Language learning advocates have long argued that the typical two-year foreign language requirement at many of the nation's high schools and colleges is not enough to ensure high levels of proficiency.
Some also argue that schools should more readily offer lesser-taught languages such as Hindi, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic to aid in cross-cultural understanding, international diplomacy and job marketability.
These are among the concerns driving the research, outreach and development of teaching materials of the University of Arizona Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language, and Literacy.
One of 15 federally-supported National Foreign Language Resource Centers in the nation, the center has just earned its second U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant.
At $1.3 million, the grant will support 12 projects over the next four years that will improve the instruction and learning primarily of less commonly taught languages.
"One of the things that Language Resource Centers are really about is supporting language teachers simply because language teaching and learning resources, especially in the less and lesser taught languages, are just so few," said Beatrice Dupuy, co-director of the center, also known as CERCLL.
Linda Waugh, co-director of the center located in the UA's College of Humanities, said U.S. high schools teach "a short list of languages," yet the federal government is interested in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and many others, including indigenous languages of various regions of the world.
"These languages are of interest because of foreign policy, defense, business or economic opportunities," said Waugh, also a UA professor of French, English, anthropology, linguistics, and language, reading and culture who chairs the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching's Graduate Interdisciplinary Program.
"But there is a lack of knowledge about these languages," she said, adding that students also may not be attuned to the various cultural and social systems in countries and communities elsewhere.
CERCLL's vision is to improve foreign language instruction locally, regionally and nationally by contributing to teaching that allows students to become more informed, socially aware and highly proficient in a broader range of foreign languages.
Collectively, the center's projects primarily will focus on the development of second language literacy and intercultural competence. Workshops, conferences and the creation of new teaching materials and software will contribute to improved pedagogy.
The funding comes four years after the initial grant of $1.23 million that for a four-year period beginning in 2006 funded the UA center's creation and 14 projects led by CERCLL's affiliated faculty.
During that period, projects resulted in new software and teaching assessments, professional development opportunities and conferences for K-16 teachers, e-books and textbooks, workshops and other resources.
One such project, "Arabic Learners Written Corpus: A Resource for Research and Learning," will culminate in a range of written samples in database form, which teachers can then use to find out which errors are the most common to help decide what must be taught.
Under the new grant, the center will fund projects that each fall under one of four broad categories: innovative pedagogy, materials and products, knowledge generation and sharing, and also community connections.
Over the next four years, CERCLL also is expanding its collaborations, both on and off campus, by working with faculty members and researchers in a number of colleges and institutes at the UA as well as at other Language Resource Centers and universities, said Dupuy, also a UA associate professor of French and foreign language education.
Two other newly refunded Title VI centers at the UA are among these collaborators: the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Center for Latin American Studies will expand upon shared activities that began in 2006.
"We need to collaborate with each other to strengthen the projects we work on and give them more prominence overall," Dupuy said, adding that the center, through its conferences and materials, has impacted teachers in Arizona and others nationally and internationally.
A continuing CERCLL project, the "Modern Persian Textbook," will result in the publication of a number of additional intermediate-level textbooks.
One team is studying the study abroad experience of students, intending to evaluate how it can impact students' understanding of other cultures.
CERCLL will continue its biennial International Conference on the Development and Assessment of Intercultural Competence to be held in 2012 and in 2014. In addition to presentations, workshops for K-16 teachers focusing on languages such as Mandarin and Arabic will be offered.
Another key areas for CERCLL is helping teachers to use electronic resources in their instruction.
"With the Web, there are so many new technologies, new sources of information and new resources that sometimes teachers don't know how to use them or are overwhelmed and need guidance," Waugh said, adding that the center will continue to offer workshops on ways to utilize Web 2.0 tools.
The center also is developing ways for teachers to use video games in language instruction, and new software is being developed to allow for hypermedia annotations – such as text, audio, video and graphics – to be inserted in German, Italian, Portuguese and Turkish texts.
"It's about making the text come alive so students can read better, in more depth and more quickly while remembering what they've read," Waugh said.
Another new addition: a CERCLL project is developing a global simulation for business purposes. The languages targeted in this project are Chinese, Portuguese and Russian. The center also will be training interpreters in Russian who can then interpret for members of their communities in court cases, Dupuy said.
Kathy Short's project, "Bringing Global Cultures and World Languages into K-8 Classrooms," expands on a previously funded project that developed kits to teach children Arabic and Korean languages and cultures. The new project will focus on Portuguese, Russian and Mandarin Chinese.
She and her collaborators have developed cost-free kits informing teachers about ways to utilize the International Collection of Children's and Adolescent Literature, housed in the College of Education.
"The collection provides a source of culturally authentic books from which to select the books for the kits that reflect a range of genres and representations of that culture," said Short, a professor of language, reading and culture.
Additionally, grant funding enables her team to hire international graduate students to serve as international consultants who will visit the teachers' classrooms to offer additional help.
"We want to provide children with the opportunity to explore various global cultures and world languages in a fun and non-threatening environment to open their minds to the world," Short said.
Collectively, the projects show "our focus on multiliteracies, which includes literacy in its traditional sense of reading and writing, but also includes reading and writing various text forms that are associated with information and multimedia technologies," Waugh said.
"That is where you really get an understanding of another place. Culture is embedded in everything and is very complex," she also said.
"There are so many facets that you can't touch everything in the classroom," Waugh added, "but if you can touch on enough variety, then you can help get the student interested enough so that they are able to learn outside the classroom."