Advocates seek to focus more on learning foreign languages

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As business and culture in the United States continue to be increasingly defined by its global connections, foreign language education advocates are stepping up efforts to make foreign language learning a higher national priority. high.

The issue was front and center at a forum here last week that brought together experts from the US, UK and Australia, to elevate the discussion on the growing need to study languages in English-speaking countries and to examine strategies for revitalizing language teaching.

“There is no longer a bonus for English. The global conversation is spiraling out of control, and our business and government are struggling to keep up,” said William P. Rivers, executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Language and International Studies, a nonprofit organization. lucrative Washington-based. which promotes language and international education.

“Language is the oil of the 21st century,” he said at the conference hosted by the University of Maryland College Park.

According to 2010 US Census data, 10% of native-born US citizens said they felt comfortable conversing in a language other than English. On the other hand, 53% of Europeans are able to converse in a second language.

Panelists from a variety of fields spoke at the September 30 conference, including educators, researchers, business leaders, and federal and state government officials. A recurring theme was the need for multilingual employees in a global economy.

“There is a lack of talent that is causing American companies to look to the world [when hiring]said Norm Newton, vice president and general manager of Manpower Group, an American multinational human resources consulting company based in Milwaukee.

Learn 1000 words

Like the United States, the United Kingdom is becoming aware of the disadvantage of having a majority monolingual society, an awareness that representatives from Great Britain expressed during the forum. In fact, the nation recently launched a campaign to encourage every citizen to learn at least 1,000 words in another language, according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corp.

Similarly, a public awareness campaign by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languagesan Alexandria, Va.-based organization that works to improve and expand foreign language education, which the organization plans to launch in early 2014, will seek to communicate the importance of language education to students and to parents.

While the campaign is still in its planning stages, early polls have shown that the possibility of more career opportunities that comes with speaking another language is a resonating message, according to Martha G. Abbott, director executive of the ACTFL.

Ms Abbott said the campaign will try to ‘raise awareness of the importance of languages ​​for a young person’s future, and that it is good to learn them and pursue them’.

“We want to start raising a multilingual citizenship that can engage with the rest of the world,” she said.

The campaign will feature a website that will provide parents and students, as well as other interested parties, such as policy makers and school administrators, with information about the importance of learning a second language and how and where students can pursue language studies.

These will also be public service announcements that will be aired on television and radio, intended to drive traffic to the website. The ACTFL plans to partner with celebrities and athlete role models to help raise awareness of the campaign and encourage foreign language learning.

The ACTFL is also reaching out to other foreign political leaders, organizations and governments to help fund and promote the campaign.

“I’m pretty confident we’re at a tipping point,” Ms Abbott said. “Nobody [we’re reaching out to] says it’s not important.

Immersion programs

Despite widespread support, some experts at the event last week argued that the attempt to encourage better foreign language teaching could face obstacles, including the growing emphasis on STEM education.shortcut for science, technology, engineering and math.

“In the 21st century, language education is just as important for STEM,” said John Tessitore, program director and special assistant to the president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, during a panel discussion.

Ms Abbott said this is an issue the campaign needs to tackle.

“The critical point we have to emphasize is that these are not two separate efforts,” she said. “The content of a language course can be a STEM subject. It would simply be that the student learns that subject in a target language.

One strategy for effective language teaching that was promoted at the forum is the use of language immersion programswhich analysts say are becoming increasingly popular in some parts of the country.

Ms. Abbott said two prime examples are Delaware and Utah, where governors have led the way by creating statewide initiatives to make immersion programs much more widespread.

Delaware began implementing its immersion effort in the 2012-2013 school year, specifically citing the role language education plays in ensuring the state’s children are competitive in a global economy. .

The Utah program started four years ago. Today, nearly half of the state’s school districts offer bilingual elementary programs. According to state officials, the initiative is partly aimed at attracting international companies to the region and making its graduates better job candidates.

“I think when other governors realize that this is a good investment in the future of the state, maybe we’ll find other states implementing similar programs,” said Ms. Abbott.

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