US universities do not produce enough graduates fluent in 'critical languages'

Don Osborn dzo at
Thu Apr 26 15:34:44 UTC 2007

Two quick comments:
1) Wondering what the effect of focus on "critical" languages will be on
programs for other (non-critical??) languages among what used to be called
broadly "less commonly taught languages"? 
2) Noting the interest in Arabic and Chinese immersion, while in other areas
there is a push to squeeze Spanish out in favor of English immersion
(experts in the field will point out, though, that "immersion" is used in
sharply differing contexts)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-lgpolicy-list at [mailto:owner-lgpolicy-
> list at] On Behalf Of Harold F. Schiffman
> Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2007 9:21 AM
> To: Language Policy-List
> Subject: US universities do not produce enough graduates fluent in
> 'critical languages'
> >From the issue dated April 27, 2007
> A Failure to Communicate
> Despite pressure from government and industry, universities do not
> produce
> enough graduates fluent in 'critical languages'
> College Park, Md.
> Not quite three years ago Alaa Elgibali, a professor of Arabic and
> linguistics, was hired away from the American University in Cairo to
> transform the Arabic program at the University of Maryland's main
> campus
> here. He has expanded enrollment to 185 from 28 and is helping to
> develop
> more courses on the languages and cultures of the Middle East, which
> will
> be housed in a new regional-studies center. But the project faces two
> major obstacles, he says. Student demand is "25 percent higher than we
> can
> satisfy," forcing the department to turn away strong applicants. And
> there
> is intense competition for qualified professors. "Many campuses are
> trying
> to recruit from the same pool," he says.
> Five and a half years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, colleges are
> still
> struggling to respond to demands from the government, businesses, and
> students for more teaching of the languages believed to be critical to
> America's security and economic future. Arabic is considered essential
> for
> representing America's interests in the Middle East, but according to
> the
> recent report of the congressionally appointed Iraq Study Group, only
> six
> of the 1,000 U.S. embassy employees in Baghdad speak the language
> fluently. Mandarin is vital for representing American companies in
> China,
> one of the world's largest markets. But in the 2003-4 academic year,
> the
> latest for which the U.S. Education Department has figures, American
> institutions awarded only 15 master's degrees in Chinese, and five
> Ph.D.'s. While progress has been made, many experts say America's
> colleges
> and universities are still graduating far too few people capable of
> working in what have become known as the critical languages. Indeed,
> enrollments in foreign languages in general have hovered at between 7
> percent and 9 percent of total college enrollments for the last three
> decades, half of what they were in the 1960s.
> Leaders in language education point to several reasons: weak federal
> and
> state support, a lack of qualified teachers, too little commitment from
> some college administrators and in the rarely taught languages, like
> Persian and Pashto, a severe dearth of teaching materials. More
> fundamentally, say many observers, American education, from
> kindergarten
> to college, gives far too little attention to foreign languages much
> less
> than do schools and universities in Europe and other parts of the
> world,
> where it is common for people to speak two or three languages. The
> consequences for America are sobering, according to numerous reports by
> the government, business associations, and policy groups: a shortage of
> people qualified to translate and analyze intercepted messages from
> terrorists, missed opportunities for American businesses, and, in
> general,
> a diminished capacity to engage constructively with the rest of the
> world.
> Educators and business leaders who are concerned about language
> learning
> say what is needed is a fundamental shift toward giving foreign
> languages
> a more central place in American education. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd,
> Democrat of Connecticut, plans to reintroduce a bill to expand
> education
> in foreign languages and cultures at elementary and secondary schools
> and
> in higher education. "At a time when our security needs are more
> important
> than ever," said Senator Dodd in 2005, when he first introduced the
> bill,
> "at a time when our economy demands that we enter new markets, and at a
> time when the world requires us to engage in diplomacy in more
> thoughtful
> and considered ways, it is extremely important that we have at our
> disposal a multilingual, multicultural, internationally experienced
> work
> force."
> Washington's Response
> The federal government has acknowledged the problem, but many
> language-education leaders say its response has been lackluster,
> especially coming on top of years of decreasing federal money for
> language
> programs. "International and foreign-language education has suffered
> from
> decades of inadequate attention and support," says Miriam A. Kazanjian,
> a
> consultant specializing in international education. In the wake of the
> 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress passed its largest-ever increases for
> the
> two main federal programs that promote foreign-language proficiency,
> both
> run by the U.S. Department of Education. Yet spending for the programs
> is
> still considerably lower than it was 40 years ago, during the cold war.
> Programs established by the Fulbright-Hays Act send Americans abroad to
> study foreign languages and cultures. Their budget this year is
> $12.6-million. The other main program, known as Title VI, supports
> resource centers and provides one-year fellowships, mostly domestic,
> for
> scholars of foreign languages or area studies. This year's budget of
> $93-million supports 1,561 scholars. Taking inflation into account, the
> amount for both programs is about 30 percent less than in 1967, when
> Title
> VI financed 2,344 fellowships. Last month a report released by the
> National Academies' National Research Council said the two programs
> were
> generally doing a good job but needed more federal money to meet
> expanded
> international challenges and to maintain a reservoir of teachers and
> learners of a wide range of languages, not just those deemed critical
> at
> any particular time.
