Monthly Archives: March 2011

University of North Carolina System May Cut Foreign Languages

Story from IES Language Foundation — Orange County, March 22, 2011:

The ever-present burden of budget cuts is forcing UNC-system schools to follow a national trend of bidding “adieu” to foreign language programs.

A report published by the University of California, Riverside said the number of universities offering undergraduate degree programs in European languages and literatures — Romance, Germanic and Slavic — declined steeply from 1971 to 2006.

Steven Brint, one of the authors of the report, said some of the trends captured in the report have continued since 2006. In times of budget cuts, schools look to cut low-enrollment programs, he said.

But according to a report produced by the Modern Language Association, nationwide enrollments in Spanish, French, Italian and German all increased from 1998 to 2009.

To combat budget cuts, administrators are looking to cut programs that don’t produce as many majors, which often include language programs.

Students and faculty are concerned administrators are focusing more on the decline in language majors than student interest that is represented by increasing class enrollment.

‘Doesn’t make any sense’

Effective this semester, N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University terminated its French and Spanish majors, the only two majors in the department of foreign languages. Students can still take classes, but no new students can declare a major in either language.

Jose Bravo-de-Rueda, chairman of N.C. AT’s department of foreign languages, said he was surprised the department received cuts.

“On the one hand we’re pushing to be global. On the other hand we’re cutting languages,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

David Aldridge, associate dean for research and graduate studies for N.C. AT’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the school has proposed eliminating the whole foreign language department.

Aldridge, who served as interim dean of the college until February, said the department is at risk because it no longer offers majors.

Bravo-de-Rueda said he wouldn’t be surprised if the department was eliminated.

“Without majors, what do you need a department for?”

Examining enrollment

N.C. State University announced last week its plans to review low-productivity programs — including French and German — for elimination or consolidation.

Ruth Gross, head of NCSU’s foreign language and literatures department, said low enrollment is not an issue for those programs.

But neither the French program nor the German studies program meet UNC General Administration’s standard of producing at least 20 majors every two years.

The French program only produced 13 graduates in 2009 and 2010 combined. Its German program graduated seven students.

UNC-CH does not plan to cut any foreign language majors, said Bill Andrews, senior associate vice dean for the fine arts and humanities at the University.

He said low productivity is not a problem for foreign language programs now that the Slavic and German programs are merged.

The University combined its undergraduate degrees in Slavic and German studies into a single degree last month. Students still choose from the concentrations that were available in the individual majors.

A nationwide trend

N.C. AT is not the only university to cut foreign language degree programs — other universities, including Louisiana State University, have also done so.

LSU eliminated its German and Latin majors and cut its entire Russian, Japanese, Portuguese and Swahili programs.

Chairman of LSU’s department of foreign languages and literatures John Pizer said the German program was not producing the minimum seven graduates a year, so it was eliminated. He said the university is making cuts to the already weak and understaffed programs.

“It’s almost like Darwinian,” Pizer said. “The operative mood on the campus is just dread that there will be more cuts coming,” he said.

LSU junior Caleb Van Pelt, a German major, said he probably won’t be able to finish his degree on time because course offerings in the languages will be severely reduced.

He said students are upset and confused because the foreign language department was bearing the brunt of the budget cuts.

A more positive outlook

UC Berkeley will not cut foreign language majors — instead, it will increase funding for foreign languages, said Rick Kern, director of the Berkeley Language Center, in an email.

Kern named 13 languages that will benefit from the funding, which will come from increased student fees and out-of-state tuition costs.

The University of California system is expected to increase tuition by 8 percent for in- and out-of-state students for 2011-12. It increased tuition by 32 percent last year.

The UNC system maintains a 6.5 percent cap on tuition increases for most circumstances.

“Offering language courses, even if enrollments are low, is absolutely essential to a world-class university,” Kern said.

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Foreign Language Courses in Wisconsin Subject to Budget Cuts

According to the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the recent budget cuts by Governor Walker may endanger foreign language programs in the public school system. Here is the full story from, March 16, 2011:

MILWAUKEE—With Wisconsin residents bracing for an unprecedented gutting of public education under Gov. Scott Walker’s extreme budget proposal, many Milwaukee residents fear foreign language courses and specialty schools could be wiped out. Walker’s proposed budget bill cuts $834 million from K-12 education and slashes hundreds of millions from early childhood education programs.

