From the Field

America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century

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The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently published a report in response to a bipartisan, bi-cameral request from members of Congress. The report addresses these questions: how does language learning influence economic growth, cultural diplomacy, the productivity of future generations, and the fulfillment of all Americans? What actions should the nation take to ensure excellence in all languages as well as international education and research, including how we may more effectively use current resources to advance language learning?

The report, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century, presents findings and recommendations with the hope that the share of K-12 students studying a language other than English might soon rise above the current estimate of 20 percent. Skills in languages other than English can help the country provide social and legal services for a changing population, and these skills are highly marketable in business. The US lags behind its main economic competitors in producing multi-lingual workers and citizens.

The primary recommendation is to increase the number of language teachers at all levels. This is a costly idea both financially and politically, but the report envisions a big role for public-private partnerships and new technology. Additionally, the report highlights ways of leveraging heritage speakers of languages other than English, and it suggests increased support for the study Native American languages.