Multilingual Curriculum Project translates university courses into other languages

Sonia Colina

Sonia Colina, director of the National Center for Interpretation and a Regents Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

College of Humanities


When students in Gabriela Valdez's Community Health Education for Disease Outbreaks began this week, they became the first group of University of Arizona students to take a class that's been entirely translated into Spanish through the university's Multilingual Curriculum Project.

Gabriela Valdez

Gabriela Valdez, director of Global Health Programs MEZCOPH Global Education at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

The public health course is the pilot for the Multilingual Curriculum Project, with the university’s National Center for Interpretation translating the existing course content – originally developed by public health lecturer Adaeze Oguegbu – from English to Spanish. Through the project, future courses – both on-campus and online – could be translated into an array of languages, with plans already underway for a different course in Mandarin.

"The idea behind all of this is to first create a process by which we can translate courses and offer colleges and departments the possibility of creating multilingual courses with the same course content they already have," said Sonia Colina, director of the National Center for Interpretation in the College of Humanities. "NCI does the translation and we have a subject-matter expert also review the content from that perspective."

With support from the Office of the Provost and the deans of the College of Humanities and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, the National Center for Interpretation selected the public health class for the pilot.

"By offering courses in various languages, we seek to advance the university's goal of expanding access to education, not only on campus but also globally," said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Liesl Folks. "This is an exciting step that supports the needs of diverse communities of learners, and does so by leveraging the remarkable academic standing and strengths of our NCI team."

"Public health is an ideal area for this pilot because it's a college with one of the highest proportions of Hispanic students overall at the university, and the college has a lot of connections to the community and with Mexico," Colina said.

Valdez, a native Spanish speaker, is an assistant professor of practice and the director of Global Health Programs and Global Education for the College of Public Health. The three-unit course on Community Health Education for Disease Outbreaks is taught online over seven-and-a-half weeks. The course was a good fit for the Multilingual Curriculum Project because it covers a wide range of topics related to public health and is a general education course open to undergraduates from any major, she said.

"The overall expectation in this course is that students will be equipped with the public health knowledge necessary for selecting, developing, creating and implementing community and public health education strategies. In addition, thanks to the language component of this course, students will be able to successfully do this within multilingual and multicultural settings," she said.

Valdez, who was selected for the university's HSI Fellows Program in 2021, said offering courses in Spanish is a way to show the commitment the University of Arizona has to the rich multilingual Latinx community on campus and throughout the state.

"Creating spaces where students have the opportunity to further develop their Spanish language skills and learn how to successfully navigate multicultural settings within the field of public health is very important as we educate the next generation of public health professionals," she said.

In addition to the pilot course, the National Center for Interpretation is working on collaborations with Arizona International to provide quality assessment of Mandarin translations from an outside vendor for the School of Information's master’s in information science degree program. That sort of quality assessment is an important aspect of the project, Colina said.

"Other universities have introduced translated classes but have contracted with language service agencies for the translation. Language service agencies won't have the academic-level quality control or necessary consistency," Colina said. "NCI is the only university language service unit doing these programs, so we can offer the quality assurance and seal of approval from the University of Arizona. The idea is to expand this to other courses throughout the university and potentially other universities."

Additional conversations about the Multilingual Curriculum Project are underway with the university's General Education program and the W.A. Franke Honors College, Colina said.

Iman A. Hakim, dean of the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, said she is excited to have a public health course be the pilot for the Multilingual Curriculum Project.

"By translating our curriculum, we expand access and increase cultural awareness in our classrooms," Hakim said. "Also, as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, this first course in Spanish will reach many students who have close ties to the communities we serve with our public health programs. I look forward to working with NCI as we expand our curriculum to include more multilingual courses."

Alain-Philippe Durand, Dorrance Dean of the College of Humanities, said offering the college's longstanding language expertise to other campus units will have benefits across the university.

"The student population at the University of Arizona is increasingly diverse and increasingly multilingual. This innovation from NCI will expand the opportunities for students and create new opportunities for the university to grow and meet future demands," Durand said.

Founded in 1979, the National Center for Interpretation offers a variety of services, including interpreter training and testing in both the legal and medical fields. The center's research on training and assessment has led to new standards across the fields of translation and interpretation.

Part of the Multilingual Curriculum Project will include evaluating the effectiveness of the translated courses through student outcomes, as well as comparing student performance when courses are taught in their native language versus in English.