Parents, teachers and education support professionals, nurses, students, firefighters, police, and other working families have been attending community information sessions being held throughout the Milwaukee area on the so-called budget repair bill. Another town hall meeting is scheduled for tonight at Milwaukee French Immersion School, located at 2360 N. 52nd St., in Milwaukee. The citywide public school, which provides most of its academic instruction in French in grades one through five, could be closed if the governor’s budget bill passes.

“These cuts to courses and programs are just devastating to the community and to the kids who depend on these services,” said Janet Fendos, whose children attended the Milwaukee French Immersion School. “We’re worried about sustaining foreign language programs. Look at what this budget is doing to our kids and their futures.”

Foreign language courses are not considered part of the core curriculum, which means they would likely be first on the chopping block. Those kinds of cuts are at odds with the goal of keeping America competitive in the 21st century. Even President Obama is pressing more Americans to learn a foreign language. In Milwaukee, parents and teachers are distraught that the Milwaukee French Immersion Schools—and similar schools across Wisconsin—have already had to make dramatic program cuts to art, music, physical education and afterschool programs.

“The Walker budget cuts undermine the quality of our children’s education while offering breaks to big businesses and the rich,” said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “Not only will nearly $1 billion in school cuts lead to teacher layoffs and increased class sizes, this budget eliminates funding for programs like science education and Advanced Placement that help our kids succeed. Deep cuts also jeopardize arts and sports.”

In the last month, Wisconsin residents have been spurred to action by the governor’s extreme actions and his attacks on working families. They are attending rallies, marches and other protests across the state that come on the heels of a massive turnout at the Capitol in Madison that drew more than 100,000 people.

“Educators know these are tough economic times, and we have made sacrifices. But this budget is extreme and does not reflect Wisconsin’s values,” added Bell. “Legislators should make choices that help our kids, not hurt them.”

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Duke’s Language Faculty Expresses Concern

Article by Lauren Carroll for The Duke Chronicle, March 16, 2011:

University foreign language departments are becoming even more pertinent as Duke expands abroad, but continued spending cuts in Durham are causing stress among language faculty.

Lee Baker, Trinity College dean of academic affairs and associate vice provost for undergraduate education, led a forum titled “Curriculum 2000 in 2011” Tuesday as part of the Department of Romance Studies’ annual Language and Pedagogy Discussion Series. Although the forum was intended to stimulate discussion about curriculum, the conversation turned to challenges posed by budget constraints and nationwide cuts in foreign language programs.

“The [national] trends are to go against the language requirements and reduce faculty in language departments,” Joan Clifford, assistant director of the Spanish Language Program, said in an interview Tuesday. “This is an ongoing concern for us.”

Even though other universities are often quick to cut foreign language departments, Baker said language learning will remain an integral part of Duke’s liberal arts curriculum, especially as the University continues its commitment to globalization.

He added that more undergraduates are studying foreign languages than ever before, noting that “students know, ‘I need a language to do something better.’”

Although faculty members are pleased that student interest in foreign language classes remains steady, they questioned whether budgetary restrictions will prevent departments from fully accommodating students’ needs, especially with class size regulations.

Currently, language courses taught by non-regular rank faculty members must have at least eight students enrolled or the class is canceled. Baker said funding a class with less than eight students is an irresponsible use of resources.

Deborah Reisinger, assistant director of the French Language Program, said in an interview Tuesday that these restrictions have the potential to put professors in a position where they cannot pay their rent. If a class is unexpectedly canceled because of low enrollment, the University can change the professor’s contract, she explained.

“The caps of enrollment in courses affect what you can and can’t do,” she said. “That’s your livelihood. You were expecting a certain salary, and the University reserves the right to change your salary.”

Carolyn Lee, director of the Chinese Language Program, praised Duke’s study abroad programs for keeping students involved with their languages but added that the financial constraints make it difficult to maintain high-quality programs both in Durham and abroad.

“Division of labor has become a very challenging situation,” Lee said. “You’re compromising human resources when it comes to the budget…. How are you going to work within the constraints of the program and still get the meat of the instruction?”

Baker called the language departments’ challenges a “tug-of-war” of resources, noting the difficulties of balancing quality of professors with quantity. He reassured faculty members, however, that language instruction will remain an important part of the Trinity College curriculum.

“If you want to really have an impact, language acquisition and learning is critical,” Baker said. “Duke has made a commitment to internationalization and globalization, and that’s not going away any time soon.”

