Ensuring America's Place in the Global Economy by Building Language Capacity in the Schools

By Oleksak, Rita | Foreign Language Annals, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Ensuring America's Place in the Global Economy by Building Language Capacity in the Schools


Oleksak, Rita, Foreign Language Annals


The national security and economic vitality of the United States and the basic career security of many American citizens are now tied in large part to our foreign language capabilities. More than ever, these capabilities need strengthening. The United States suffers from a "language deficit" because our country has failed to make language learning an important part of every child's education.

Though the U.S. Department of Education has redirected some of its existing resources to support the National security Language Initiative (NSLI), it does not have the authorizing legislation needed to implement all the education-based activities envisioned by NSLI.

We need a comprehensive and coordinated plan to expand and strengthen school-based foreign language education in the United States. The goals of achieving a languagetrained military and language-qualified personnel in embassies around the world will fail unless strong support is provided to our nation's K-20 foreign language education infrastructure.

As part of my recent testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, ACTFL proposed the following: "We must work to ensure that all languages are supported in our educational system, not just the languages deemed critical for today. Since research supports the notion that after learning a second language, the third and fourth languages come more easily, it is important to support any language that a school system considers important for its community and for which teachers are available." The foreign language profession needs more research initiatives to document this kind of data and we need to share this information with the government.

We also recommended that Congress pass legislation that funds initiatives that encourage and support the creation of articulated, continuous sequences of language courses beginning in the earliest grades and continuing through college, with immersion and language study abroad as key components. An article in this issue of Foreign Language Annals, "Social Interaction and Linguistic Gain During Study Abroad," supports the notion that it is not only the living situation and contact with authentic media that differentiates students who study abroad from those who do not; prior coursework correlates strongly with gains in proficiency once abroad. …

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