> Meanwhile, the federal government has introduced or enlarged several
> smaller language programs. Government-financed National Flagship
> Language
> Programs were established on a dozen campuses starting in 2003, at a
> cost
> of $15-million annually. Their goal is to graduate 2,000 students
> fluent
> in the critical languages by the end of the decade. And the part of the
> federally supported Fulbright program that brings foreign scholars over
> to
> teach their languages on American campuses has been greatly expanded.
> This
> year nearly 400 teaching assistants are in the United States, including
> 104 from 12 Arab countries. In January 2006, President Bush announced
> the
> $114-million National Security Language Initiative to teach more
> Americans
> critical languages.  The proposal involves the Departments of
> Education,
> State, and Defense, as well as the Office of the Director of National
> Intelligence. It includes programs to bring learners to fluency, to
> train
> language teachers, and to establish bilingual programs in Arabic and
> Chinese in public schools, bringing more language-trained students into
> the college pipeline.
> Part of the $114-million was already in the federal budget, and only
> part
> of the proposed new spending was approved by Congress for this year.
> Many
> educators view the program as a modest, though useful, step. But some
> are
> less satisfied. "Those are very critical needs," says Madeleine F.
> Green,
> the American Council on Education's vice president for international
> initiatives, "and the president comes out with $114-million, part of it
> old money. That's not serious."
> Fickle Interest
> The administration has identified eight critical languages, or language
> families, with the most pressing deficits: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese,
> Korean, Russian, Hindi and the related languages of the Indian
> subcontinent, Persian and its relatives, and Turkish and its close
> cousins
> in Central Asia. Interest in those languages has been fickle, often
> depending on political events. In the 1980s, enrollments in Japanese
> more
> than quadrupled to 46,000 amid concerns that Japan was outperforming
> the
> United States economically. Enrollments in Russian dropped nearly 45
> percent, to 25,000, in the five years after the collapse of the Soviet
> bloc around 1990.
> Meanwhile, as China's economic and political influence has grown,
> enrollments in Chinese rose 75 percent to 34,000 from 1990 to 2002.
> Experts estimate that enrollments have increased by nearly 50 percent
> since then. Chinese is now the "best resourced," of the critical
> languages, says Catherine W. Ingold, director of the National Foreign
> Language Center, a research institute at the University of Maryland.
> Chinese departments can draw from the large number of Chinese graduate
> students in the United States, though officials say it is hard to find
> instructors trained to teach languages. At the elementary- and
> secondary-school level there is an acute shortage of certified teachers
> of
> Chinese.
> The University of Maryland is home to the first of a dozen Confucius
> Institutes established recently on American campuses with support from
> the
> Chinese government. The institutes' mission is to complement university
> Chinese departments. The one at Maryland organizes exhibits and
> seminars
> on Chinese culture and is talking with the business school about
> offering
> "business Chinese" courses, says Chuan Sheng Liu, its director, who is
> a
> senior physics professor at the university. The institute also provides
> weekend courses for about 50 teachers from public and Chinese-heritage
> schools. "There has been an incredible increase in demand for Chinese
> instructors at K through 12," says Zev J. Handel, associate chairman of
> the department of Asian languages and literature at the University of
> Washington. As the next wave of students graduates from high school, he
> expects to see a big growth in enrollments in college Chinese courses.
> His department expects a surge in demand for Hindi classes a few years
> later. Indian exports like Bollywood films and the subcontinent's
> savory
> cuisine have been growing in popularity in the northwestern United
> States,
> he says. "Kids are starting to be interested in Indic culture on their
> own, as they have been in Chinese culture."
> Arabic Is King
> But the biggest growth in demand at colleges has been in Arabic,
> following
> the 2001 terrorist attacks. Enrollments nearly doubled, from 5,500 in
> 1998
> to 10,500 in 2002, the year of the most recent survey. Arabic-language
> specialists say enrollments have probably doubled again since then.
> September 11, 2001, "was the Sputnik event for Arabic," says Dora E.
> Johnson, an official of the nonprofit Center for Applied Linguistics.
> The
> number of institutions teaching Arabic grew from 157 in 1998 to 233 in
> 2002; experts say there may be more than 300 institutions today. "Our
> field was just not prepared," says Karin C. Ryding, a professor of
> Arabic
> at Georgetown University, where Arabic-language enrollments have grown
> from 125 in 2001 to 400 this year.
> The faculty shortage has led to bidding wars for qualified Arabic
> teachers. The United States Naval Academy started an Arabic program in
> 2004 but "we were under pressure last year to expand," says Clarissa C.
> Burt, the program's coordinator. "One of the candidates we considered
> really qualified bid himself up to a very remarkable range of salary
> for
> an entry-level assistant-professor position." The candidate ended up
> taking a job at another institution. Roger M.A.  Allen, chairman of the
> department of Near Eastern languages and civilizations at the
> University
> of Pennsylvania, says non-tenure-track Arabic-language teachers can
> command annual salaries of $50,000 or more, up to $10,000 higher than
> lecturers at equivalent levels in other languages.
