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Phoenix Liu has headed the Language House program for 13 years.

By Anna Muckerman, The Diamondback

Photo courtesy: Sung-Min Kim


It’s a chilly, overcast Monday afternoon. But the dreary September weather only makes the cozy basement of St. Mary’s Hall more inviting. As it starts to drizzle, students pour steamy coffee into mugs and foam cups. They grab a few cookies on their way back to the table, and then the chatter begins.

Ten languages swirl together during the Language House’s weekly Coffee Conversations, just one of the program’s numerous events. Here, Language House members, as well as anyone studying a foreign language, can casually practice speaking.

Phoenix Liu has been the Language House’s director since 2002. Over the years, she’s seen the community grow and change, but it’s always been committed to a love of languages.

Inside the house are clusters of apartments divided by language.

“We want students to live like a family,” Liu said. 

Students are required to speak in the target language almost all the time. Even the resident assistants are part of the program. If someone doesn’t know a word, help is just in the next room.

“We hire a native speaker to live with our students so they have a tutor at home,” Liu said.

That mentor lives in one apartment. For the rest, “we pick a high-level, near-native speaker to be an apartment leader so they have someone to ask questions if it’s the middle of the night,” she said.

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