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:

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Maintained by University Relations. Last updated: June 18, 2002

Spring 2002
Vol. 19, No. 1

Seasons Staff

William Nunnelley
Mary Wimberley
Associate Editor
Jack Brymer
Contributing Writer
Sean Flynt
Contributing Writer
Scott Camp
Multimedia Graphic Designer
Donna Fitch
Web Designer & Editor
Janica York
Editorial Assistant
Caroline Baird Summers

Samford University Alumni Association Officers 2002-03

Bennie Bumpers '63
Sonya Bumpers '63

Tom Armstrong '73
Vice President

Brooke Dill Stewart '95

Seasons is published quarterly by Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, Alabama 35229, and is distributed free to all alumni of the University, as well as to other friends. Samford University is an Equal Opportunity Institution and welcomes applications for employment and educational programs from all individuals regardless of race, color, age, sex, disability or national or ethnic origin.