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image: Campus NewsThe economics of fluency


Students use summer grants to create their own foreign-language study programs

When the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article in March on Drake University's decision to eliminate its foreign-language departments and increase emphasis on study abroad, the letters section overflowed. "Get real," wrote Marcela E. Brusa-Daly, a lecturer in Spanish at the U of C. "Even at a private university like the University of Chicago, a large proportion of students still have to generate some income for themselves.... Please do not create another economic divide among students...."

How does a university bridge the economic divide and ensure that students learning a language can converse intelligibly in its native land? Answering that question has been a priority for Dean of the College John W. Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, who in 1998 set the goal that at least one-third of each graduating class attain fluency in a foreign language.

To help students achieve this goal, Boyer's office provides Foreign Language Acquisition Grants (FLAGs) for summer study. The program gives students $2,000 to spend on an intensive eight-week program at a language school in a country of their choosing. Students must first complete a 103-level language course and receive a recommendation by a language instructor. Interest in the program has increased steadily since summer 1998, when 25 students received FLAGs. This summer, 70 of 100 applicants received grants. In five years Boyer hopes to award 200 FLAGs annually.

What's appealing for many students is the freedom they have in planning their studies. In addition to typical destinations like France, Spain, and Italy, students have enrolled in language schools as far-flung as Hakodate, Japan; Chengdu, China; Sanaa, Yemen; and Grenada, Nicaragua. Many will tack several weeks of travel onto their eight-week schooling to put their tongues to the test. Nels Frye, a second-year studying in China, will tour the Szechuan Province, retracing the steps of characters in his favorite Nintendo game and book, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

First-year Nicholas Tarasen is one of ten students using a FLAG to study French in the University of Chicago Paris Program. This fall Tarasen will take the examination for a proficiency certificate-and that's music to Boyer's ears.

Another program launched in 1998, proficiency certificates require two years of study and are noted on College transcripts. "We hope students use the FLAG as a springboard toward the certificate," says Boyer. "It's a way for students who don't want to concentrate in a language to demonstrate they can speak it."-S.A.S.


 JUNE 2001

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