OPE: Office of Postsecondary Education
Current Section
International Education Programs Service

Strengthening Capacity in Critical Languages and Areas: FY 2002 Funding Review

Archived Information

In the months following 9/11, the Title VI and Fulbright-Hays international education programs received a significant infusion of Federal funds ($20,478,000) appropriated by Congress and endorsed by the Bush administration. This was the first such increase since the programs were initially authorized following the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik in 1957. Congressional directives for use of the funding increase clearly reflected the Federal government concern that the United States has sufficient domestic expertise in languages such as Pashto, the language of the Taliban, and Arabic. The Conference Report for Appropriations Act 107-342 specified that the additional resources should be used primarily "to increase the number of international experts...with in-depth expertise and high-level language proficiency in the targeted world areas of Central and South Asia, the Middle East, Russia, and the Independent States of the former Soviet Union." The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and grantee institutions have been striving to achieve this objective, and the results of their efforts since the FY2002 funds were appropriated and awarded are noteworthy.

"An urgent need exists to enhance the nation's in-depth knowledge of world areas and transnational issues, and fluency of U.S. citizens in languages relevant to understanding societies where Islamic and/or Muslim culture, politics, religion, and economy are a significant factor."
-- Conference Report for Appropriations Act 107-342

In order to expand resources for teaching the languages of these targeted world areas, the department funded Title VI Language Resource Centers (LRCs) focusing on Slavic and East European and Central Asian languages through its FY2002-2005 grant competition. A special competition, soliciting area-specific centers, yielded new LRCs on the languages of the Middle East and South Asia.

The Slavic and East European Language Resource Center (SEELRC), a joint effort of Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was selected by peer reviewers for funding. SEELRC focuses primarily on practical applications of languages through development of teaching materials rather than research. Projects include extensive guides to web-based resources for the languages of the region, comparative grammars, grammatical dictionaries, materials for teaching advanced language and culture, online vocabulary and grammar exercises, and "word of the day" calendars. SEELRC also sponsors an annual summer institute for K-12 and postsecondary language teachers, engaging them in a range of pedagogical topics to help them identify curricular resources and improve their teaching.

The Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region (CeLCAR) at Indiana University (IU) was also among the funded LRCs. Drawing on IU's unique and longstanding strength in Central Asian studies, CeLCAR enhances US national capacity for teaching and learning languages including Azeri (spoken in Azerbaijan), Kazakh (Kazakhstan), Kyrgyz (Kyrgyzstan), Pashto (Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan), Tajik (Tajikistan), Turkmen (Turkmenistan), Uyghur (Xinjiang Province, China) and Uzbek (Uzbekistan). CeLCAR aims to improve both the availability and quality of teaching materials, instruction, and teacher training supporting these languages while fostering interest in and knowledge of Central Asia and its societies. Specific projects include the development of integrated sets of student textbooks, teacher manuals and CD-ROM workbooks; summer intensive language institutes; teacher training workshops; a guide to web-based resources for language learning; and advanced intensive language summer programs in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Brigham Young University was awarded a grant to establish the National Middle East Language Resource Center (NMELRC). NMELRC is engaged in a variety of resource assessment, materials development and teacher training initiatives that promote the study of Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish. It is conducting nationwide surveys of students, teachers and program administrators to evaluate the learning and teaching of these languages. A variety of web-based teaching resources are being developed, including student and instructor handbooks on learning and teaching Middle East languages, an administrator handbook providing guidance on establishing and running successful Middle East language programs, a guide to study abroad and intensive language programs, best practice video materials, electronic courseware components, narratives and listening comprehension modules. NMELRC has also developed a high school social studies course with content-based instruction in Arabic. Many NMELRC initiatives involve collaborations with other institutions, harnessing their expertise and resources to build national strength in the field.

The South Asia Language Resource Center (SALRC), coordinated by the University of Chicago, is a collaborative effort involving several institutions including the Title VI-funded National Resource Centers for South Asian area studies. Combining the diverse resources of South Asian studies programs across the country, SALRC seeks to advance the study of the region's languages and improve the national infrastructure for teaching and learning Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, Tamil, Urdu and others. SALRC's strategies for accomplishing this include offering advanced pedagogy training and language seminars in conjunction with the South Asia Summer Language Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; commissioning web-based, integrated course materials including graded readers, course modules and language reference materials; developing a shared infrastructure for disseminating and archiving South Asian language resources; and coordinating efforts with institutions having complementary language interests, including other LRCs and Title VI-funded American Overseas Research Centers.

"South Asia is one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world, with four language families comprised of more than 650 individual languages. Apart from the languages that rank in the top ten numbers of speakers worldwide -- Hindi ranked second and Bengali sixth -- many of the so-called minority languages are spoken by significantly greater numbers of people than more well-known and more widely-taught European languages. Because of this astonishing linguistic diversity, no single U.S. university has the resources to address the demand for expertise."
-- South Asia Language Resource Center application for FY2002-2005 Title VI funding

