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Supporting Foreign Language Education

February 28, 2017
Blog Post
Supporting Foreign Language Education

 “Language is the window through which we come to know other peoples and cultures…[and] allows you to capture the nuances that are essential to true understanding…This is not about learning something that is helpful or simply nice to have…It is vital to our economic interests.  It is vital to our diplomacy.  It is vital to our national security.”

– Leon Panetta former director if the Central Intelligence Agency and Secretary of Defense

The Problem:

The future national security and economic well-being of the United States will depend substantially on the ability of its citizens to communicate and compete by knowing the languages and cultures of other countries.  Unfortunately, the United States lags in the percentage of its citizens who have some knowledge of a second language as compared to other nations.  About one-fifth of America’s population speaks a language other than English at home, and only a fraction of this group speaks, reads, and comprehends a second language well.

Multiple GAO reports have cited shortfalls of language and culture skills in the U.S. military and intelligence community, finding that our nation’s language deficit could threaten our priorities and missions around the globe.  Meanwhile, America’s business and their clientele are diversifying and globalizing their operations, requiring language skills to access global markets.

The Bill:

The World Language Advancement and Readiness Act would establish high-quality world language programs in our nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

The Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Education, will authorize three-year competitive grants to support local and state school districts that want to establish, improve, or expand innovative programs in world language learning.

Special consideration will be given to applications describing programs that:

·         Include intensive summer programs for professional development of world language teachers

·         Link nonnative English speakers in the community in order to promote two-way learning

·         Promote the sequential study of a world language for students, beginning in elementary schools

·         Make effective use of technology (computer-assisted instruction, language labs, etc.)

·         Promote innovative activities such as dual language immersion and partial language immersion

·         Operate through a partnership with an institute of higher education

The Commission on Language Learning of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, requested by Congress in 2014, will release its final report on February 28, 2017.  The initial data demonstrate that “by several measures, the United States has neglected languages in its educational curricula, its international strategies, and its domestic policies.”  It is clear that effective communication is the basis of international cooperation, and a strong national defense depends substantially on the ability of Americans to communicate and compete by knowing the languages and cultures of other countries.