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U Tennessee Saves Foreign Language Programs

Story from, March 14, 2011:

University of Tennessee administrators have come up with an alternative to eliminating Russian and Italian degree programs and will continue to offer the majors while also cutting costs.

The two programs had been identified for elimination before the university decided to roll all foreign languages into one degree and instead offer concentrations in any of eight languages that are offered. The change is in response to a $56 million budget cut for the Knoxville campus.

College of Arts and Sciences associate dean Richard Hinde told the Knoxville News Sentinel that the more obscure languages will now be less vulnerable to tight budgets.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission requires a report on the number of graduates in each degree program. Russian and Italian are on the commission’s lineup of low-producing programs.

“We are delighted that (Russian and Italian) will continue to be viable opportunities for majors and for language study for our students,” said Erec Koch, head of the foreign language department that helped develop the change. “They still have tremendous value in international politics and in international business. The Italian economy is still one of the larger ones in the world, and the Russian economy is becoming more important, and certainly Russia continues to be an important international presence.”

Provost Susan Martin in December suggested trying to find a way to handle a high demand for low-level Spanish courses and to continue offering the other languages, which also include Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese.

The college and modern foreign languages department together came up with the idea of creating one major with multiple offerings and the provost recently approved it.

Eliminating the programs would have taken at least a year and a half and the school would have continued to teach courses in those languages, Martin said. By not offering full degrees, however, they would not have to teach as many high-level courses, which are more costly. Each language has two full-time professors.

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The CIA Wants Foreign Language Learners

Story by Jeremy Hsu for, March 9, 2011:

Many Americans don’t learn a second or a third language from birth, let alone a language that the CIA or U.S. Foreign Service might want. The situation has forced U.S. government agencies to learn how to cultivate the most talented second-language speakers from among college students with little to no other-language expertise.
But experts who help select and train raw talent also see an opportunity in the mass of recruits who start out speaking only English. That’s because the U.S. represents a living laboratory for observing how adult brains change over time as they struggle to adapt to the new grammar and vocabulary of a second language.
“In U.S. education, we don’t develop early bilinguals,” said Catherine Doughty, a language expert at the University of Maryland. “We’re dealing with monolinguals or people who have only studied foreign language, so that they don’t really have any proficiency.”
Doughty spoke as part of a panel on Feb. 19 during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Washington, D.C. She and other speakers described the typical U.S. second-language program as being a series of disjointed classes where students often repeated what they had learned before.
“Imagine math (programs) where the middle school says, ‘We don’t have any idea about what you studied,’ so you learn it again. It’s the same with high school,” said Robert O. Slater, director of the U.S. National Security Education Program.
That situation drove Slater and the government to develop a flagship program for finding the most promising college students and putting them through intensive language learning. Yet researchers have just begun to figure out how to predict the most promising language students, and how to measure their progress.
The CIA has aimed to boost its ranks of foreign language speakers, with a special focus on recruiting speakers of Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Korean, Pashtu, Persian, Russian and Urdu.

One nation under English
American schools currently don’t graduate enough people fluent in French and Spanish and other Romance languages, let alone languages such as Chinese, Korean and Russian, which pose greater challenges for native English speakers, Slater said.
“The flagship model is confounded by the reality that very few first years show up with any appreciable language skills,” Slater explained. “Most language learning at the undergrad level is not proficiency- based.”
Ten years ago, the flagship program recruited post-college graduates with moderate training and put them through intensive language learning in the United States, before sending them abroad for a year. But the flagship program was re-engineered five years ago to focus instead on motivated undergraduates.
Current estimates suggest that not even 20 percent of Americans speak at least two languages. Among that population, the government must find its multilingual recruits from a much smaller pool of candidates who are willing and able to serve.
Finding the best
Government agencies aren’t alone in trying to recruit multilingual speakers; U.S. corporations covet such skills for doing business in the era of globalization. Some companies have asked language research centers, such as the one headed by Doughty, for help in training the most promising employees.
“We try to train up language athletes by selecting those with talent,” Doughty said.

