Outreach: Language Science for Everyone
Engaging with non-academic audiences reflects a core value of the Language Science Center. All students and faculty affiliated with LSC take part in outreach activities.
Some of our regular outreach activities include: hosting visits to the UMD campus from several local high schools; partnering with a student-led linguistics club at Montgomery-Blair High School; faculty mentoring of high school interns in several different Language Science labs; participating in science fairs at local elementary schools, as well as regional and national science and engineering festivals; and offering activities to over 1000 people each year at Maryland Day, UMD’s annual campus-wide celebration of innovation, creativity and academic excellence.
We are also involved in national efforts to expand language outreach, which you can read more about below.
We have developed some resources that you might find useful in planning your own activities, drawing on our own experience at the University of Maryland, and on the experience of language scientists around the world who have experiences in different ways of engaging with broader audiences.
"Why should I do outreach?" Our experiences have taught us that outreach has many benefits. Initially, encouraging members of the wider community to think critically about language science and understand its applications seemed to be the primary benefits of doing outreach. But, along the way, we realized that outreach can help the people doing the outreach as well, and this became a big motivator for the University of Maryland faculty and students who participate in our outreach events. Below, members of our community reflect on their experience engaging in outreach activities:
“Getting a chance to communicate details of my own research and the field as a whole to such a new audience really made me think about how to communicate about what we do." (Graduate Student Feedback, 2013)
“It was energizing to talk with the MBHS linguistics group. I always find it interesting to talk with non-specialist audiences, and to see how their questions differ from those of specialists. It also increased my faith in the intellectual curiosity of teenagers. Another benefit was that the visit helped me to find a summer intern for our research group, who went on to do very good work with us." (Language Science Researcher, 2013)
Doing outreach has helped many of our students build their presentation skills and explain their research to a general audience that does not share their own assumptions. If you can explain what you do to a seventh grader and can make a high schooler get excited about it, you can probably do the same with your colleague from a different department.
"How can I do outreach?" Much of the rest of our advice and resources deal with which different kinds of outreach events you may organize and how to utilize existing resources to make them successful. A well-run outreach event needs to be engaging, capable of drawing the attention of the listeners and should rely on skills or assets that you already possess. Our tips largely fall into two categories:
- Utilize Your Strengths: Your institution has angles on language science that can interest broad audiences. Whether it is interesting technology or a focus on a particular topic area, you should make sure you use those strengths to your benefit.
- Meet Them Where They Are: This can be about a physical location, but refers especially to talking about things at a level your audience will understand and relate to. Avoid minutiae, and realize that your audience will always appreciate hearing that they know more about what you’re doing than they think they do.
In order to help see some of these strategies in action, we are developing a series of resources (interactive activities, videos, and other online resources) that may be useful for bringing language science to a broader audience.
If you're interested in contributing resources of your own or have questions about doing outreach, please contact us here.