Three of the four LRCs in these targeted world regions - SALRC, SEELRC, and CeLCAR -- grew out of area studies efforts supported by Title VI National Resource Centers (NRCs). Charged with building national capacity in foreign language, area and international studies, the NRCs have expanded their efforts with support from FY2002 funding. Four additional NRCs for Middle East, South Asian, and Russian/East European/Central Asian studies were established, bringing the total number in those areas to 44. The new South Asian Studies NRC at the University of Pennsylvania organized a number of activities as a result of the funding, including offering Pashto language courses and hosting a visiting professor from Islamabad to teach courses on the history of Afghanistan and the Islamic cultures of South Asia. The University of Washington's South Asia Center has established new study abroad programs in Bangalore and Hyderabad, India and has sponsored a series of colloquia on security issues in South Asia including India-Pakistan relations and India's nuclear program, among other initiatives. Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies at the University of Washington has supported Lithuanian, Kazakh, and Uzbek instruction as well as collaborative efforts between the Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences and the US Department of Energy focusing on security threats in the former Soviet Union. The University of Michigan's Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies offered a "Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" mini-course featuring leading Israeli and Palestinian scholars, supported Turkish, Persian, and summer intensive Business Arabic instruction, and organized both a conference and teacher workshop on contributions to science from the Islamic world, among other activities.

"NRC support has helped to cement our new Institute for Global and Regional Security Studies, a partnership…designed to provide training for students interested in security issues in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, with a particular emphasis on problems of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
-- Stephen E. Hanson, Director, Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies, University of Washington

Existing NRCs were awarded funding for new initiatives in support of the objectives identified in the conference report. For example, the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center at Indiana University hired Kazakh and Xinjiang language specialists and offered a new course on environmental problems in Central Asia -- introducing students to issues critical to the region's political and economic stability. The Center for Asian Studies at the University of Texas, a South Asia NRC, was able to hire a full-time Urdu lecturer, to hold conferences on Pakistan and its regional languages and on conflict in Kashmir, and to introduce a new undergraduate course on Afghanistan.

"The extra funding has been significant in a number of ways. …We thus continue to maintain our comprehensive coverage of all parts of South Asia….but with more activity clearly focused on the northern regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India, especially Kashmir."
-- Kathryn Hansen, Director, Center for Asian Studies, University of Texas

Stronger academic programs would mean little without students. Title VI Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships play a major role in securing enrollments in less commonly taught language and area studies programs. The FY2002 appropriation enabled ED to direct a significant funding increase to the FLAS program, responding to the Congressional directive to "double the number of students pursuing advanced training in Arabic, Azeri, Persian/Dari, Pashto, Tajik, Uzbek, Urdu, and other languages spoken in the critical world regions of Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and Russia/Eastern Europe." New allocations of FLAS fellowships were awarded to the South Asian centers at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Washington and to the Middle East centers at the Universities of Utah and Washington. Additional summer and academic year FLAS fellowships were granted to existing grantees, bringing the total number of fellowships supporting studies in the targeted areas to 690 -- a net increase of 314 over the prior year. The department has continued to increase the number of FLAS fellowships awarded in these world areas, adding 99 more following its FY2003-2005 NRC/FLAS grant competition. The present total -- 487 academic year and 302 summer FLAS, represents a 118% increase over FY2001 allocations. Actual numbers of students that will be supported by the fellowships are even greater, with many grantee universities committing matching funds or finding ways to stretch the FLAS funding to support more awards than were originally allocated.

The department was also able to increase the stipend level provided to FLAS fellows, making it a more attractive fellowship to students in the professional schools and in universities in high cost locations. Using the FLAS program and institution's criteria to select fellows, grantee institutions are seeking to ensure that more fellowships support students who have indicated an interest in government careers. Bill Fierman, Director of the Inner Asian & Uralic National Resource Center, notes that many students of Central Asian studies perceive Federal service as a desirable career path because they know that jobs are available "at the end of the pipeline."

"We expect to increase the number of students pursuing language study and anticipate growing interest as our new language programs in Urdu and Bengali become as well known as our Hindi program. Since several of our South Asia MA students pursue concurrent degrees in…professional schools whose graduates often enter public service, the increased funding will have an impact on capacity building in this area."
-- Keith Snodgrass, Associate Director and Outreach Coordinator, South Asia Center, University of Washington

The additional funds appropriated in FY2002 have also been used to support related projects in other Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs, particularly in Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad and Faculty Research Abroad, the vital Fulbright-Hays programs for developing area and language experts. The department is also working to encourage projects that will involve disseminating and evaluating the results of Title VI and Fulbright-Hays funded activities, as recommended in the congressional report. Mechanisms to encourage such activities include providing technical assistance to prospective grantees and establishing priorities for funding.

As can be seen by the many different ways funds are being used, strengthening national capacity in foreign language and area studies is a complex process. Meeting this critical national security need requires both Federal sponsorship and extensive collaboration among educational institutions. While the FY2002 funding increase has produced some immediate results, the process of training area experts is ongoing. Developing the necessary proficiency in a language and culture takes time, as well as institutional infrastructure and resources to sustain quality academic programs. The recent emphasis on the languages and societies of Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union has strengthened teaching resources, scholarly dialogue, and incentives for student enrollment in these regions' programs. However, as we've seen recently in Iraq, the central issue of security is a changing construct, with today's allies capable of posing tomorrow's threats. The aftermath of 9/11 has reinforced the need for a long-term investment in ongoing language and area studies training in all world areas. Title VI and Fulbright-Hays enable a joint federal/university partnership that seeks to achieve and maintain this national capacity for years to come.



Last Modified: 01/21/2011