Professor chosen to promote critical language studies

by Rebekah Bresee

Todd Friends, assistant professor of business, was one of 20 people nationwide selected to be a 2012 Critical Language Scholarship Ambassador by the U.S. State Department last summer.  

The Critical Language Scholarship Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages. Every year, the CLS Program selects a small group of recent alumni of the program from the U.S. to be CLS Alumni Ambassadors.“The CLS Program is for students that demonstrate a strong potential to study abroad in an intensive environment,” Friends said.

Professor studies in Xi’an, China

Friends qualified to be a ambassador after completing the CLS Scholarship Program. The scholarship allowed him to spend 10 weeks learning Mandarin Chinese at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an, China last summer.

Friends had studied Mandarin as a cultural exchange student at Beijing University from 1981-1982. In order to refresh his Mandarin and request a language reference for intermediate proficiency, he took a Chinese course at Whitworth.

Friends, along with other participants of the program, signed a language contract to only speak Chinese for the duration of their stay. They were  only permitted to speak English for the first four days.

“When you discipline yourself to speak only your language of study and no English, eventually your brain clicks and your fluency jumps,” Friends said.

The program covers a year’s worth of college language study into nine weeks. A month’s worth of course material was covered in a week’s time, with exams every Friday.

“It is a state-of-the-art language immersion program,” Friends said.

The group occasionally took cultural excursions to get a full international experience. One of these excursions was to the Tibetan Plateau. Students had the opportunity to visit monasteries and even play basketball with the monks.

Though studying abroad in China was a big part of the scholarship, it was only the beginning of Friends’ journey.

Friends’ role as an ambassador

Part of Friends’ role as an ambassador requires him to share with regional college students the increasing importance of language and cultural knowledge development as business markets become increasingly globalized.

He has given presentations about CLS to all of Whitworth’s Chinese and Japanese language classes, as well as the courses in international business and introduction to business.

Friends will also be the primary faculty leader of the Whitworth in China program in 2014.

Earlier this month, he was a guest speaker at the Washington State Sister Cities Conference, where he delivered a lecture on how to do business in China.

“My role is to promote and recruit for CLS,” Friends said.

Opportunities available through CLS

The CLS Program funds students to travel to different countries in hopes that they will come back and continue their international studies and inform other students of their experience.

Senior Grady Kepler was selected from among 5,200 applicants to receive a Critical Language Scholarship last year.

The scholarship allowed him to study Arabic in Tunisia last summer. He spent eight weeks with a host family.

“My host family was the most impactful part of my trip. Getting that day-to-day experience in the life of typical Tunisians was great,” Kepler said.

Kepler’s studies in Tunisia consisted of taking four hours of language classes a day with about four hours of homework and studying a night.

He previously studied abroad in Jordan and studied Arabic there as well. He said studying a language in a country is much better than learning it in a classroom.

Sue Jackson, director of the International Education Center, said she agreed that students benefit from learning a language abroad.

“Students get a different learning experience by learning the language in another country’s education system,” Jackson said. “All students who study a language abroad come back more fluent in that language.”

As part of the CLS Program students are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period.

Kepler integrates his bilingual abilities by speaking to Arabic families when he volunteers at World Relief Spokane, an organization that provides refugee resettlement assistance.

“Being able to speak in Arabic helps not only with communication, but it also breaks down cultural barriers,” Kepler said.

Many students participating in the program hope to apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

“Demonstrating the ability to speak other languages will always open doors,” Friends said.

Whitworth offers many opportunities for students to have an international experience.

The CLS Program and Study Abroad program are two ways to get involved internationally.

“I would encourage students to study abroad and to study a language abroad,” Jackson said.

Five students from Whitworth are already applying for CLS this year. Friends said he would be thrilled to see more applicants.

“If you are willing to take the risk and challenge of studying critical languages, there are definitely rewards,” Friends said.

Contact Rebekah Bresee at

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