Bowdoin opens language lab to TV from all over the world

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV's glasnost has found its way to the small, snow-covered campus of Bowdoin College. The Soviet leader's much-heralded policy of ``openness'' is under daily scrutiny here - as are Italian fashion shows, Mexican soap operas, East German Communist Party speeches, and Ecuadorean cartoon shows.

The addition of a couple of satellite dishes and a score of television monitors has opened the college's once-outdated language lab to a world of foreign-language programming. In the process, the lab has been turned into an up-to-date resource for language and government students, and their instructors.

Carmen Greenlee, director of the college's language media center, says that ``the college knew that it had to do something to beef up language study.'' So when the means became available, it chose to include video as well as the traditional audio equipment. ``The visual component is so important to teaching language and culture,'' Mrs. Greenlee says.

Bowdoin is not the only college with such satellite facilities. Harvard, Columbia, and other large colleges and universities are turning to the heavens for foreign-language programming. But, according to Greenlee, the price of this technology has fallen so sharply that such systems are now available to small colleges like Bowdoin and even to some prep schools.

Greenlee had $130,000 to work with, a grant from the Pew Memorial Trust. The pair of satellite dishes and the receiver cost $16,000. The rest of the money went into renovating the lab, buying sophisticated tape recorders, videocassette recorders, a short-wave radio, a foreign-language film library, and other equipment.

Bowdoin students still have the option of sitting down at a tape recorder and working on pronunciation and comprehension in the language lab. But they may just as easily take a videotape of a German movie, put it in a VCR, and have a private showing.

And the new resource is being put to use.

Every day at 1 p.m., Russian and government students, and professors gather around a television set in the basement of Sills Hall to tune in `Vremya,' the Soviet evening news.

Greenlee observes that, ``it's not that people are down here all the time. But it's a resource, and people are using it.'' The college has about 1,400 students; about 250 are enrolled in language courses.

Jane Knox, chairman of Bowdoin's Russian department, recently returned from a sabbatical year in Moscow. She says she appreciates the opportunity to continue watching the Soviet newscasts now that she is back in the United States. Professor Knox says she has not formally integrated the Soviet news into her classes, but she does require her advanced students to watch it once a week.

One of her students, senior Theo Junkins, says he finds it helpful not only to hear the language, but also to see how the Soviet news is presented.

Eugene Huskey, a professor of government who teaches a Soviet seminar, is using `Veremya' in his course. Every Friday his students gather around the set to watch the program and listen to his translation of the broadcast.

``The students see how the Soviets look at the world, what information they are exposed to,'' he says. ``They get a very good sense of the Soviet state mentality.''

And what of glasnost? Have there been noticeable changes in the Soviet newscasts in response to Mr. Gorbachev's policies?

Greenlee, who does not speak Russian, says she has seen dramatic changes in `Veremya' in the past six months. Last year, she says, the program featured nothing but Soviet announcers reading the news. Now, it includes graphics, weather maps, reports and film footage from foreign correspondents, and reports from Soviet satellite states.

Knox agrees that `Veremya' has changed in recent months. ``Formerly, they would not have shown footage of the problems,'' she says. But the words ``discipline'' and ``reconstruction'' continue to come up again and again, just as they have for years, she says.

And Greenlee, who does not have a television set in her home but spends much of her day turning dials and recording programs, says, ``it's amazing that sitting here in Brunswick, Maine, we can watch it all happen.''

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