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Harvard University to offer Tagalog course for the first time in its nearly 400-year history

By Brooke Villanueva Published Mar 28, 2023 12:03 pm

Harvard University is set to offer a course on the Filipino language for the first time ever. 

According to a March 24 report by student publication The Harvard Crimson, the Department of South Asian Studies will hire three preceptors to teach Tagalog on top of Bahasa Indonesian and Thai for course offerings that would begin in the 2023-2024 academic year. 

In a statement, executive director Elizabeth K. Liao expressed her hope that these positions “will be a game-changer in terms of the Asia Center’s long-term mission to build Southeast Asian studies at Harvard, as well as the university’s engagement with the region.”

James Robson, East Asian Languages and Civilizations professor and Asia Center director, said that the administration “was able to get one million dollars from the Asia Center’s budget to fund the Tagalog preceptor position.” He, however, added that “funding the position after three years would be ‘probably not entirely sustainable.’” 

According to Robson, the Asia Center is looking to boost awareness of Southeast Asia at Harvard.

“What I’m hoping is that if we can demonstrate that there’s demand for these languages and students show up and are excited about it, then hopefully we can also use this to convince the administration to further support Southeast Asian studies generally and language instruction in particular,” he said.

Eleanor V. Wikstrom ’24, co-president of the Harvard Philippine Forum and a Crimson Editorial chair, revealed it has long been their goal for Tagalog to be included in the institution’s list of courses. 

“We’re working against a historical memory that is actively erasing the understanding of the importance of the Filipino-American relationship,” Wikstrom said. 

Tagalog is the fourth most spoken language in the United States, The Harvard Crimson stated in its report. 

Interested applicants in the university’s preceptor position for the Tagalog course may know more about the job and apply here.