyday life (e.g. greetings, introductions, family, habits/hobbies, making appointments, food, visiting friends, weather, shopping, etc.) as well as aspects of Tibetan people and culture (e.g. songs, short stories, etc.). Course taught at University of Virginia; Duke students participate through Zoom virtual classroom.

TIBETAN 203 / 703 (Intermediate Tibetan I) MTWTh 12:00 – 12:50

Intermediate skill-building in the grammar and syntax of spoken and written Tibetan, along with development of skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing through the integrated use of spoken and literary forms. Students will also enhance their knowledge of Tibetan culture in order to improve their communication skills. Course taught at University of Virginia; Duke students participate through Zoom virtual classroom. Pre-Requisite: TIBETAN 102 Elementary Tibetan II or equivalent.

TIBETAN 301 (Advanced Tibetan I)  T Th F 1:00 - 1:50

A continuation of the Intermediate Tibetan language sequence, focusing on advanced grammar, syntax, and structures. Emphasis is laid on mastering comprehension and communication in colloquial Tibetan, writing skills in the various scripts of literary Tibetan, and integrating comprehension of colloquial and literary forms. Course taught at University of Virginia; Duke students participate through Zoom virtual classroom. Prerequisite: Tibetan 204 or equivalent.

K’iche' Maya

K’iche’ Maya is one of the most common indigenous languages in Latin America, spoken by about 1 million Maya in the western Highlands of Guatemala, the heartland of Maya culture. K’iche’ is the language of the Popol Wuj, the sacred book of the Maya, which dates to the 16th century.  Because of the precarious status of minority languages in Latin America, these classes might also appeal to students interested in issues of language maintenance in a globalized world, language planning, multilingualism, language diversity, and linguistic human rights.

Fall 2019 Courses 

KICHE 101 / 701 (Elementary K’iche’ I) T Th 4:00 – 5:15  pm

Introduction to essential elements of K'iche' Maya language and aspects of Maya culture. K'iche' Maya, a language spoken by about a million people in the western Highlands of Guatemala, is one of the major indigenous languages in the Americas. Emphasis on active language production to develop basic conversational skills for everyday interactions. Course taught at Vanderbilt University; Duke students participate through video conference and/or telepresence classroom. No pre-requisite.

KICHE 203 / 703 (Intermediate K'iche' I) T Th 2:00 - 3:15 pm

Develops greater competencies in writing in K’iche’ and translation to/from K’iche’. Covers more advanced grammar (verb modalities) and broader range of scripts (colonial vs. modern orthography). Research conducted in K'iche' using the Oral History archive at the University of New Mexico (http://laii.unm.edu/kiche.html). Students select a story from the online archive, listen to audio, correct transcription, rewrite it in modern orthography and translate it into contemporary English to present to classmates. Taught at Vanderbilt University; Duke students participate through video conference/telepresence classroom. Prerequisite: K’iche’ Maya 102 or equivalent. Instructor: Staff