For Kevin Dodez, the choice to major in Chinese had as much to do with statistics as the language itself.
“One out of every six people is Chinese,” said Dodez of Ocean Springs. “Since China has both a booming economy and an enormous population, it only makes sense that one should learn to communicate with the Chinese population in their native tongue.”
Those realities of the global economy are what spurred the Department of Modern Languages to create a major in Chinese—the only one in Mississippi. The program builds on UM’s existing National Flagship Language Program in Intensive Chinese, which has offered intensive training in Chinese for three years through the combined work of the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Department of Modern Languages.
In the global marketplace, the demand for multilingual citizens is high. President George W. Bush has requested $114 million for fiscal year 2007 to fund the National Security Language Initiative, intended to address the nation’s “crucial needs” languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Russian.
“Our country is so much more enmeshed in the world than ever before,” said Michael Metcalf, executive director of the Croft Institute.
Metcalf said that until recently, the United States had not placed a premium on producing homegrown, multilingual citizens. Those who did learn foreign languages usually learned European languages such as French, Spanish and German.
However, the global arena has changed; now there is a growing movement to produce more speakers of other languages. In fact, the federally funded NFLP in Intensive Chinese at UM is a direct product of a federal effort to develop advanced speakers of other languages—the only such program in Chinese offered nationally to undergraduates.
Donald Dyer, chair of the Department of Modern Languages, said the NFLP allows UM to join America’s elite programs in undergraduate foreign-language instruction. The program allows us “to play a vital role in the education and training of a new cadre of skilled critical language-learners necessary for this country’s future defense and economic concerns.”
“NFLP has been extremely well-received by its students, who spend countless hours a day working on their Chinese-language abilities,” Dyer said. “Its notoriety has spread throughout campus, the state and the region. The department often fields calls from students in other states who are interested in applying to the program.”
The intensive program, which will support the Chinese major, combines the use of technology such as MP3 audio downloads, extensive course work and several extended trips to China. Yi Lin, director of the intensive Chinese program, said the technology-based assignments are a strong component of the program because listening to the language is crucial to achieving proficiency.
Once proficient, students will be able to pursue careers ranging from diplomacy to international business. Dodez, who plans to double-major in international studies and Chinese, hopes to find a job as a liaison for an American company in China or vice versa. It is a field he believes has a lot of potential because of the way telecommunications and travel have changed.
“Although technology has made communication and translation easier, the most effective and trustworthy form of communication is face to face,” said Dodez, a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. “A real conversation requires a skillful command of language. A professor once told me, ‘You can buy anything in English, but you can only sell something to someone in their own language.’”
Susan Lawrence, an Honors College student from Madison, also plans to double-major in international studies and Chinese.
“Learning a foreign language today is imperative not only because we are communicating globally with other languages, but also because we are communicating globally with other cultures,” said Lawrence, who intends to pursue a career in foreign policymaking. “In my Chinese studies, I have gained valuable insight into Chinese culture and the Chinese mind-set, which I hope to use someday in the workplace.
“As more and more university students enter college with significant experience with more common languages such as Spanish, it is important for universities to offer opportunities to learn languages such as Chinese.”