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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 6, 2009

UI's Ke receives grant to research learning Chinese as second language

Chuanren Ke, director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Iowa, has been awarded a three-year, $230,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for a research project that focuses on learning Chinese as a second language. Ke is also a professor in the UI Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The undertaking will generate knowledge on how Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL) proficiency is gained at various stages of learning and in different learning contexts at the post-secondary level. During the study, Ke will examine language learning in Chinese language classrooms, intensive immersion courses and study abroad experiences.

"There are a number of critical points within each language learning career that serve as major stages of transition with respect to both the learner's linguistic expertise and the learner's degree of learning autonomy. For example, moving from one formal instructional program into another, shifting from part-time instruction into an immersion environment, and, probably most significantly, commencing a study abroad program," Ke said. "For each of the stages within a learning career, a different learning setting may play a significant role in the degree of success in that particular stage."

Ke will collect data from a number of public and private universities in the United States and major study abroad programs in China during the three-year project. He will look at formal language classroom learning at the University of Iowa, Purdue University, the Ohio State University, University of Arizona, University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Duke University. Intensive immersion data will be collected from the summer intensive program at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Ke will also travel to China to collect study abroad data from the Council for International Educational Exchange (CIEE) Programs at Peking University, Nanjing University, and East China Normal University, as well as the Associated College in China (ACC) Program at Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing, and the Chinese Flagship programs in China. A total of 1,200 students, representing various levels of language proficiency, will participate in the study.

"Empirical studies that aim at identifying and measuring CFL linguistic and cultural competencies are crucial for the field to make informed decisions on the development of national standards for Chinese K-16 learning and to facilitate the coordination within and between the elementary, secondary and post-secondary educational systems at the national level," Ke said.

At the UI, Ke and the Confucius Institute staff will work with the Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures, the doctoral program in Second Language Acquisition also known as FLARE (Foreign Language Acquisition Research and Education), CLAS, the Office of the Vice President for Research and International Programs.

"Ke is a leader in his field and has an excellent track record of funded research activities that open new perspectives on second language acquisition," said Downing Thomas, interim associate provost and dean of International Programs.

The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to honor his parents who were missionary educators in China. The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities. For more information visit

The Confucius Institute is a part of UI International Programs, which enables UI students, faculty, staff and the public to learn from and about the world. Its offices, degree programs and events provide life-changing opportunities on campus and abroad, heighten intellectual and cultural diversity, and give all university constituents access to vital international knowledge. For more information visit or call 319-353-2700. International Programs is part of the UI Office of the Provost.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Rebecca Kessler, UI Confucius Institute, 319-335-0159,; Kelli Andresen, UI International Programs, 319-335-2026,; Lois Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077