Monthly Archives: June 2013

Lobbyists Become Voice of Foreign Language Proponents

This is great news!

Article by Catherine Ho in Washington Post, June 30, 2013:

Bill Rivers and Hans Fenstermacher, lobbyists for the language services industry, think there is something missing from the national push to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education: an emphasis on foreign language.

That’s why they are pairing up to form what they call the first U.S. lobby for the language industry, and pushing to raise awareness on the importance of foreign language in education and the U.S. workforce.

Together, they are lobbying on federal and state-level policy issues surrounding language education, including advocating for more federal funding for language programs and opposing a bill pending in the Michigan state legislature that would allow some students to get around the two-year foreign language requirement to graduate.

Their interests reflect concerns in both the private and public sector about foreign language skills. Washington-based Fenstermacher is the founder and chairman of the Globalization & Localization Association, a trade group representing companies that provide translation and “localization” services — translating language about products based on the region ti where they’re being marketed . Rivers leads the District-based Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, nonprofit organizations that represent linguists, foreign language teachers and institutions pushing to improve language education in K-12 schools and universities.

“We’d like to see the definition of STEM be broader to include the areas that can create infrastructure we need from the language industry perspective,” Fenstermacher said. “When people hear ‘science,’ they think biology, engineering and chemistry. But the language industry is highly technological and scientific today. There’s a great deal of science and technology that underlies an area like ours.”

For example, Rivers said, the technology that supports translation tools such as Google Translate and Babel Fish call for programmers who have both language and technical skills. The kinds of workers the language services industry needs to hire must have a background in both.

“We face a critical language industry talent crisis and we urgently need 21st century skills to keep driving the sector,” Fenstermacher said. “Without the support from policymakers in this country, the language enterprise will fall short.”

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Scots Urged to Learn Foreign Languages

Stewart Paterson in, June 21, 2013:

f you had to rely on a Google translation of the above introduction, don’t worry because that is where I went to check it was correct.

It says, ‘This week I would like to speak about languages’.

French, or any other language other than English for that matter, is not my strongest point and in that respect I am far from alone in this country.

Holyrood’s European Committee has just given its report on its inquiry into foreign language learning in primary schools.

It recommends we teach one foreign language from primary one right through to secondary school.

Wow. Radical or what?

How many times have you been left stumped in another country when faced with someone who does not speak English?

How many times have you heard someone from these islands speak in a slow, monosyllabic, child-like voice trying to get their point across to a native on a foreign holiday?

Then they bemoan the fact the person does not speak English, without a hint of irony.

As a nation we need to drastically improve our modern language capability.

The committee rightly raised concerns about the ability to deliver the ambition of teaching two foreign languages.

From where we are today it will take decades to get up to speed with most of our European neighbours.

It will require a massive investment in training primary school teachers to have the capability required to deliver effective language teaching to primary pupils that will allow further study.

There is also a need for a willingness to change the attitudes of some people that there is less of a need for our people to learn a foreign language because so many others speak ours.

This lazy attitude is holding people back because learning a language provides for a better educated population.

It will also make us more outward in our outlook, and mean more people will be able to grasp opportunities in a global world.

The benefits for foreign trade and investment are obvious in an international economy and the more people we have speaking other languages the better.

There is a certain irony that Glasgow is preparing to host the Commonwealth Games next year welcoming people from all over the world many of whom speak English because their ancestors were forced to speak a foreign language, English, as a result of colonialism.

The independence referendum means other countries in Europe and beyond are taking an interest in Scotland and following the constitutional debate with interest, many by reading our news online, in English.

It is about time we made a serious effort to catch up, even if it does take 25 years.

Au revoir, adios, arrivederci.

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The Benefits of Foreign Language Learning

Once again, there are a multitude of benefits to learning another language as this new article points out. How many more reasons do you need to start learning another (or more)? Anne Merritt in The Telegraph, June 19, 2013:

Physiological studies have found that speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process. The brains of bilingual people operate differently than single language speakers, and these differences offer several mental benefits.

