As you walk around campus this week, you may bump into a large group of young people speaking Arabic. They’re members of the military from Ft. Fisher, Ft. Bragg and NC State who are studying Arabic language and culture through the university’s Language Training Center.
“NC State is one of only seven universities across the country designated as a Language Training Center and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to provide foreign language and culture training to the military,” says Dwight Stephens, the center’s director. “We create and deliver innovative ways of effecting very high language and cultural proficiency in short periods of time.”
Military students in the program are enrolled as students at NC State and receive college credit for their courses. Their tuition is paid by the program.
Administrators from the Defense Language National Security Education Office and commanding officers of various units served by the NC State program will also be here to participate in two days of classes and cultural immersion, with special assistance from the local Middle Eastern community.
“We have piloted some innovative ways to facilitate cultural proficiency in second-language acquisition,” Stephens says. “These leaders want to see what NC State is doing so they can replicate it elsewhere.”
While they’re in Raleigh this week, the military students will take Arabic classes alongside other NC State students, practice their language and cultural skills with members of the Arabic community and tour the Cedars in the Pines exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History with an Arabic-speaking guide. And they’ll meet with Arab business owners and community members over Middle Eastern meals.
“Functional language training should be real,” Stephens says. “It should involve authentic human relationships and true human dilemmas. It needs to have a physical presence and activity, and contain not only linguistic information but hidden cultural dimensions as well. And it should be unscripted and to some extent unpredictable.”
Now in its third year of operation, NC State’s Language Training Center has 20 instructors who teach 10 foreign languages deemed critical to world stability and national security to numerous military units. Instruction is provided in classrooms across North Carolina and online via video conferencing to military students across the world.
Stephens recently received the Army Commander’s Award for Public Service, the fourth highest honor the Army can bestow on a civilian.