California State University, Long Beach
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Institutions Work Together In Language Initiative

CSULB takes the lead this year among five other CSU campuses in a multi-million-dollar federally funded project to teach strategic languages.

The first phase of the Strategic Language Initiative Program of the Southern Consortium of California State Universities (SCCSU) brings together the infrastructure and language faculty expertise of CSULB, CSU Fullerton, Cal State LA, CSU Northridge, CSU Dominguez Hills and CSU San Bernardino.

The SCCSU will create intensive and highly demanding programs that integrate language learning with academic majors for career opportunities in government and industry professions, explained College of Liberal Arts Dean Gerry Riposa.

“The College of Liberal Arts’ participation in the Strategic Language Initiative re-imprints the core of our mission, which is, as we become a transformative university, to become a global university and to anchor our programs in languages and culture,” said Riposa. “As we look at the job market, we can see that languages are called for in both the public and private sectors. When other universities in the U.S. were cutting language courses, CSULB added them. We kept them through the ups and downs of state budgets because they represent a commitment we can build on. When this program is done, we will have attracted slightly more than $5 million in support to this project across 15 months.”

CSULB will specialize in Mandarin Chinese, CSUF will offer Farsi, CSULA will offer Korean, CSUN will offer Russian, and CSUSB will offer Arabic.

“Cal State Dominguez Hills will not offer a language but will be involved in recruiting and will serve as the site of a technology workshop,” said COLA’s director of special projects Frank Fata, who also is a former COLA Associate Dean. Each campus will enroll around 15 students subdivided into two cohorts of heritage speakers and advanced non-heritage speakers. The program’s success will be measured through pre- and post-test analysis of language proficiency progress, with a target of 80 percent program completion and an increase in participating students’ language proficiencies.

“Collectively, the Southern California campuses of the CSU system are ideally positioned to engage in this task,” said project organizer Jutta Birmele, who joined the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department in 1987. “The CSU serves the most linguistically diverse populations in our nation, enrolling more than 100,000 students each year with large heritage language communities near each campus.”

Birmele points out that 48 languages are spoken at CSULB. “We are fishing in the pond of heritage and native speakers,” she said. “We are looking for students who already have some background in another language.”

This summer, CSULB will host an intensive language immersion program offering two tracks in Mandarin for heritage speakers and for non-heritage speakers. The program offers six weeks of language classes and conversation practice five days a week plus language and culture activities during the entire day. CSULB has provided leadership for similar programs in Korean at CSULA, Persian at CSU Fullerton, Arabic at CSU San Bernardino, and (in summer 2008) Russian at CSU Northridge.

In addition to CSULB’s pilot program in summer intensive Chinese instruction, the university proposes to create a comprehensive language testing and proficiency analysis program to assist the university in identifying heritage language and other students who may be ideal candidates for advanced language proficiency training.

Fata encouraged interested students to apply. “This will be language instruction committed to the professional lives of students,” he said. “The government is especially interested that students with certain majors such as math, communication studies, philosophy and computer science be able to speak another language. This program takes a long step towards helping the needs of society for professional citizens who can perform in various languages and especially the lesser-spoken languages.”