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  America
Bush Announces Strategic Language Initiative
He Requests $114 Mil. for Foreign Language Education
By Sarah Brown
Princetonian Staff Writer
US President George Bush

President Bush on Jan. 5, 2006 announced a new hundred-million-dollar initiative to bolster U.S. national security by expanding foreign language education in this country, especially of key languages including Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi.

The announcement came during remarks at a State Department summit of 133 higher education leaders, including President Tilghman.

Bush is requesting $114 million from Congress for the effort, called the National Security Language Initiative, which includes programs aimed at increasing foreign language education from kindergarten through the university level and into the workforce.

"You can't win in the long run for democracy unless you've got the capacity to help spread democracy," Bush said this afternoon. "You see, we got to convince people of the benefits of a free society. And you can't convince people unless you can talk to them. And I'm not talking to them right now directly; I'm talking through an interpreter on some of these Arabic TV stations."

Tilghman agreed with the importance of language education, saying in an email today: "I am a strong proponent of language training for Princeton students, so I would welcome any increase in encouragement for this."

The two-day summit, co-hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, is designed to "strengthen international education, emphasizing its importance to the national interest," according to a State Department release. It will feature remarks by Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld '54.

Among Bush's proposed initiatives is a National Language Service Corps, designed to encourage foreign language speakers to work for the federal government. A newly created Language Teacher Corps — which State Department officials said is modeled after Wendy Kopp '89's Teach for America program — places speakers as language teachers in an elementary, middle or high school.

The initiative will also fund a financial aid program for students who pledge to take a government job after graduation. Another component aims to produce 2,000 advanced speakers of critical languages by promoting education at the graduate level.

Other plans include additional Fulbright funding to recruit 300 foreign students to teach at U.S. colleges and expanded language immersion programs for Americans willing to go abroad.

The summit comes after declining enrollment of foreign students at U.S. colleges, which some observers attribute to perceived American hostility toward foreigners who have had increased difficulty in obtaining student visas since Sept. 11, 2001. During that period, other countries have also increased efforts to attract foreign students.

A 2004-05 report compiled by the Institute of International Education revealed a drop of 1.3 percent from the previous academic year.

At Princeton, initial reactions to the announcement were cautiously optimistic.

East Asian Studies (EAS) professor Perry Link said it was encouraging that the government is willing to spend money to expand language programs. But he worried that students will receive training from unqualified teachers who haven't mastered the languages.

Link said the Chinese language programs run by the U.S. government are among the weakest in the country, and he fears that politicians will waste resources by "throwing money at the problem."

"If the politicians turn to the U.S. government programs for their guidance, their millions of dollars will be largely wasted, and the ability of Americans to speak Chinese will continue to lag way, way behind the abilities of Chinese people to speak English," Link said.

A similar approach to increasing American's knowledge of "strategic languages" was developed during the Cold War. In response to competition from the Soviet Union, the U.S. government issued the National Defense Education Act in 1959 to increase funding for foreign language classes, especially Russian.

"East Asian Studies and other regional programs at Princeton benefited greatly from those programs — often in ways that had nothing directly to do with American foreign policy, like the study of early modern Japanese history or medieval Chinese poetry," EAS department chair David Howell said.

But Howell said the proposed foreign language training is insufficient to bring the nation in line with other countries' attempts to attract foreign students.

"It's important to offer broad training in the culture, history, and contemporary social and economic conditions of the non-Western world," he said. "Princeton is strong in many regional-studies areas, so I would hope that the University would see this as an opportunity to build on its strengths and, at the same time, demonstrate in concrete terms its recent commitment to fostering Princeton's 'internationalization' and 'globalization.' "

Summit participants were drawn from all 50 states and represent public and private research institutions, community colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, historically black institutions, religiously-affiliated institutions and women's colleges.

Among those participating were the presidents of Stanford University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College and MIT.

"We tried to invite people from different kinds of colleges and institutions to represent the many forms of education across the U.S.," State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs spokesman Adam Meier said in an interview today.




 

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