Doughty and her colleagues used tests to train up cognitive processes related to language learning, such as the ability to hold information in the brain while using it for learning. They then confirmed that the training’s effects left a lasting impression in the brains of candidates even after several months.
Eventually the researchers hope to create a test that can identify those candidates with the greatest language-learning potential. They have begun comparing cognitive factors among promising candidates with those of people who are already fluent multilingual speakers, and are currently tracking the success rates of the first batch of candidates.
“(The battery of aptitude tests) seeks to predict those who can succeed despite everything stacked against them,” Doughty said.
Changes in the brain
At least one panel member saw a silver lining to the late language-learning challenge. The United States represents an ideal lab for seeing how the brain changes in response to language learning, because so many Americans start out speaking just one language, said Lee Osterhout, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, during an interview following the panel session. “They’re like a blank slate,” Osterhout told LiveScience.
Osterhout’s lab has used electrodes placed on the scalp to measure the electrical activity created by the signals of brain cells. That allows the researchers to see differences in the brain patterns among language learners and fluent speakers – and to find some surprising results.

Repeated studies of French language students showed that their brains responded differently to real French words compared with fake words after just two weeks of classes, even if the students themselves could not tell such words apart.
“After 32 weeks of instruction, (the brain patterns) are almost indistinguishable from native French speakers even though you would not confuse them with native French speakers,” Osterhout said during the panel session.
Another surprise came from studies of Spanish-speaking immigrants, because neither age nor language proficiency seemed to predict how quickly the immigrants picked up English. Instead, the fastest learners showed both the greatest motivation to learn and a willingness to use English at every opportunity despite being bad at it (at first). Learning to speak the lingo
Osterhout hopes to tease out the importance of motivation in language learning in future research. But he also wants to get a better sense of what separates the proficient language speakers from the truly fluent ones.
“From knowing nothing to a little bit, (there are) huge changes in the brain,” Osterhout pointed out.”(From) knowing a little to knowing a lot, (it is) much more subtle.”

As for U.S. government agencies and corporations, grooming the most talented language speakers may prove the quickest solution for now. But Slater suggested that the government should look into a real “paradigm shift” that would “build pipelines” for developing second language talents earlier and funneling them to higher levels of education.
“We want to see flagship with thousands of students so it becomes more meaningful as a statistical analysis,” Slater said. “We want to see research on language applied in the real-world classroom environment.”

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Foreign Service Lacks Language Skills Among Other Things

Today’s Washington Post article by Joe Davidson underscores the need for better language training among foreign service candidates to enhance U.S. diplomacy. It is based upon the findings of a much larger report, Forging a Twenty-First Century Diplomatic Service for the United States Through Professional Education and Training. Here is the link to that report:

The article by Joe Davidson follows (March 9, 2011):

At a time when some North African and Middle East states are in chaos and America is posting large numbers of civilians in war zones, the United States is sending Foreign Service officers abroad poorly equipped to deal with the critical situations they face.

That’s the takeaway of a report by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center, which was discussed at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

“There is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and under prepared,” the report says.

Yet, despite the gravity of the situation, the hearing had a distinct lack of urgency. The poor attendance by senators was indicative of scant attention too often provided issues involving federal employees – except, of course, when they can be convenient whipping boys.

Former ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, president of the academy, supplied a shot of energy when he told the hearing that “our government lacks sufficient trained Arabic-language-speaking officers to fully understand and assess what is happening – to go beyond the glib, English-speaking reporters in Tahrir Square to take the full measure of what Islamists, younger people, the demonstrators and the jobless are saying off camera.”

“We lack these capacities because for years the Department of State has lacked the resources to train enough officers in language skills,” he said.

Although the hearing focused on Foreign Service officers, training is a universal issue in the federal workplace and often among the first items to be cut. For State Department workers – and the nation – it’s also a matter of national security.

In a forward to the report, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush, said the study “emphasizes that on-the-job training alone is no longer a sufficient method, if it ever was, to develop a US diplomatic service that is second to none.”

The Senate federal workforce subcommittee hearing was chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). He was alone on the dais, except for a brief appearance by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The top Republican on the panel, Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), was a no-show because, he said, he attended a Budget Committee hearing.

Coburn arrived a half-hour late, told witnesses to expect even less money for staffing and training, and was gone in about eight minutes. He asked no questions.

It was a far cry from the days when Akaka and former senator George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) operated as a team. Voinovich, who was the ranking Republican on the panel when he retired in January, was deeply involved in the subcommittee. He and Akaka often worked closely on legislation affecting federal employees.

Akaka doesn’t have that kind of a partner now.

