Pi Delta Phi promotes language immersion

Alex Brito fixes the EEG brain cap onto a research participant’s head. The cap resembles a swim cap, but the research focus is not based on immersion in water, but it is based on language immersion.

Brito, a University of Tennessee senior in the College Scholars Program, struggled to find a balance between her interests her freshman year.

“When I came to campus, I was interested in neuroscience and French, and I wanted to bridge the two,” Brito said.

According to a study by Natixis, French is on track to become the most widely spoken language by 2050. French is already an official language of the Olympic Games and of the United Nations.

Brito found a way to connect to French through Pi Delta Phi, the only collegiate French national honor society. She then met language learners who enabled her to begin neurology research on language immersion.

Brito primarily examines how study abroad impacts neuro-processing in language learners.

Alex In Lab
Alex Brito tries on an EEG cap before conducting language signatures in the brain. Brito’s research focuses on language immersion and processing. Photo: Alex Brito/Instagram

“Their wave forms that are elicited when they’re reading French sentences actually look like native speakers whereas the people who have learned in the classroom, even though they have sort of equal proficiency, equal abilities in French, they don’t elicit these same native-like features,” Brito said.

“I think the research I’m doing does have implications as far as how we teach foreign language learning and how we can incorporate more immersion-like experiences into students’ college curriculum” Brito said.

Brito believes immersion events, like those hosted by Pi Delta Phi, will help students’ studies and better prepare them for the future.

Pi Delta Phi operates nearly 400 chapters worldwide to encourage student contributions to the francophone world and the world at large through scholarships and immersion opportunities.

Map Screenshot
To view all Pi Delta Phi locations, click here. Data: Pi Delta Phi

The Alpha Gamma chapter, established in 1949, serves the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. French students enrolled in a French course numbered 300 or higher with at least a 3.0 GPA qualify as regular members.

However, Pi Delta Phi initiatives extend acrPDP Logo Updatedoss all majors offering various French immersion experiences.

Pi Delta Phi hosts several annual immersion events including French Connections Week which provides insight to France and French culture.

French Connections Week 2017 kicked off Monday, March 27 with a “Taste of France” on Pedestrian Walkway. Pi Delta Phi gave away cheeses, baguettes, grapes and drinks. A map of France explaining the origins of the various cheeses stood near the table.

PDP Cheese
Pi Delta Phi President Alex Brito and Historian Josh Deepan serve cheeses and juice to students on Pedestrian Walkway March 27, 2017. The cheese tasting kicked off French Connections Week. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250

Events continued Tuesday with “Monde du Travail” or “The World of Work” allowing students to connect with francophone professionals in the Knoxville and Oak Ridge communities. Students practiced their skills while making business contacts.

Vice President Sarah Kirk, an accounting major, intends to work in an international accounting firm in the future.

“My goal is to work for one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms,” Kirk said. “They have offices all over the world, and they have a lot of clients in France. I could travel and live there while serving clients.”

Most events allowed for non-francophones to participate in the fun, but a museum visit to the Knoxville Museum of Art encouraged language practice.

French-speaking docent Saralee Peccolo-Taylor led students around the museum to explore works inspired by or painted by individuals abroad.

Saralee Peccolo-Taylor gives a brief history of a French-inspired painting from East Tennessee April 1, 2017 during French Connections Week. The museum visit conducted in French allowed language learners to practice. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250

Pi Delta Phi hopes to continue immersion experiences to aid future students for years to come, especially as French continues to infiltrate daily life across the globe.


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