Interactive Learning Resources for Southeast Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultures
One of CSEAS’s unique resources, SEAsite, is a comprehensive set of free interactive learning resources for studying Southeast Asian languages, literatures and cultures online, all developed by NIU faculty and students.
Used by thousands of language-learners and instructors worldwide, this federally funded project began in 1983 as a computer-aided Thai and Indonesian language-instruction system. Since then, it has evolved into SEAsite, a website offering free instruction in Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Lao, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese.
Burmese, or မြန်မာစာ, is spoken as a first language by about 36 million people living inside Burma and by two to three million people, mostly migrant workers, living in Thailand, Malaysia and the rest of the world, though most refugees settled and settling in the US speak minority languages of Myanmar such as Karen, Chin and Kachin. Burmese has two forms, colloquial and written, but the distinction between the two is often blurred by the fact that both forms are used in most public spaces, notably in print and broadcast media.
Tagalog is one of the major languages spoken in the Philippines, in regions of the main island of Luzon and in Metro Manila. Tagalog shares many characteristics with Malay languages, such as Bahasa, however, due to more than 300 years of Spanish colonial rule over the Philippines, the language has incorporated a significant number of Spanish words and expressions. The language also includes words and phrases that are rooted in English and Chinese. Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015 showed roughly 1.7 million Tagalog speakers living in the U.S.
While Indonesia is home to more than 700 regional languages spoken collequially, Bahasa Indonesia is the official language of Indonesia, unifying over 260 million Indonesians as a second language, and is the only language used in formal education. Bahasa Indonesia is based on Malay, but also features some borrowed words from Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch and English.
Standard Thai, also known as Thai or Siamese, is the national language of the Kingdom of Thailand and is spoken by nearly 70 million people in and outside of Thailand. Thai is a tonal language, which means that by changing the pitch of each syllable, the meaning changes with it (unlike in English where you change the pitch of the whole phrase to make it a question or a statement, etc.). Thai has its own alphabet, a writing system that is similar to those of its neighbors in Laos and Cambodia. Though Thailand is only approximately the size of France or Texas, there are over 70 languages being spoken within its borders.
Khmer, also known as Cambodian, is the official language of the Kingdom of Cambodia and is understood by people in many bordering countries. Khmer is non-tonal and has a high percentage of disyllabic words which are derived from monosyllabic bases by prefixation, and infixation. The Mon-Khmer language family includes hundreds of related dialects scattered over most of mainland Southeast Asia. Khmer has borrowed many words from Sankrit, as well as Pali and French words. Chinese and Vietnamese words have also made their way into colloquial speech.
Additional languages and cultures represented on SEAsite
SEAsite is undergoing major updates to bring its lessons and activities into a more user-friendly format. We welcome your feedback as we continue to build it out. Contact CSEAS at CSEAS@niu.edu.
Making the choice to study a SEA language was one of the best decisions I ever made. That choice has allowed me to make so many meaningful connections and memories that I cannot fully put into words. The language professors are all incredibly helpful, knowledgeable and friendly; they care about their students and make every effort to ensure that their students grow in understanding a language. Learning a SEA language changed my life, and choosing to study a SEA language has helped shape my interests, both academically and professionally.Sam Bunting, current student, College of Law
My Burmese language skills continue to be a fact that prospective employers pause over: I am not just another resume in a large stack, I am different. It is also something that we talk about in interviews. They have questions and I am comfortable discussing my experiences. Allows me to be a little more comfortable in a normally stressful situation.Karla Findley, M.A. anthropology, 2017