Steve Feit passed away on September 19, 2018. This site is being maintained by his son for the benefit of the remaining IFEL alumni. The email links on this site have been updated so there's someone at the other end.


Alumni Web Site

AFIT Crest
U.S. Air Force
Institute of Technology
The Institute
215 Park Street
New Haven, Conn.
ca. 1958

Photo by Dennis Conklin

Same place fifty years later

Sept 2008
(Fred Wang's bicycle seems to be missing)

Photo by Florian Simala

The Institute
215 Park Street
New Haven, Conn.
Sept 2008

Photo by Florian Simala

To all IFEL alumni: Let me hear from you.
Comments and questions always welcome (Click here to e-mail)

Steve Feit
(IFEL Sep '57 Chinese)

IFEL: A Cut Above

Among officials responsible for assessing the skills and abilities of Chinese linguists serving in the U.S. Air Force Security Service, its Army and Navy counterparts and various agencies of the United States Intelligence Community, people trained at IFEL are consistently judged as being a cut above their counterparts who received their language training elsewhere. The reason for this is that the place where they received their training was a cut above the rest. You can read a brief history of IFEL from its inception in 1943 until the mid 1960s when the Air Force Security Service Program was relocated to the Defense Language Institute at the Persidio of Monterey, CA. here.

There is much more to an educational institution than just bricks and mortar. Besides the bricks and mortar, there are the people who made up the faculty and staff, the training methodologies, materials and equipment used and the ability of the faculty and staff to motivate their students. It was a kind of chemistry. Actually, rather than chemistry, it was more like the educational equivalent of a phenomenon sometimes called "the perfect storm." All of the right things came together at just the right time and produced the optimum result. That was IFEL.

The faculty was second to none. First of all, they never would have been hired of their manner of speaking was not the Chinese equivalent to what is sometimes called "The King's English." Without exception, they seemed passionate about teaching their native language to their young charges and all served as models after which we patterned the way we spoke the language that they taught us. It is said that there is what might be considered to be an IFEL "accent" that is apparent when people hear an IFEL graduate speak Mandarin. While there were exceptions, most of us came away from IFEL with an ability at pronunciation and cadence that few who learned their Mandarin elsewhere had. There must be something to the concept of the IFEL accent. When I was in China in 2006, nearly 50 years after having completed my studies t IFEL, I was often asked by the Chinese I engaged in conversation where I was from. More than a few of them could not believe that I was an American. Let's face it, Americans are notorious for murdering foreign languages they try to speak. I have much room for improvement. But apparently the "cut above" mentioned earlier showed.

The "perfect storm" mentioned earlier was no accident. It came about because all of the elements that made it up were brought together through the efforts of one man, Mr, Robert N. Tharp. Forget that he was born in China and spent the first thirty years of his life there. As would be expected, his Chinese was impeccable. In fact, many Native Chinese will proudly point to his Chinese and readily admit that it was better than theirs. Tharp had acquired a store of knowledge of the variety of audio/visual equipment that came into play in the field of language training and an uncanny imagination that led to development of unique techniques for their use. It helped that he also had a mind that was like a steel trap. Add to that another gift that Mr. Tharp posessed; he was able to fashion a method of instruction and sequence of classes, recitations and exercises, many making use of audio/visual equipment that made successful learning inevitable for any student who followed the plan that Tharp devised.

In 1960, Tharp wrote an 11 page paper on the application of audio/visual technology in language learing. However, as an added bonus, the last few pages described in detail the template around which the presentation of each new lesson was built. If there was ever a technique for language teaching that was virtually immune from failure, Tharp's technique was it.

The paper in its entirety, eleven pages in all, will be found here.

The document pointed to by the above link may not open properly if you are using some versions of the Firefox Version 14 Browser. If you have a problem with it, you will find a small text box in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that will let you open the document in a different viewer. Click it and it will give you the option to open the document with the Adobe Viewer or, if you hve it, the full Adobe Acrobat. Click the "open with" button and click the "OK at the bottom of the pop-up window and it will open correctly.

The paper is in an archive maintained by the Eduction Resource Information Center (ERIC), a project of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Education. Anyone who is an IFEL alumnus or who has an interest in how an eminently successful Chinese Language teaching program worked will find the paper worth reading. For IFEL alumni, the description of the invidudual class periods that went into the plan for a given lesson will be a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.

The Road To New Haven

A description of one IFEL alum's improbable (Who'd a thunk??) metamorphis from a youngster from the mean streets of the Big Apple to a young airman about to start an 8 month course of study in Mandarin Chinese. Ultimately, it turned out to be one of the defining eight-month periods in his life. You can read the story here.

