Sept. 11 Underscores Critical Languages Need
by Sean A. Flynt
Foreign language skill is among the least-discussed national
security issues in post-September 11 America. Yet, the U.S.
General Accounting Office recently reported to Congress that
the dearth of people speaking critical foreign languages has
"adversely affected agency operations and hindered U.S.
military, law enforcement, intelligence, counterterrorism
and diplomatic efforts." The FBI's current list of "Critical
Skill Needs," for example, reflects a shortfall not only
in the specialized, cutting-edge fields of physical science
and foreign counterintelligence, but also in old-fashioned
proficiency in over 10 languages and dialects.
While this problem is not new, since September, its consequences
are no longer theoretical. And while Samford University's
Critical Languages Program [CLP] is not new, its mission seems
more important than ever. "Last year, we were told that
more than 50,000 positions requiring expertise in languages
seldom taught in this country went begging in government alone,"
said Terry Pickett, Samford professor of world languages and
cultures and director of the program. "The shortfall
includes several languages we teach here."
|Samford's Critical Languages
Program tutors include, front, from left, Eiko Chapman, who
teaches Japanese, and Larissa Charny, Russian; center middle,
Rebeca Mann, Spanish; back, from left, Lotus Tsay, Chinese;
David Sanderson, Portuguese; Suad Khalaf, Arabic; and Dr. Francesco
Iannuzzi, Italian. Not pictured: Stephen Ireri, Swahili, and
Lucia Sanderson, Portuguese.
The CLP, part of Samford's Department of World Languages and Cultures,
offers courses in Arabic, Chinese, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese,
Portuguese, Russian and Swahili, affording Samford students the
opportunity to pursue otherwise inaccessible language minors. Its
twice-weekly, early-evening schedule of four courses over two years
also favors participation by others in the community, from high
school students to adult professionals. College students at any
of the institutions affiliated with the Birmingham Area Consortium
for Higher Education [BACHE]--which includes Samford, Birmingham-Southern
College, Miles College, the University of Montevallo and the University
of Alabama at Birmingham--may also participate.
Pickett said the self-directed nature of the courses attracts "highly
motivated and mature students" who study intensively between
class meetings and rely on their tutors mainly as guides for grammar
and pronunciation. Samford's tutors also formally teach the language
skills, "so the students get a double bargain." In addition
to the tutors, Samford instructor Heather West helps students with
language laboratory work, and expert examiners from other universities
in the region administer final oral and written CLP exams at the
end of each semester.
The CLP faculty (see photo) all are native speakers and have been
immersed in the foreign cultures they represent. In this respect,
Samford's CLP is like other programs affiliated with the National
Association for Self-Instructional Language Program [NASILP].
Unlike many other NASILP affiliates, which rely on transient foreign-national
graduate-student tutors, Samford's CLP faculty are local professionals
who return to the program and hone their teaching skills year after
year. They include people fleeing oppression in their native countries,
people who grew up in missionary families serving abroad and even
a rocket scientist (Dr. Francesco Iannuzzi) who donates his earnings
to a scholarship fund that allows Samford students to study in Italy.
Their personal stories and perspectives help CLP students connect
to the cultures behind the languages. Ultimately, that may help
our nation understand foreign friends and enemies alike.
Samford's Critical Languages Program offers courses from 6 p.m.
to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday evenings during the University's
regular spring and fall semesters.
For more information, contact Dr. Terry Pickett, director, at (205)
726-4208 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.