> Overseas recruitment might seem a natural remedy, but department heads
> say
> the still-lengthy visa procedures for people from Muslim countries make
> that alternative unattractive. Mr. Allen says the up-to-six-month wait
> for
> a visa has dissuaded his university from hiring abroad. It's "an
> extremely
> long and aggravating process," he says. Graduates of critical-language
> programs find themselves in high demand.  Paul J. Gimigliano, a
> spokesman
> for the Central Intelligence Agency, says that even after "quite a
> dramatic wave of hiring," the agency still offers hiring bonuses of up
> to
> $35,000 for people with strong skills in "mission-critical languages"
> like
> Arabic and Farsi. Leslie A. Bentz, a junior at Maryland, is in a
> second-semester Arabic class. She says the university's twice-yearly
> job
> fairs are regularly attended by recruiters from the CIA and other
> government agencies: "They won't even talk to you if you don't have
> language skills."
> High-Level Skills
> Language educators feel that colleges are partly to blame for the
> shortage
> of graduates proficient in critical languages. "Most college
> administrators in this country are monolingual," says Gerald E. Lampe,
> a
> professor of Arabic and former president of the American Association of
> Teachers of Arabic, "which is part of the reason they have
> traditionally
> been unwilling to fund classes with fewer students in them." That's
> changing, he says, as student demand for the critical languages grows.
> But
> some institutions have done little more than hire a few temporary
> teachers, sometimes in a seemingly haphazard way.
> In the spring of 2005, for example, with student demand for Arabic
> soaring, the University of California at Berkeley announced a budget
> cut
> that reduced from four to two the number of entry-level Arabic
> sections.
> By the start of classes the department had managed to cobble together
> enough funds to return to four sections. Despite continuing growth in
> demand, there were four sections again this academic year, shutting out
> considerable numbers of students. Six sections are planned next year.
> But
> the university's practice of announcing the budget for temporary hires
> only a few months before the start of the academic year means "long
> range
> planning is almost impossible," says Cathleen A. Keller, acting
> chairwoman
> of the department of Near East studies. Berkeley's administration
> declined
> to comment.
> Surveys of business leaders show that they are increasingly concerned
> about a lack of international skills among college graduates they hire.
> "The U.S. is going to become less competitive in foreign markets due to
> a
> lack of foreign-language capabilities," warns Alfred T. Mockett, chief
> executive of Motive Inc., a software company based in Austin, Tex. He
> was
> the co-chair of a committee that produced "Education for Global
> Leadership," a widely quoted report calling for more foreign-language
> study, published last year by the Committee for Economic Development, a
> group of business and academic leaders. "We need to arm students with
> an
> international civics tool kit,"  containing knowledge of languages and
> cultures, he says.
> Part of the problem is that the bulk of courses are at lower levels,
> giving learners a taste of a new tongue but nothing near fluency. "The
> government doesn't need people who can order off of a Chinese menu,"
> says Martha G. Abbott, director of education at the American Council on
> the Teaching of Foreign Languages. "They need people who can conduct
> high-level negotiations" in Chinese, Persian, or Urdu. A major effort
> to
> meet that need is the federally funded National Flagship Language
> Program.
> At first the programs were all for graduate students:  typically a
> 15-month intensive program followed by an optional year of study
> abroad.
> Recently officials decided to concentrate on four-year undergraduate
> programs, including a year abroad, that students would follow alongside
> their major.
> The two Arabic flagship programs send their students to the University
> of
> Damascus. Unlike Cairo, the traditional destination for students of
> Arabic, Damascus has few English speakers. Lucas G. Winter is one of
> five
> students there with the first flagship group from the University of
> Maryland. He says Arabic is "ridiculously difficult," and adds that the
> new program in Damascus had some early organizational problems. Yet he
> says he could not have picked a better place to study the language. His
> instructors are "very professional," he says, and all students do a
> one-semester internship while there. He is working in a private
> publishing
> company.
> The flagship programs are at the forefront of a move away from the
> traditional focus of foreign-language studies, which was literature,
> and
> toward a study of contemporary media and culture. The goal is to make
> students able to use the language in practical settings, like reading
> foreign newspapers and communicating with a wide range of people in a
> country. Another approach increasingly championed by language advocates
> is
> intensive language instruction in grade school. Three of the flagship
> programs two in Chinese and one in Arabic are cooperating with local
> school districts that have established Chinese- and Arabic-immersion
> programs in elementary and secondary schools. Such programs hold the
> promise of producing high-school graduates ready to enter college with
> language skills as high or higher than those of a typical student who
> has
> finished an undergraduate degree in a foreign language.
> But those are small steps that will affect only a limited number of
> students. Language educators say that although the need for more
> foreign-language skills is growing in the national consciousness, it is
> still far from certain that that interest will translate into action.
> Advocates hope the new, Democrat-controlled Congress will allocate more
> money to language education, but they say prospects are unclear. "Even
> if
> there is support in spirit," says Ms. Green, of the American Council on
> Education, "we have a deficit and this terrible war going on." Together
> they limit the money available for language programs.
> Section: The Faculty Volume 53, Issue 34, Page A24
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