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Federal government and IU place emphasis on language flagship



The U.S. government created the Language Flagship Program to encourage an increase in foreign language proficiency as well as global awareness in America.

Merriam-Webster defines a flagship as “the finest, largest, or most important one of a series, network, or chain.”

Bloomington features not only a high density of ethnic restaurants and a diverse population, but a campus which boasts one of the most distinguished Language Flagship programs in the country.The nationwide program is designed to help students reach a professional proficiency in languages including Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Turkish. IU offers Arabic, Chinese and Turkish programs. 

Flagship began as an initiative by the National Security Education Program that was created by the National Security Education Act of 1991. This program falls under the jurisdiction of many federal departments, primarily the Department of Defense. 

Its stated goal is to equip American citizens with the ability to gain proficiency in a language, enriching the nation’s supply of language-adept scholars.

The program was created largely in light of research showing that Americans are lagging behind the rest of the world by way of proficiency with foreign languages. According to a study done by the Modern Language Association in 2013, a smaller fraction of students are taking language courses than ever before, but those who take language courses are reaching higher levels than those that previous students reached. 

Following a steady rise in language learning interest since 1980, enrollment in language courses other than English dropped 6.7 percent from 2009 to 2013. Spanish and French continue to be the most-studied languages in the United States, with American Sign Language, German and Chinese trailing closely behind.

“I think the DOD is doing a lot. They want to entice and attract students to learn a lot of critical languages,” Yea-Fen Chen said. 

Chen is the director of IU’s Chinese Flagship Program. She explained that the federal funding received every four years by the program is used to support students’ travel as well as put together cultural events on campus.

Army Reserve Officer Training Corps members who join Flagship receive funding from the Army, and students who pledge to work for the government for one year after graduation can receive additional funding through the Boren Scholars program. 

Students who apply to flagship programs are matched with tutors and instructors who abide by the Language Flagship’s model of education to prepare them for professional mastery in their language of choice. At IU, students who are part of the Chinese flagship program intern in China at international companies and complete a full capstone year studying in China.

The Turkish flagship is only available at IU, and the program also culminates with a year abroad in Azerbaijan, a country that borders Turkey,  including study and an internship. The CIA recognizes Turkish as the 10th most-needed language for their operations. 

“I joined flagship because I wanted to be a psychiatrist, and I would prefer to live and work out of Chicago or New York," junior Rylan Deer said. "There’s a very big Turkish population there that’s either forced to speak English during their exams or they have to have a translator and sometimes the translator isn’t very good.” 

Deer is a member of the Turkish program at IU.

Arabic, on the other hand, is the language the CIA and U.S. government currently place the most value on knowing. The Arabic flagship program is offered at only five universities in the U.S., IU included. 

“I joined Flagship because I wanted to be really good at Arabic," sophomore Lauren Ehrmann said. "I study Islamic architecture and art, and to do that you have to have some familiarity with the language.”

Flagship students are recognized by governmental and university-wide reports as being more prepared than the average student to get a job offer out of college due to their language proficiency. The 2015 Flagship report to Congress recognizes that a main focus of the program is to get undergraduates interested in governmental service.

Due to the importance of the program to the government, federal funding is largely available for flagship students. Funds are awarded more readily to students who are interested in working in national security. 

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