A new federal initiative to improve language study could benefit students at Yale.
President George W. Bush ’68 told a crowd of 120 college presidents late last week that he will ask Congress for $114 million in funding to teach languages deemed “critical” for national security from kindergarten through college. The proposed program will produce 1,000 new teachers of these critical languages — including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi and Russian — and 1,000 reserve linguists in those languages.
Association of American Universities President Nils Hasselmo said Bush seems dedicated to improving language study.
“It’s a welcome initiative, and it indicates that the White House is concerned about strengthening our international relationships,” Hasselmo said.
But AAU spokesman Barry Toiv said at this point it is unclear how the program will be designed.
“We certainly hope that the program is structured in a way that universities like Yale and other AAU universities can have a chance to participate because so many of them have great language programs,” he said.
Yale Chinese professor Lu Ming said he thinks the proposal will mostly impact high schools and elementary schools, but will have good long-term effects on the University’s language study.
“Students who start learning languages like Chinese in high school will continue their study here,” Ming said. “It will bring us more students eventually.”
Ming said he hopes Yale will receive a portion of the program’s large budget, citing the need for new computer equipment that he said would make teaching more effective.
“With this financial support, teachers will be enthusiastic about developing new material and technology-oriented courses,” he said.
Director of Language Study Nina Garrett said she thinks any governmental investment in language is important to academic institutions, but is also skeptical about whether Yale will get any funding.
“Since a high proportion of the program’s funds will go to the military academy and elsewhere, how worthwhile it is to Yale remains to be seen,” she said. “Having lived through many of these initiatives, I can’t be too wildly enthusiastic yet.”
The program also plans to aid low-income students with language-study fellowships and increase federal support for language-immersion programs abroad, such as the planned expansion of the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program.
Arabic professor Beatrice Gruendler said she thinks study-abroad programs and other cultural programs that are otherwise limited by Yale’s budget would benefit from the proposed program.
“We could open new courses and do wonderful things like inviting foreign scholars to speak to students, holding conferences and putting more money into immersion-study funding,” she said.
Students expressed mixed reactions to the new measure. Christopher Wells ’06 said he believes a governmental investment in non-traditional languages can do much to make students more knowledgeable about the world.
“There’s a tendency in this country to avoid taking the study of language seriously that will prove detrimental if it isn’t stopped,” Wells said.
But Gabriel Monteros ’09, who is studying Chinese, said he thinks Yale’s language program is strong as it is, without the proposed program.
“Maybe some extra funding would help with overcrowding, but apart from that I have really enjoyed my experience in Chinese,” he said.
Gruendler said she hopes that language departments themselves will be able to decide how to spend the money, if Yale does receive funding.