Rita Erickson and Joseph Longo from Michigan State University each received a US Department of State Critical Language Scholarship for this summer, joining over 500 students who qualified for the program. The grant gives them the opportunity to learn a critical language in a foreign country. For this year, Erickson is bound for Morocco to learn Arabic while Longo for China to study Chinese for eight to ten weeks.
Critical languages are those taught less to people. The National Security Education Program lists 50 international dialects which include those from countries that the US has international relations. However, the Critical Language Scholarship Program only has 14 languages in their pool: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.
Learning foreign languages stemmed during the 1780s during the establishment of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Its founders John Adams, John Hancock, James Bowdoin, and Samuel Adams thought the move was essential for cultivating art and science, expanding commerce, and creating a productive civic life.
The US Department of State conceptualized critical languages and deemed such because these are necessary for the diplomacy, defense, and economy of the country. In 2009, the Modern Language Association revealed in their study that after the September 11 attack, Americans who enrolled in Arabic courses increased by 126.5 percent from 2002 to 2006, then 46.3 percent from 2006 to 2009.
Learning critical languages also increases the chance of getting employed and opens new opportunities. Fields of study such as law, diplomacy, and business entail someone to know international relations sufficiently.
The US Department of State spearheads the Critical Language Scholarship Program. The scholarship is an opportunity to increase the number of Americans learning critical languages. The grantees are also expected to apply what they have learned even after its pendency.