Another interesting link, provides insight into a sentimental journey BACK to New Haven. IFEL alum Kevin Riddle and a few other members of his 1962 IFEL class organized a class reunion held in New Haven in 2012. In their preparations for the reunion, they were able to make contact with several organizations within the university who provided them with activities and other accomodtions that helped to make their reunion a smashing success. Kevin has put together a Web site containing an account ofthe reunion and many photos of the Yale campus as it exists today. The page can be found here.

They Called Us White Chinese

Those of us who knew Bob Tharp, even if only as his students, could not have avoided being aware of the fact that he led an extremely unusual and interesting life.    Putting his life story into writing was one of Bob's long held ambitions.    The realization of that ambition is his autobiography, "They Called Us White Chinese," published not long before his death.

It is a sizeable book (nearly 900 pages) and a fascinating read.    Click here to find out more.


Bob Tharp often told us that we made it to IFEL because we were special. Most of us took it to be more than a little bit of "cheerleading." But, one way that it was true was that we had more than our fair share of especially creative and witty people. It applied both to the students and the staff. There are a lot of funny things that we all can remember. Fortunately, some of it is on paper. As it surfaces, we will post it here.

Just click and go

A collection of eight cartoons.
Quotable quotes by faculty and fellow students.


The latest IFEL roster is available as a spreadsheet on Google Sheets.

If you want to re-sort the data for your own purposes, you can download the sheet by selecting File → Download as → Microsoft Excel (.xlsx) and opening it in Excel or LibreOffice, which is available free for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

About the data:

Jerry Avis: Language and Class Unknown

Any help anyone can provide in filling in the details for Jerry would be appreciated.

Steve Feit's Last Roster

This is the last version of Steve's roster and remains here for historical purposes. Please follow the link above to the spreadsheet containing the current version.

Use your browser's "BACK" button to return here after browsing.

Browse A thru C Browse D thru F
Browse G thru I Browse J thru L
Browse M thru O Browse P thru R
Browse S thru U Browse V thru Z

The languages are:
C- Chinese, J- Japanese, K- Korean, I- Indonesian, B- Burmese

The classes are shown by month and year that the class began (e.g. 01-57 is January 1957)

The levels are B for Basic (1st time at IFEL), I for Intermediate (2nd Time) and A for Advanced (3rd time).

NOTE: While some refer to four-month extension of the basic level course as "intermediate," it is still considered to be
the basic level class because the additional 4 months still carry the same class number as the first 8 months.

For purposes of this roster, the term "Intermediate" is reserved for the discrete, 8-month stand-alone intermediate level class

IFEL: A Brief History

As far as can be determined, the Institute of Far Eastern Languages at Yale University had been in existence at least as early as 1943.

Click here to read the official, albeit brief, Yale University history of IFEL and its predecessors dating back to 1943 and continuing up through its ultimate incarnation as Yale's Far Eastern Publications (FEP) arm which has also ceased to exist.

The Institute entered its most productiveperiod with the inception of the program for training voice intercept processing specialists for the United States Air Force Security Service in 1952.

Prior to 1952 practically all training of Air Force Far Eastern language specialists was done at the Army Language School In Monterey, California. The Air Force recognized that as a separate branch of the service, its needs were different from those of the Army both in regard to the language training and to the military lifestyle of the students.

In 1951, as the result of extensive groundwork laid down by a young Air Force captain by the name of Delmar C. Lang, a contract was awarded to the institute to serve as the training school for Air Force Far Eastern language specialists.

The program ran continuously at Yale for approximately fifteen years and turned out approximately 3,400 graduates. The primary language was Mandarin Chinese. The Mandarin program trained nearly 2,800 linguists. The next largest program trained 364 Japanese linguists. Next in size was the Korean program that trained 170 linguists.

There were also programs in Indonesian and Burmese but those programs trained less than a dozen students between them.

In the mid 1960s, the Army Language School's mission was expanded to to provide language training for all agencies of the Department of Defense. The school was renamed the Defense Language institute. The establishment of a department-wide language school spelled the end of the separate Air Force program at Yale. In recognition of the quality of the program, most key IFEL staff and faculty members were picked up by DLI and the program continued essentially as it was back at Yale.

Among these were also several civilian students, primarily people preparing for missionary work and civilian personnel from various government agencies. One such student was a Department of State employee by the name of Jim Lilly. Jim graduated in May 1958 and went on to a highly succesful foreign service career which included serving as the United States Ambassador to China.