For students, Polyglot Village a virtual travel experience

2/25/2009 | By: Skyler Dillon  |

Washoe County high school and middle school foreign language students who are hoping to improve their conversational fluency will have a unique opportunity Feb. 28. The University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and the Sierra Nevada World Language Collaborative will host Polyglot Village, a program that creates a fictional, decorated village complete with shops, food, entertainment and townspeople who will only speak to students in their language of study.

French and Spanish students will gather at the Joe Crowley Student Union for a virtual travel experience. They ride a train through the countryside until they arrive at “Village Customs,” where their travel papers are checked and their passports stamped. Once through customs, students are free to stroll the avenues, visiting shops and conversing with other tourists as well as the townspeople, who are comprised of educators from the foreign languages and literatures department and the Washoe County School District along with University students. The program features lunch as well as live music and cultural performances.

“It’s a high-energy event that everyone loves,” said Dawn Overbay, the foreign languages and literatures department’s operations manager.

The event is not all fun and games, however; any student caught speaking in English instead of their target language will be “arrested” and held in jail. They can then earn a pardon by speaking or writing in their language of study. The policy encourages students to make the program an educational as well as a fun experience.

Participants who stick to the rules can learn valuable skills useful in everyday life and future travel. Students in the village will check into a hotel, mail postcards, visit shops, and make purchase, all without English. They will mingle with fellow students as well, all of whom will be wearing color-coded name tags to identify their target language.

According to Overbay, there has been an average of 1200 students at past Polyglot Village events. The numbers are down this year, but students will have a more personal, richer experience as a result.

Phrase books in each participating language are available through the Polyglot Village website to ensure that students do not get too tongue tied, and townspeople will be on hand to help students along.

“We are very appreciative of our volunteers,” said Overbay. “Without them this event would not be possible. Through their dedication, friendly attitudes and willingness, students have a wonderful time.”

To learn more about Polyglot Village, visit the Polyglot website or contact Dawn Overbay at and (775) 682-6447.


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