Coburn’s single focus was saving money. He dismissed State’s plans for a 25 percent Foreign Service increase by 2014, saying, “It’s not going to be ramped up because we don’t have the money to do it.”

About overseas locality pay for Foreign Service officers, Coburn said: “It’s going to go away. People ought to be expecting that.”

If budget-cutters slash already meager training budgets, the result will be less effective government, said Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. (The group has a content-sharing relationship with The Washington Post.)

“It’s amazing that in the same government, we have two vastly different models for investing in talent,” Stier said in a telephone interview.

The military makes enormous investments in training, he said, but the civilian side of the government does very little. “Clearly the military has the right answer.”

Even if plans to boost State Department staffing are fulfilled, the academy says, the surge “will not be enough” unless accompanied by better training. “If America intends to be known for the quality and effectiveness of its diplomacy, we must sustain traditional skills and develop more broadly new capabilities demanded in an increasingly complex international environment.”

The report makes a series of recommendations, including a year of advanced study for Foreign Service officers before they are promoted to the senior ranks.

“Professional education and training are essential to raise the overall level of performance of our Foreign Service,” the report says.

The Government Accountability Office also released a report on State Department training at the hearing. The GAO report says that State “has taken many steps” to increase training but that “the department’s strategic approach to workforce training could be improved in several key areas.”

For example, State offers guidance for employees on training opportunities and career paths, the GAO says, but “the guidance does not provide complete and accurate information.”

The department also “could not sufficiently demonstrate consistent and appropriate support for training,” according to the GAO.

The GAO report does not look at language training, the agency said, because its September 2009 study called for a comprehensive State plan to address “persistent foreign language shortfalls.”

State has told the GAO that it has taken steps to improve language training.

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Languages Shouldn’t Be So Foreign

That’s right — we need more foreign language programs in the schools — something I have been writing about for some time now. Kelsey Decker, who is an intern for the Savana Morning News, offers her views on the matter below (March 7, 2011):

It’s time for U.S. schools to step up their foreign language programs. Undeniably, it is beneficial to be at least familiar with a language other than English.

A study from this year demonstrated bilingualism helps children “learn to prioritize information, provide(s) a defense against some effects of Alzheimer’s or just provide(s) a great workout for the brain,” according to an article from the Los Angeles Times. It also helps speakers learn to choose their words better and express thoughts more accurately because they can move between the languages.

Georgia requires high school students to have just two years of a foreign language to graduate. Likewise, many students in U.S. schools don’t receive enough foreign language education to truly have a lasting impact (though two years is better than nothing at all).

It would be ludicrous to generalize all U.S. school system requirements, but a foreign language seems to typically be mandatory for two years — at least that’s what it was at the high schools I attended in Japan and Texas.

Schools should be doing more, though. I began learning German in middle school as part of the curriculum where I lived in Ohio. It was arguably more beneficial to start then because the way it worked, what would have been crammed into one year in high school was spread out from sixth to eighth grade.

Learning the basics over three years meant it wasn’t just about memorization — I really understood not only the language but the culture, too. We had the time to listen to music and look at the lyrics, celebrate holidays like St. Nicholas Day and Karneval and build cities to learn what various things were called.

There are also schools that offer immersion programs for children, often beginning in elementary school, where the entire curriculum is taught in a language other than English. These programs are great, and there should be more of them because the language tends to stick with the child better than if he or she began learning it later.

However, it would also help the country 10 to 15 years from now when these children are older, if the offered programs were more diverse. Spanish, French and German are a good standard. But Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Hindi and Farsi are all languages that will become increasingly important in the immediate future.

The combined population of China, India and Iran alone is 2.5 billion, which is more than one third of the world’s population. If more programs that taught languages like these were implemented in schools, children would be better prepared to interact with the rest of the world instead of the ethnocentric view many people possess today.

If programs like this could be instituted, or even if foreign languages were just required classes for more than a few years, we would be linguistically up to par with countries around the world which require students to learn English for five or more years.

No, being born into a country where English is the offical language is not a good excuse for not learning a foreign language; European students often pick up a second foreign language in addition to English.

Speaking a foreign language is something that really doesn’t have any downsides. It makes you more prepared for life, whether you are looking for a job or simply maintaining mental health. We owe it to future generations to make sure they understand the importance of it.

Kelsey Decker is an editorial intern at the Savannah Morning News and a senior at Georgia Southern University.

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