back to news Oct. 31, 2012

Ohio State Receives $9.6 Million Critical Languages Award

Galal Walker, professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures (DEALL), and Mari Noda, DEALL professor and chair, successfully competed for a new three-year U.S. Department of State grant providing more than $3.2 million per year to administer and implement the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program in East Asia. Ohio State is the only university in the country to receive this award.

DEALL, in cooperation with the National East Asian Languages Center, will establish four intensive language institutes in partner universities in China and one each in universities in Japan, Korea, and Indonesia.

DEALL faculty will supervise the institutes in three countries: Xiaobin Jian in China, Mari Noda in Japan, and Ouyoong Pyun in Korea.

The grant was effective October 1, 2012. Walker and his colleagues wasted no time. They are in the process of hiring five graduate student associates who will work with faculty to develop curriculum for each institute conforming to State Department requirements. Additionally, plans are underway for trips to the individual sites.

“We will set up the institutes, working with locals and training teachers,” said Walker, who is the grant's Principal Investigator (PI). “We have a lot of connections and interactions there and chose what we considered the best places.

“The main objective of the CLS Program is not just to create an intensive language program, but to put students into communities where they can learn to successfully function with the people who live and work there.”

After three years, the goal is for these institutes to become self-sufficient, something Walker believes is realistic and achievable. ”Universities there are eager to work with us and by the end of three years they will be able to run programs that are effective. The process involves a lot of cross-fertilization — and we are planting seeds.”

The Indonesian institute will be in collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Ohio University. It will be supervised by Ohio University faculty member Christine Su.

“We brought them in on it because of their strength in this area,” Walker said. “It’s great to have this partnership between our two universities. We’re excited about being able to have this work focused inside Ohio — we will be two engines driving all kinds of international activities.”

The American students who will study at these institutes will not be chosen by Ohio State, but by a nonprofit NGO. Walker said he will certainly encourage Ohio State students to apply for these scholarships.

As Ohio State’s program in East Asian Languages is at the forefront nationally in the fields of Chinese language and culture studies and language pedagogy, these students should be more than competitive with other language students across the country.

Walker has been recognized for his contributions to his field, nationally and internationally. This past year, he received the Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession from the national Association of Departments of Foreign Languages. He was recognized for his four decades of innovative contributions to the field of Chinese language teaching and learning, including mentoring generations of students and teachers, authoring sophisticated texts and teaching materials, and developing and directing model study abroad programs.

In 2003, Walker became the first person in the English speaking world to receive the China Language and Culture Friendship Award, from the Ministry of Education of China. In 2010, the People’s Government of the City of Qingdao awarded him the Qingdao Award for contributing to the social and economic life of the city.


“We used to try to recruit students by asking, ‘Are you lonely? Study Chinese — you’ll have 1.3 billion people to talk to.’ Now we don’t have to do that,” Walker said. “We have 350 students in Chinese courses — people seem to be getting the message now.

“The way we teach language is unique. First our students learn about interacting in the culture, then the language needed to carry out that interaction. If you approach learning in this order, you remember the language better.”

Students start with something seemingly simple, like how to greet someone. It’s not like walking across the Oval, saying “Hi” to everyone you pass, Walker explained. In China, you don’t greet someone, unless you know them.

“Once you have practiced what to do and how to do it, it is easier to understand the culture; this frames the language for you and then you retain more. Our goals are focused on how much students walk away with, not how much we can throw at them,” Walker said.

Walker and his colleagues work on developing the ability of being able to interact with others in their native language, something he says that has very powerful global implications. “We train our students to function in an area, to become socialized and acclimated, to think in a cultural context, develop comprehension, and be appropriately responsive in real time.

“Our ultimate goal is to prepare Americans to work in Chinese. We have proven that with the proper training in Chinese language and culture and sufficient amounts of work, Americans of all backgrounds can reach the highest level of capabilities for building successful China-related careers.”

Ohio State has been home to the U.S. China Flagship Program since 2005, which does just that. The two-year MA program for the advanced study of Chinese focuses on preparing Americans to work in China-related careers. Students compete for internships in Chinese companies that can last up to a year.

In addition to advanced Chinese language, all students in the program have an additional discipline that ranges from music to micro-economics to biochemistry and learn how to become valued contributors to a Chinese operation in their field of knowledge.

Former Flagship Program student Kevin Slaten is just one of its success stories: “A few months after graduating from Ohio State's Graduate Chinese Flagship Program, I was hired by China Labor Watch (CLW) to act as their program coordinator. CLW is a nonprofit organization headquartered in New York City that advocates for the fair and legal treatment of Chinese workers,” Slaten wrote.

“Without the language and domain training that I received in and via the Chinese Flagship Program, I would have been very unlikely to get this job, much less being able to successfully fulfill my duties. I conducted many interviews with workers in China during the Flagship program and wrote and defended a thesis on the subject of defending Chinese worker rights, directly preparing me for some of the work I do now.”