AAS Less Commonly Taught Languages Distance Initiative Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation

The Association for Asian Studies is pleased to announce that it has received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to fund a pilot project in the association’s new Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs) Initiative.

According to the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL), ninety-one percent of American students who study a foreign language learn Spanish, French, German, or Italian. The remaining nine percent are engaged in the study of LCTLs. Even within that category, however, the distribution of students is uneven, with some languages more widely taught than others.

In the field of Asian Studies, for example, Chinese and Japanese courses are far more prevalent than those in Burmese or Gujarati—though Myanmar and India are no less important than China or Japan to regional dynamics in Asia. Smooth international relations rely heavily on the presence of government officials, nonprofit workers, scholars, and journalists with fluency in multiple languages. “As the world becomes increasingly complex,” explains AAS President Katherine Bowie, “it becomes all the more important to foster access to linguistic diversity to ensure mutual global understanding.”

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW), the AAS project will create a database of institutions that offer distance instruction in Asian LCTLs. LCTL courses that only enroll a few students are often among the first on the chopping block when financial cuts are made. Distance-learning is one way to meet the challenge of preserving LCTL instruction in the face of budgetary restrictions at many universities, while simultaneously expanding access.

Bowie experienced this firsthand in 2011, when she became director of UW’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) just as reduced federal support for Title VI National Resource Centers and state budget cuts both hit CSEAS hard. With all of its language courses in jeopardy, CSEAS broadened a previous experiment with distance-learning instruction for LCTLs. “We began developing distance instruction,” Bowie explains, “establishing swaps with other universities, in which we exported languages they did not teach and imported languages we were not teaching. As a result, we not only maintained the five Southeast Asian languages we were already offering, but were able to add two more by importing them from other universities.” The AAS LCTL initiative will hopefully enable similar new opportunities for distance LCTL instruction across the country.

The pilot project will run from September 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018 and will result in the creation of a website containing the database of Asian distance LCTL offerings. Students and institutions seeking instruction in a specific LCTL will be able to consult the website and connect with schools offering that language. A second phase of the project, involving LCTL pedagogical workshops, is still in the planning stage.

If you have questions about the project or wish to learn more, please contact AAS Director of Outreach and Strategic Initiatives Robert Snow.