By Natalie Crnosija
Due to a $171,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to teach strategically-important Asian languages to undergraduates, the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University advanced language classes remained intact as many other departments made cuts.
The Department of Education’s grant was created under President Bush’s National Security Language Initiative (NSLI) to strengthen foreign language learning throughout all levels of the United States’ education system. Professor Eriko Sato of the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies applied for the grant in 2006 which became effective May 2007 until May 2009.
Strategic languages, which include Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, Hindi and Russian, are languages of foreign countries who the Defense Department views as potential threats to the United States.
“The establishment of ‘No Child Left Behind’ in 2002 actually hurt foreign language learning in the United States,” said Sato. Due to the requirements of “No Child Left Behind,” all teachers of foreign languages were required to have Master’s Degrees in their language.
The effort to raise the level of teachers nationwide handicapped emerging Asian Language learning in the K-12 education bracket, according to Sato. This was made most evident by the establishment of the AP Chinese and AP Japanese tests produced by the College Board, an international test making company, in 2006. The tests were there, as were the students. The teachers, however, were absent due to the scarcity of Asian language educators with Master’s Degrees.
The Department of Education’s grant was given, in part, to educate teachers of Asian Languages, according to Sato. The Department of Asian and Asian American Studies offers Hindi, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Before the NSLI grant, few advanced courses in these languages existed with the possibility of teacher preparation.
Apart from the three applied linguistic courses specialized for Asian language teachers, there are 9 upper-division Asian language courses, including Business Chinese (CHI 410), Advanced Hindi (HIN 311), Business Japanese (JAP 410) and Advanced Korean IV (KOR 412).
“These courses try to give students the knowledge and skills for their professions, whatever they may be,” said Sato.
Sato said that many different students study languages for different reasons. Language relates to many different disciplines and, according to Sato, the SUNY system is supportive of language study and language in relation to other disciplines.
The SUNY system, however, will not be able to maintain all their language programs under the impending budget cuts. Stony Brook University’s Asian Language program will be untouched by cuts until May 2009, when the grant is terminated.
“Then, we will have to reapply for a grant from the State or University,” said Sato. “If we don’t get a grant there, we’ll look into other grants.”
Sato remains confident with the direction of the program and hopes for increased coordination between the Asian and Asian American Studies and Linguistic Departments to create new, innovative applied linguistics and pedagogy courses to prepare teachers for Asian language teaching in the nation’s schools.