A report published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in February asserts that the ability to understand, speak, read, and write in world languages, in addition to English, is critical to success in business, research, and international relations. The report, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century, also notes that business and military leaders have concerns about America’s limited capacity in languages.
According to the report, almost 30 percent of the U.S. business executives who participated in a 2014 Coalition for International Education study reported missed opportunities abroad due to a lack of on-staff language skills, and nearly 40 percent reported that language barriers prevented them from fulfilling their international potential.
For the military and federal service agencies, increasing language proficiency is a priority for national security, diplomacy and economic competitiveness. The report notes that in response to the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigations increased the number of language experts on staff by 85 percent, and, in 2012, the U.S. Department of State increased the number of “language- designated positions” by 15 percent.
“Our internationalization efforts over the past several years have resulted in robust language and culture programs that are enhanced by our educational partnerships around the world,” UNG President Bonita Jacobs said. “Our goal is to ensure our graduates are globally competitive and prepared to serve as professional, civic and military leaders.”
UNG has language programs in Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish – eight of which are included on the U.S. Department of Defense’s strategic language list. Initial course offerings in Farsi and Portuguese are new this year.
“Every day, in Atlanta at the world’s busiest airport and in Savannah at the fourth-largest port in the United States, the world arrives at our doorstep and the volume of that traffic is steadily increasing,” said Patrick Wallace, program specialist for World Languages and Global Workforce Initiatives with the Georgia Department of Education. “International businesses continue to move to our region and the cultural and linguistic diversity in our communities is also on the rise. These skills will only continue to be in demand in the coming years.”
UNG has emerged as a preeminent school for strategic language instruction and has received significant federal funding for language initiatives. UNG’s ROTC Chinese Language Flagship program, the only such program in the country, gives cadets the opportunity to pursue a major of their choice in conjunction with intensive Chinese language training and is supported by a $1.2 million grant from the Defense Language National Security Education Office.
Cadet Gavin C. Greif of Dacula, Georgia, chose UNG because of the Flagship Program and is in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate program at UNG. He plans to teach in China after graduating.
“I never would’ve considered starting my career this way unless I had been a language major here at UNG, and I’m very excited,” Greif said. “I cannot express enough gratitude for all the time and hard work my teachers put in inside and outside of the classroom to ensure the quality education my classmates and I have experienced.”
At UNG, language programs stress several important factors – faculty who are native speakers, instruction in both language and culture, and language immersion.
David Hagler of Grayson, Georgia, studied at Zhejiang Normal University in Jinhua, China, for the 2016-17 academic year through the Flagship Program, and a Chinese Government Scholarship covers virtually all of his expenses.“
In the Chinese language, there are many dialects and accents, so having native speakers will certainly broaden one’s listening ability – not to mention, the insight of how native speakers form natural sentences and express natural emotions,” Hagler said.
Many languages at UNG are taught in an intensive format that means a student takes two combined courses – Arabic 1001 and 1002, for instance – in one semester.
“We’re interested in producing verbally proficient students,” Dr. Brian Mann, head of UNG’s World Languages and Cultures Division, said. “The more intense your learning experience is, the faster you will progress and the faster you will reach a level of proficiency in which you can really use the language.”
The growth of language programs has widened opportunities to study and intern abroad through partnerships around the world on five continents. Additionally, students studying languages at UNG continue to excel academically, earning numerous competitive national scholarships like Boren, Gilman International, Critical Language, and Freeman-Asia scholarships to further their studies abroad.
Most notably, of the nine UNG students selected as Fulbright Scholarship finalists this year, three are pursuing majors in modern languages, including Anita Renfroe, who started her language studies at UNG in the Federal Service Language Academy (FSLA) while in high school.
FSLA is a three-week summer program that combines intensive language courses with career counseling in the field of federal service. Like UNG’s college courses, FSLA has added students and languages since beginning in 2010. UNG also offers the Summer Language Institute that allows college students the opportunity to earn eight academic credit hours in six weeks.
Teressa Rose King took Japanese courses at UNG this spring via dual enrollment before graduating from high school in May. She has already decided to enter the new East Asian studies program at UNG, which is funded through a $400,000 grant from the Japan Foundation.
“Japanese has been a very intensive course. I’ve had to fully immerse myself in the language both in class and at home. This has actually helped me to remember the concepts that we learn in class and how to properly apply them in real-life situations,” King said.
Dr. Marci Middleton, the University System of Georgia’s assistant vice chancellor for academic programs, said that it is becoming more advantageous for today’s college students to have knowledge of foreign language and cultures.
“Students will be working in a society with an increasingly global emphasis that will require enhanced communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, and creativity. Embedded within their knowledge base will be a need to understand cultures in terms of language, norms, artifacts, customs, and beliefs,” Middleton said.