Language Studies: A Cut above the Rest

A Brigham Young University and University of Utah partnership has garnered prestigious grants from the Department of Education, allowing the two to advance language and area study on and off their campuses.

Tobias MikkelsenPROVO, Utah (Feb. 4, 2015)—Even though Brigham Young University and the University of Utah are no longer competing against each other in sports, it will be a long time before their respective students forget the decades-long rivalry. What many don’t realize is that the two schools have a long history of teamwork, one that has been recognized as a standard for interschool cooperation.

In 2014, Brigham Young University and the University of Utah became home to two Title VI National Resource Centers (N.R.C.s), a prestigious honor conferred by the U.S. Department of Education (E.D.) and accompanied by generous grants. This came as a result of collaboration between the two universities and has since allowed for huge developments in language and area study in Utah. The honor officially places the two schools among the best schools in the nation and sets a strong precedent for continued team work between the former rivals.

A Title VI N.R.C. is awarded to college programs that show preeminence in providing courses in less commonly taught languages (L.C.T.L.s) and area studies. Past recipients have included Ivy League schools and other major research universities. However, in 2010, this title was given to the newly established Intermountain Consortium for Asia-Pacific Studies (I.M.C.A.P.S.), a partnership between BYU’s Asian Studies Program and Utah’s Asia Center.

Motivated by the I.M.C.A.P.S.’s success, Rebecca Horn, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Utah, contacted Christopher Lund, director of BYU’s Latin American Studies Program, and proposed a Latin American consortium. In 2014, this new consortium was recognized as a Title VI N.R.C. and the I.M.C.A.P.S.’s status was renewed. The honor was accompanied by a grant of $6.6 million, with $4.6 million going toward foreign language and area studies scholarships. The grant will cover a four-year period, at the end of which the consortiums will have to reapply to maintain their Title VI status. With the high interest in L.C.T.L.s among students in Utah, this should be an easy hurdle.

Students at BYU may take for granted the wide range of languages taught on campus that are difficult to find in other universities, but these language courses help set the university apart. These include (under the umbrella of Latin American studies) Guarani, Quechua, K’iche’ and, most surprising for BYU students, Portuguese.

“In the U.S., there’s 10 here and 20 there,” Lund said, describing the scarcity of students of Portuguese outside BYU. “And there’s 1,000 every year at BYU. That’s why we’re so amused that Portuguese is considered an L.C.T.L., and also why the Department of Education loves us.”

The Asian Studies Program teaches a similarly broad range of L.C.T.L.s, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean, as well as advanced course in Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog, Cebuano and Hindi. Several of these courses are available through the International Consortium for Asia Pacific Studies

The consortium represents a unique form of interschool collaboration uncommon in the United States. “There’s an agreement between the University of Utah and BYU where students can move back and forth,” explained Eric Hyer, the Asian Studies coordinator. “We have strengths in Northeast Asia; they have strengths in South Asia. Our students can do Indian history and advanced Hindi at the University of Utah; their students can do Korean history and Tagalog here.”

The grant money has already been put to use providing Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships for L.C.T.L. speakers. Requirements are set forth by the Department of Education, and qualifying students are rewarded with scholarships and stipends for living expenses.

Besides providing scholarship funds, the grant empowers BYU and Utah to further their efforts in improving language education and area studies in Utah – not only for university students, but primary- and secondary-education students as well. Schools throughout Utah are already teaching second languages to grades kindergarten through sixth via the state’s Dual Language Immersion program, with Portuguese and Chinese among them. Now, with help from the grant, BYU and Utah are developing new lesson resources so that the L.C.T.L. programs can be extended to more schools and continue through higher grades.

Other language initiatives the grant will help fund are the Spanish Foreign Language Fair, a BYU on-campus event with children from all over including outside of Utah; Latin American and Asian entertainment (concerts, dance performances, etc.), which will be hosted in venues such as the DeJong Concert Hall and others; visiting poets, historians and social critics, who will speak to Latin American and Asian Studies majors and faculty; and new class offerings, such as Latin American tourism and Southeast Asian music.

Beyond the money awarded with the grant, the Title VI N.R.C. status is an enormous achievement for BYU. Hyer said, “It’s truly a recognition of BYU’s strengths in area studies and foreign language at the national level. And the reviews of our proposals were very strong; they like what we are doing. Many people are simply blown away that we have students who are at a third-year level of Indonesian or Tagalog or Hindi.”

Lund added, “That means that our resources, our library – in large part thanks to retired Mark Grover, who was the Latin American bibliographer for 40 years – is one of the best in the United States.”

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)

Illustration by Tobias Mikkelsen