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ASU adds Ukrainian to offerings of languages crucial to national security

ASU adds Ukrainian to roster of language courses crucial to national security.
July 20, 2018

Critical Languages Institute teaches immersive classes to accelerate proficiency

The Critical Languages Institute at Arizona State University has added Ukrainian to its roster of languages taught to bolster national security, and it’s one of the few immersive programs for that language in the United States.

Five students are taking beginning Ukrainian at the Tempe campus this summer in a seven-week course designed to accelerate competence in beginners. Besides the spoken language, they're also learning to read and write in the 33-letter Ukrainian version of the Cyrillic alphabet.

The U.S. government has designated Ukrainian as a critical language with proficient speakers in high demand, and the institute, part of the Melikian Center in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, teaches 11 of those languages. This summer, in addition to Ukrainian, the institute offers Albanian, Armenian, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Hebrew, Indonesian, Persian, Polish, Russian, Turkish and Uzbek.

Geopolitics plays a role in why languages are deemed to be important. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine achieved independence, and after that, “A whole new generation is growing up speaking Ukrainian,” said Mark von Hagen, a professor of history and global studies who was interim director of the Melikian Center last year. He launched the program after securing donations to fund it.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The institute’s courses are tuition-free, funded by federal agencies, partnerships and donors, though students pay an administrative fee and the cost of study abroad. The classes are open to anyone, including high school juniors and seniors. The federal Title 8 program pays for language instruction for graduate students, such as Brandon Urness, a student at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU.

He became interested in Ukraine after hearing Sen. John McCain discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Clashes between rebels and Russian forces in the region continue.

“Ukrainian is the most critical language in the world today with what’s happening in eastern Ukraine with the Russian annexation,” said Urness, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science. “That was the first time in my life I’ve seen something like that and it was shocking to me.”

teacher teaching Ukrainian in front of class

Professor Olena Sivachenko goes over motion verbs with her students during the Ukranian language course. The unique course is an intensive language course teaching the Cyrillic language and Ukranian to non-native speakers in a matter of weeks. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Urness, who would like someday be an election observer in Ukraine, said the class is so intense that he’s been dreaming in Ukrainian every night.

“One of the biggest challenges is the amount of time it takes to master a language,” said Urness, who became fluent in Mongolian while serving on a mission there.

Jordan Tomlinson, a senior majoring in medical studies, is learning Ukrainian because he plans to attend medical school in Ukraine, where tuition is much cheaper.

“One of the hardest things about Ukrainian are verbs that differentiate between doing something once versus multiple times,” said Tomlinson, who’s also studied Russian. “Having to differentiate between the two is difficult.”

After the half day of class, the students spend many additional hours studying Ukrainian on their own.

“For me, it’s listening to music, watching videos and talking to my friends in Ukraine,” Tomlinson said.

“You just have to try to speak the language as much as you can.”

Ukrainian instructor Olena Sivachenko (left) assists students Olena Melnyk and Jordan Tomlinson in the Critical Languages Institute course. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The immersive courses are not just for prospective diplomats, but also for people who study anthropology, history, literature, human rights and military policy, von Hagen said.

“A lot of people who are doing research in Russia are finding it more difficult because of restrictions on archives and interviews with officials, but many of us are aware that it’s easier to do the same work in Ukraine. They’ve declassified pretty much everything,” said von Hagen, who is teaching at the Ukrainian Free University in Germany this summer.

He said that the country is safe, except for the occupied area, which will likely have to adjust to being a “militarized democracy.”

“I teach Ukrainian history as an example of empires,” he said. “Russia was an empire and they’re still parting painfully with the past. All empires go down ugly.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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News Co/Lab survey: People don't consider local news 'fake'

News isn't "fake news" when it's local, ASU survey finds
July 20, 2018

Cronkite School research shows that one in five Americans associate the word 'fake' with 'news,' but only at a national level

A new national survey shows that although nearly one in five Americans immediately associate the word “news” with the word “fake,” only a tiny number use that word to describe local news.

The News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with support from Google Surveys, asked a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 people in May, to do a simple word-association test using the word “news” and the phrase “local news.”

The survey asked the question, “What is the first word you think of when you hear the word 'news'?” Respondents gave the word “fake” as the most popular answer.

But when asked, “What is the first word you think of when you hear the phrase 'local news'?”, people were most likely to respond with hometown, familiar terms such as where they live or the name of their local newspaper or television station.

The close association between the words "news" and "fake" is of little surprise, given the rise in popularity of the term “fake news” following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The term originally referred to news hoaxes or deliberate falsehoods masked as news circulating on the internet. Now, "fake news" has taken on a broader scope, being used by those who want to discredit and dismiss stories they diasgree with, helping to fuel public mistrust of the news industry.

But attitudes about news are more neutral than the fervor over fake news would suggest, according to the new survey. And when it comes to local news, a full 68 percent of those surveyed used neutral terms.

“Americans still see local news through a different lens than they use for news in general,” said Eric Newton, News Co/Lab co-founder and ASU professor. “Local news does not mean political bluster. It means home.”

But when people were asked to first think about news and then local news, the negative perceptions of news in general appeared to rub off on local news. Twenty-five percent of the reactions to local news were negative when first asked about news overall, compared with 17 percent for those who were just asked about local news.

Survey results also found that most people think it’s easy to tell the difference between fact and opinion in three areas: the news in general (61 percent), cable television news (57 percent) and local news (63 percent). But there is still a significant amount of people — 16 percent — who have difficulty telling fact from opinion in the news overall. And among those who associated news or local news with “fake,” the difficulty is more pronounced, with one in four reporting difficulty telling fact from opinion in overall news.

View the full News Co/Lab report, including links to publicly viewable Google Survey results.

The News Co/Lab is a collaborative lab aimed at helping the public find new ways of understanding and engaging with news and information. The Co/Lab partners with newsrooms, educators and other community leaders who want to improve both the supply of good journalism and the community's demand for it. ASU students working in the Co/Lab assist with daily communication efforts and research initiatives.