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Boots on the Ground at NC State’s Language Training Center

Dwight Stephens, director of NC State's Language Training Center.

If you were in Raleigh or on NC State’s campus earlier this summer, you may have bumped into a large group of young people speaking Arabic. Wonder no more: they were members of the military from Ft. Fisher, Ft. Bragg and NC State who were 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 Center Director Dwight Stephens. “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 also 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 were also 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 wanted to see what NC State is doing so they can replicate it elsewhere.”

While they were in Raleigh, the military students took Arabic classes alongside other NC State students. They practiced their language and cultural skills with members of the Arabic community. They toured the Cedars in the Pines exhibit at the NC Museum of History with an Arabic-speaking guide. And they met with Arab business owners and community members over Middle Eastern meals. Stephens says the out-of-class field instruction is integral to the military students’ education.  

“Functional language training should be real,” he 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 ten foreign languages deemed critical to world stability and national security to numerous military units in classrooms across North Carolina, as well as teaching online via video conference to military students across the world. Stephens was recently awarded the U.S. Department of the Army Commander’s Award for Public Service in a ceremony at Ft. Bragg. According to the Army’s Institute of Heraldry, the Commander’s Award for Public Service is the fourth highest honor the Army can bestow on a civilian.