Thankfully, some government officials understand the need to reverse the decline in foreign language programs and learning!
Article by Julia Terruso for The Star Ledger, June 5, 2011:
When Rep. Rush Holt heard about FBI storerooms stacked with untranslated documents and U.S. businesses losing contracts for want of bilingual negotiating power, it became clear to him the country had a language problem.
The solution, decided Holt (D-12th Dist.) and others who advocate more extensive foreign-language instruction, lies in bolstering the nation’s budget-strapped K-12 programs.
As a start, Holt and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate to provide $50 million in federal funds for public school students to learn foreign languages, starting in kindergarten.
“This modest bill addresses a big gap in language training,” Holt said Thursday. “The United States has a real problem with foreign languages and we need to address it for economic reasons, reasons of national security, quality of life and cultural enrichment.”
As school districts across the country face state and federal budget cuts, language programs are often the first to go, foreign-language educators and lobbyists said.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie cut $825 million from education last year, prompting many schools to replace foreign-language teachers with instructional CDs and computer programs. On the federal level, Congress cut $50 million from foreign-language education this year and the House Education Committee has proposed cutting an additional $27 million.
Sabia Usted? Saviez Vous? Did you know?
• Spanish is the nation’s most commonly studied foreign language, accounting for nearly 70 percent of secondary school enrollment
• Arabic accounts for just 0.6 percent of national foreign language enrollment in secondary schools
• On the campaign trail in 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said: “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is “merci beaucoup,” right?”
• Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with just over 1 billion speakers.
• CIA Director Leon Panetta said in March 2010: “Strengthening the CIA’s language capability is one of my top priorities. … We can’t succeed without it.”
SOURCES: The Center for Applied Linguistics; CBS News; U.S. Census Bureau; CIA press office
Holt said the Foreign Language Education Partnership Program Act (HR 1966), will make the country more globally competitive and secure.
“When you see foreign companies prospecting for minerals needed or international banks looking for partnerships, the companies that have facility with language often land those contracts,” he said.
The bill would directly fund teacher recruitment, high school study-abroad scholarships, language certification and the appointment of supervisors to oversee new programs.
In New Jersey, French and Spanish are most widely offered in schools. Arabic and Chinese, cited as two of the most critical languages by federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are on the rise. Still, they account for less than 4 percent of languages taught nationally, according to a study by the Center for Applied Linguistics, a nonprofit research and education organization.
The study found that from 1997 to 2008, foreign-language instruction declined from 31 percent to 25 percent in elementary schools and from 75 percent to 58 percent in middle schools.
“When we talk about foreign language learning, we’re not talking about a skill to use in a restaurant or a family vacation, although that’s wonderful,” said Maryann Woods-Murphy, the 2009-2010 New Jersey Teacher of the year and a Spanish instructor at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale. “We’re talking about vital skills to move the democracy to its greatest potential.”
In New Jersey, the study of world languages in public schools is required from kindergarten through eighth grade. There is also a five-credit high school graduation requirement. But with tight budgets, enforcements have relaxed, prompting some districts, like Randolph and Manalapan-Englishtown, to purchase the Rosetta Stone computer program for use in language classrooms in lieu of teachers.
Frank Belluscio, director of communications for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said one-third of New Jersey school districts have had to scale back their world-languages programs.
“As we know, there’s a critical need for the U.S. to be competitive in a world economy and to give students the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed,” he said.
While most people support foreign-language instruction, not everyone agrees the federal government should be funding it.
Steve Lonegan, director of the New Jersey chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said the nation’s debt burden is a bigger problem than its intellectual capacity.
“This is a big country with a lot of people speaking a lot of languages. I don’t think there’s a shortage of those languages,” said Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor and gubernatorial candidate whose opposition to a McDonald’s Spanish-language billboard made news in 2006. “The nation’s debt will yield far more negative consequences on our global competitiveness than if we have enough people who can speak Chinese.”
But Martha Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, a national foreign language interest group, said the proposed funding’s not enough.
“Fifty million from the federal government is really a drop in the bucket,” Abbot said. “It’s important for people to really get behind this because our days of being a monolingual nation are over.”