Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Awards: What They Are and Why You Want One

Sep 10, 2015
Jennifer Lindsay, 2015-16 Fulbright Fellow to China (photo by Sara "Xianghe" Lee)
Jennifer Lindsay, 2015-16 Fulbright Fellow to China (photo by Sara “Xianghe” Lee)

By Guest Author Jennifer Lindsay

So you’ve decided to apply for a Fulbright. If you’re headed to China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, or Russia, Fulbright offers a fantastic opportunity to improve your language skills by leaps and bounds that you should really consider.

Similar to the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), which is also offered by the State Department, the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA) provides funding for supplemental language study to certain Fulbrighters in eligible countries to enhance their projects and build better relationships with friends and colleagues in the host country.

In other words, it’ll take you a big step closer to fluency and increase your confidence by a mile. Not only will you be able to better express your personality, you’ll be able to connect with people on an entirely new level and shrink that divide between “foreigner” and “just another cool person I know.” Fulbright really emphasizes person-to-person contact in the host country, and invests a lot to enable grantees to better converse in the local language. Just talking one-on-one is one of the most effective ways to teach other people about the U.S. I’m a current grantee halfway through my semester at CET Academic Programs’ Intensive Chinese Language in Harbin. If you have the opportunity to apply, I can’t recommend it enough.


There are a couple of forms and a supplemental section on the Fulbright application for CLEA applicants to fill in explaining how CLEA would aid their project and help them in their careers. You should also lay out what you’ve been doing to hone your skills and how you plan to continue improving in the meantime (classes, a language partner, language meetups, self-study, etc.). Though CLEA is limited to Fulbrighters in specific countries, it’s still competitive, and Fulbright evaluates applicants’ language ability and needs related to their projects (a good number of my CLEA classmates plan to conduct interviews, for example). As the website states, “Any applicant whose project can be completed, without loss in quality, without language training, will not be considered a high priority.” Even if you’re not planning to conduct interviews, if you’ll be working in the target language it’s definitely worth applying.

The CLEA award is essentially a scholarship that allows you to attend an existing program operated by a third party (or arrange your own tutoring). Because Fulbright doesn’t manage the CLEA-approved programs, applying to them is a separate step. Contact the programs you’re interested in directly to ask about the details for CLEA applicants; the application timeline can be different than the deadline posted on the program’s website for regular applicants. In my case, we had a whole month past the posted deadline to apply and fewer materials to submit. The application fee may also be waived. However, you’ll probably still need to submit essays, roommate preferences, language competency assessments, etc., so it’s a good idea to start getting things together early.


Depending on the year, the deadline for some of the CLEA programs can actually be right around the date you receive notice that you’re a recommended candidate (that is to say, finalist). If you plan to apply, definitely check the deadlines and start putting your materials together soon after you submit your Fulbright application.

It’s also worth mentioning that participation in a CLEA program dictates your arrival and departure dates in your host country. Fulbrighters normally have a lot of flexibility as to when they start and finish, but if you’re participating in a CLEA program it’s necessary to leave directly for your host city and start your project as soon as the program wraps up.

If your project involves working with professors or auditing classes and you choose a “summer” CLEA program, you might start in the middle of the fall term at your host institution, which can make arranging on-campus housing and auditing classes tricky. You’ll probably also be one of the first in your cohort to leave for your host country, so you’ll have less time to prepare. However, if you choose a CLEA session in the fall, you might arrive during the winter or mid-year break, which can make connecting with your adviser and others harder, so your project may be off to a slow start. (In my program, more than twice the number of students chose the summer term.)


At least two weeks before you leave, you’ll need to take an oral assessment over the phone to assess your level of aptitude in the target language. Fulbright will send you the examiner’s feedback and a score (from 1-12) soon afterwards. After you’ve completed the CLEA program, you take a second assessment just like the first one to gauge how beneficial the program was to you. You’ll also need to submit a report at the end of the program.


Fulbright covers tuition for the CLEA program and provides a stipend for books and living expenses, as well as health and accident coverage.

Academics & Student Life

I can’t speak for the other CLEA programs, but the Harbin Intensive Language program is, well, intense. And my Chinese has, correspondingly, shot up at a dizzying speed. We have twenty hours of class per week, and about forty hours of homework, in addition to a full-time language pledge that requires us to speak Chinese in and out of the classroom. Emergencies and calls home are the only exceptions. It was tough at first when my ability to express myself was much more limited, but it’s allowed me to become very comfortable conversing with locals and handling myself in various situations. I no longer need a Chinese friend to help me get a haircut or renew my cell phone plan. I still need help with some of the more complex tasks (like navigating the labyrinthine, bureaucratic nightmare that is a Chinese hospital), but it’s so refreshing to finally feel self-sufficient.

I leave for Beijing to start my project in six weeks, and I feel ten times more confident than I did when I first arrived in China to start my CLEA program. CLEA is a wonderful opportunity and if you have the chance to apply, go for it!

Jen Lindsay is a current 2015-2016 full research grantee to China who will be interviewing contemporary artists in Beijing about the influence of traditional Chinese art on their work. You can follow her Fulbright research and experiences at jenniferlindsayart.com.

© Victoria Johnson 2015, all rights reserved.