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September 2, 2004

   

BRYN MAWR PROFESSOR LEADS FEDERAL LANGUAGE INITIATIVE

Dan Davidson

Dan Davidson

The National Security Education Program, charged by Congress with building the base of foreign-language and culture experts necessary to guide the government in global issues, has asked Bryn Mawr Professor of Russian Dan Davidson for advice in designing its National Flagship Language Initiative. The NFLI is "the nation's first major partnership between the federal government and higher education to implement a national system of programs designed to produce advanced language competency in languages critical to the nation's security," says an NSEP report.

Language programs in the United States, both federal and academic, generally aim for "limited working proficiency," the report says. "This level of language is generally insufficient in more complex and sophisticated work-related tasks." The NFLI is designed to address a critical need for higher language competency among American professionals, particularly those who will join federal agencies. Pilot programs in Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Russian have been developed, with consultation from Davidson, at five universities around the country. Davidson himself oversees the pilot program in Russian.

Bryn Mawr and the American Councils for International Education, of which Davidson is co-founder and president, received a $135,000 grant from the NSEP to design the pilot program in Russian and assess its effectiveness after a year.

"It is essential that the Flagship Initiative draw on the best current research and practice in the field in bringing students to high professional levels of proficiency," said NSEP Director Robert Slater. Davidson is one of the nation's foremost experts in second-language acquisition, proficiency assessment and program evaluation.

The program began this week in Russia, at St. Petersburg State University, with nine students who will receive a year's worth of intensive language training that is individually tailored to each participant's professional or academic needs. A second NSEP grant of $225,000 fully funds their tuition, living and travel expenses; they will receive academic credits from Bryn Mawr College.

According to the NSEP, the NFLI is unique among its programs in establishing partnerships between the federal government and institutions of higher education, "drawing upon the experience of leading government and academic second language acquisition and curriculum specialists … and exploiting the resources of several of the nation's leading universities."

"NFLI is important for American universities in several ways," Davidson said. "Foremost among them is the understanding behind the program and its funding that U.S. national capacity in modern foreign languages can be developed through the U.S. secondary- and higher-education systems, rather than relying solely on U.S. government language training centers."

Bryn Mawr was selected to pioneer the NFLI program and oversee its design and assessment because of the College's distinguished program in Russian and its well-known tradition for the implementation and empirical assessment of second-language learning in a study-abroad context. Bryn Mawr has cooperated with the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR) in Russian study abroad for the past 28 years. ACTR is a division of the American Councils for International Education, which is the principal administrator of U.S. government-funded exchanges between the United States, Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

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