The Language Flagship: A Promising Post-Secondary Option for Immersion Graduates

The ACIE Newsletter, November 2010, Vol. 14, No. 1

By Michael F. Metcalf, Co-Director, Chinese Language Flagship Program, The University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS

The past several years have witnessed many developments in foreign language education at colleges and universities that are changing the prospects for students graduating from K-12 language immersion programs. As language immersion educators, we can serve our students best by informing them about exciting language programs at the postsecondary level so that they can apply and improve their language skills in the very best programs in the nation. Among these are over twenty programs funded by The Language Flagship, a national initiative combining language learning with content learning in academic disciplines while providing significant scholarship support.1

The Language Flagship has its origins in content-based language instruction (CBI) and the Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum (FLAC) movement, which began some twenty years ago. FLAC programs offered students the chance to apply their language learning and skills outside the realm of language and literature departments. Straight (1998) explains the essence of CBI, which forms the foundation of FLAC and language immersion education: “Instruction that emphasizes purposeful comprehension and communicative production yields superior receptive and expressive accuracy, complexity, and fluency. In brief, students who learn language for a purpose learn it better” (paragraph 5). Certainly, decades of research on language immersion corroborate this assertion, as it is well established that “immersion students acquire advanced levels of functional language proficiency—far superior to that achieved by students in conventional foreign language programs” (Genesee, 2007, p. 10). Building both on CBI and FLAC as well as on studies assessing the federal government’s foreign language needs in the new century, the National Security Education Program launched discussions in 2000 about how a content-based, outcomes-focused, and proficiency-based paradigm might help transform language learning outcomes in the nation’s universities and meet the nation’s needs in a new, globalized society. From these discussions emerged The Language Flagship, a federal initiative designed to produce Superior2 speakers of languages designated as “critical” by the government in its efforts to meet its most difficult challenges in terms of language expertise.

Focus on critical languages

Begun in 2002, The Language Flagship now funds over twenty Flagship centers and partner programs across the country, as well as eleven overseas centers and three pilot K-12 programs, one in Arabic and two in Chinese, intended to provide an articulated path of language study from elementary school through college. Focusing on languages deemed critical to the federal government, The Language Flagship offers programs in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi/Urdu, Korean, the Persian languages, Russian, and Swahili. Each postsecondary program is charged with producing Superior speakers who have practical experience of study and work in the host cultures, and the results are impressive. Of seventy-four Flagship undergraduates from around the country who have completed the capstone year in China, thirty-two (43%) achieved Superior on their exit Oral Proficiency Interviews and thirty (40.5%) achieved Advanced High, while eleven scored Advanced Mid and just one Advanced Low.3

While no two Flagship Centers or Partner Programs operate identically, some illustrations drawn from the Chinese Flagship at The University of Mississippi can serve as an introduction.4 Located in a region where schools have only recently begun to offer Chinese instruction, the Chinese Flagship at Mississippi recruits most of its students directly from high school with no experience in Chinese. Highly-motivated and talented students are offered the opportunity to complete the first level of Chinese during eight intensive weeks following graduation, which course of study is followed by the second level during their freshman year and a nine-week Chinese practicum at the Qingdao Flagship Center in China following that academic year. After the third level of Chinese is studied during the sophomore year, students take a mix of content and upper-level language courses on campus during their junior and senior years while completing the requirements for majors in a wide variety of disciplines. The curriculum emphasizes presentation skills that students hone each year and especially in advance of presentations to Chinese high schools, debates held with visiting Chinese students on the Ole Miss campus, and the capstone year internship. An added feature in 2010-11 is that each Flagship junior and senior is assigned a domain mentor as additional preparation for the capstone year in China. The capstone itself consists of a semester-long direct enrollment at Nanjing University and a four-month, full-time internship with a Chinese firm or organization.

The fascinating development of Flagship programs since 2002 cries out to be better known to stakeholders across the language teaching and language policy communities, not least so that high school students seeking out colleges and universities that are prepared to meet their special talents will learn about The Language Flagship. We know that students who have achieved high levels in a second language are the best students of additional languages, so that even if our immersion students are currently learning French, they will be very well prepared to learn a Flagship language in college. Increased enrollment of language immersion graduates in Flagship programs will greatly benefit those graduates and assist The Language Flagship to meet the nation’s needs.


  1. For more information about The Language Flagship visit

  2. Superior refers to the highest level of foreign language proficiency that is attainable according to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (1999, 2001).

  3. Data presented by Brigham Young University Professor Dana Bourgerie’s assessment project at a meeting of the Chinese Language Flagship Centers and Partner Programs, Indiana University, September 11, 2010.

  4. For more about the Mississippi Flagship visit

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