The daily grind of introductory level practice drills may serve a higher purpose than bleary-eyed beginning language students might think.
The Princeton University Language Project (PULP), a student-run volunteer organization, gives students the opportunity to translate documents for nonprofit organizations, helping them to hone and apply their language skills.
"I think that the coolest part of PULP is that we are involved in true civic engagement, that we are looking outward to really do work in line with [service]," Eugene Yi '08, the project's founder and president, said. "So often we get stuck, mired in academics. Our mission is to connect students to pressing issues while breaking down language barriers."
Established in 2005, PULP was inspired by Yi's extensive Chinese language study both on campus and through the Princeton in Beijing summer program. "After I finished my studies," Yi said, "I started wondering what I could do with the Chinese I learned."
At first consisting of just Yi and a few friends, PULP started off translating informative documents on HIV and AIDS for the nongovernmental organization China AIDS Info. Currently, PULP also has volunteers who can translate Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, French and Russian.
Keisuke Ishihara '10, the chief translator for Japanese projects, said, "I think Princeton students are very suited for this kind of work, because there are many students here from outside the U.S. who are native speakers of foreign languages, as well as American students who can speak foreign languages."
Ishihara said PULP's translation projects have the potential to provide beneficial services to nonprofit groups and expand student viewpoints. "There's a lot of potential to do good with PULP," he said. "I think projects like the translations for China AIDS are very interesting because people can learn about issues from a real-world perspective."
"All of our work is pro-bono," Yi said. "We have been contacted by companies who wanted us to do translations for them for money, but that's not our mission."
PULP holds Friday workshops for translators to work and collaborate on translation projects. Translations are checked over by peers, as well as PULP officers and some professors involved with the project.
PULP is in contact with many of the language departments at Princeton to recruit more students for the project. "The language departments have been very generous to us and have helped us out a lot," Yi said.
Tomoko Shibata, a lecturer in the East Asian studies department who helped recruit students for PULP, said, "I think it is very good practice for students in high-level language studies. They can help out at the same time as they practice and develop their language skills. I kind of push my students to join the project."
Yi also sees PULP as a way to move beyond the classroom. "We try to get students interested in using their language skills, but we act as a political advocacy organization as well."
Meanwhile, he added, the project is beginning to move into Farsi translations, and it is currently looking to expand its services, especially for Spanish and French translations.
"With more Spanishand French-speaking translators, we could do translations for organizations in Latin America and Africa," Yi said.
"Our ultimate vision is to get many universities working together," he said. "Eventually, this organization could spread to other colleges across the nation and get many more students involved."