Monthly Archives: May 2012

Lack of Foreign Language Capabilities Potential National Security Risk

Article by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr, “Foreign Language Capabilities Remain a Priority,” in US Department of  Defense (, May 22, 2012:

A senior U.S. defense official suggested before Congress yesterday that a lack of foreign language capabilities in the federal government could potentially pose a national security risk.

“Let me begin by stating that Defense Secretary [Leon E.] Panetta has long believed that having a strong language ability is critical to national security,” Laura Junor, deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness, said in testimony before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee “We’re committed to fielding the most capable force that we can deploy.”

Junor said mission success is directly connected to the ability to communicate effectively with local populations and international partners. “Our current challenge lies in filling language-required positions with personnel that possess the requisite language skills,” she said. “We’ve been reducing this deficiency, but we need help. We need our nation’s schools to develop students with these skills from which we can recruit to meet our needs.”

“Studies show that exposure to foreign language and early language learning greatly facilitates language acquisition,” Junor said. “Therefore, bringing in individuals with foreign language skills makes it easier to train people to higher levels of proficiency. We are working to overcome these challenges through collaborative, interagency strategies to achieve our vision for language, regional and cultural capabilities,” she added.

These strategies, Junor said, address the importance of identifying language needs, acquiring and sustaining language skills, enhancing language careers, building partners and increasing surge capacity. “The department is improving the identification of its language needs through standardized, capabilities-based processes,” she said. “These processes enable the combatant commanders to articulate their language needs and provide them to the military services who supply the staff to meet those needs.”

DOD is also actively engaged with other federal agencies such as the National Security Education Board and the Defense Language Steering Committee, Junor said. “By experience, we’ve learned the importance of building a surge capacity to yield language expertise quickly and at a reasonable cost,” Junor said. “The department’s National Language Service Corps provides a pool of qualified volunteers with high levels of proficiency, in both English and foreign languages who can serve, and then be activated, as temporary government employees when needed.”

Junor said there has been “real progress made” in improving foreign language skills, regional expertise and cultural capabilities to meet 21st Century national security challenges. “Although we have achieved much success, we acknowledge that much work remains,” she said. “Our vision and strategy are designed to build language and cultural capabilities so they are available to DOD and other federal agencies when needed.”


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Engineering and Foreign Languages

The University of Rhode Island has developed a way to promote foreign language study among its engineering students.  Unfortunately, the entire article by Karin Fischer in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 25, 2012, issue is unavailable for non-subscribers.  However, if you go to you can read about the program and watch the youtube about it on the University’s site.



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Asian Language Debate in Australia — at what price?

Bianca Hall for The Guardian, May 12, 2012:

TONY ABBOTT’S plan to boost the study of Asian languages in schools would cost $1 billion to implement, according to a leading Asian languages educator. 

On Thursday night, Mr Abbott said one of his key priorities, if elected, would be to increase the number of high school students studying foreign languages – particularly Asian languages – to 40 per cent within a decade.

”We are supposed to be adapting to the Asian century, yet Australians’ study of foreign languages, especially Asian languages, is in precipitous decline,” Mr Abbott said.

But the announcement raised eyebrows among the Labor Party, given that, in 2002, the Howard government axed a successful program that had doubled the number of students studying Asian languages.

The National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools strategy was scrapped eight years into its 12-year cycle.

The executive director of the Asialink and Asia Education Foundation, Kathe Kirby, said based on that program’s costs, Mr Abbott’s policy would cost about $100 million a year over 10 years.

”It will take very significant investment,” she said. ”Right back with NALSAS, when we doubled [the rates] in today’s monetary terms, that was an investment of $100 million a year … If we’re not talking something in that ball park we don’t do it.” 

Mr Abbott said in his budget reply that since 2001 – the year before the scheme was scrapped – there had been a 21 per cent decline in students studying Japanese and a 40 per cent drop in students studying Indonesian. He did not offer a cost for the policy.

The School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, dismissed Mr Abbott’s policy, calling it a ”rehashed announcement” from the 2010 election. 

”There were no details and no dollars, just an aspirational target and a vague intention.” 

The number of students studying foreign languages has plummeted since the cuts, with just 12 per cent of year 12 students learning a foreign language. 

The previous strategy had increased the number of students learning foreign languages to 25 per cent. 

Ms Kirby said it was reassuring to see bipartisan support emerging for Asian languages.

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