Below are seven cognitive advantages to learning a foreign language. Many of these attributes are only apparent in people who speak multiple languages regularly – if you haven’t spoken a foreign tongue since your A levels, your brain might not be reaping these bilingual benefits. However, people who begin language study in their adult lives can still achieve the same levels of fluency as a young learner, and still reap the same mental benefits, too.

You become smarter

Speaking a foreign language improves the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognise, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems. This skill boosts your ability to negotiate meaning in other problem-solving tasks as well.

Students who study foreign languages tend to score better on standardised tests than their monolingual peers, particularly in the categories of maths, reading, and vocabulary.

You build multitasking skills

Multilingual people, especially children, are skilled at switching between two systems of speech, writing, and structure. According to a study from the Pennsylvania State University, this “juggling” skill makes them good multitaskers, because they can easily switch between different structures. In one study, participants used a driving simulator while doing separate, distracting tasks at the same time. The research found that people who spoke more than one language made fewer errors in their driving.

You stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia

Several studies have been conducted on this topic, and the results are consistent. For monolingual adults, the mean age for the first signs of dementia is 71.4. For adults who speak two or more languages, the mean age for those first signs is 75.5. Studies considered factors such as education level, income level, gender, and physical health, but the results were consistent.

Top 10 best languages to study to get a job: in pictures

Your memory improves

Educators often liken the brain to a muscle, because it functions better with exercise. Learning a language involves memorising rules and vocabulary, which helps strengthen that mental “muscle.” This exercise improves overall memory, which means that multiple language speakers are better at remembering lists or sequences. Studies show that bilinguals are better at retaining shopping lists, names, and directions.

You become more perceptive

A study from Spain’s University of Pompeu Fabra revealed that multilingual people are better at observing their surroundings. They are more adept at focusing on relevant information and editing out the irrelevant. They’re also better at spotting misleading information. Is it any surprise that Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are skilled polyglots?

Your decision-making skills improve

According to a study from the University of Chicago, bilinguals tend to make more rational decisions. Any language contains nuance and subtle implications in its vocabulary, and these biases can subconsciously influence your judgment. Bilinguals are more confident with their choices after thinking it over in the second language and seeing whether their initial conclusions still stand up.

You improve your English

Learning a foreign language draws your focus to the mechanics of language: grammar, conjugations, and sentence structure. This makes you more aware of language, and the ways it can be structured and manipulated. These skills can make you a more effective communicator and a sharper editor and writer. Language speakers also develop a better ear for listening, since they’re skilled at distinguishing meaning from discreet sounds.

Anne Merritt is an EFL lecturer currently based in South Korea. She writes at

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An Irreverent Look at Learning Foreign Languages

Buzzfeed has outdone itself with this irreverent bit about the pitfalls of language learning.

Here’s the link to “17 Things You’ll Only Understand If You Studied A Foreign Language at University:

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Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

Here’s a column by “Mr. Dad” (a.k.a. Armin Brott) that argues the benefits of foreign language learning. Definitely worth reading! from, June 7, 2013:

Dear Mr. Dad: The U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and everyone wants to do business with us. Since we speak English here, how important do you think it is for children to learn a foreign language?

Unfortunately, our education system doesn’t place a lot of value on foreign-language knowledge – for exactly the reasons you mentioned. But in my view, it’s very important.

Of course, you’re talking to a guy with an undergrad degree in Russian and a minor in French, so you can take that with a grain of salt.

But there’s plenty of research to back me up. Let me walk you through some of the benefits.

• It can make you smarter – Numerous studies have found that studying a foreign language improves students’ listening skills, memory, and attention span, along with their critical thinking skills, ability to solve problems, and creativity.

Foreign language learners also do better than their mono-lingual (knowing only one-language) peers on verbal and math tests. Yes, math. Some experts believe that learning a new language requires an understanding of patterns and deciphering puzzles – both of which are related to mathematics. Multi-lingual kids also increase their English vocabulary, reading, and grammar usage.

• It could help you get a job, and more – Participants in a recent study done at the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird) in Glendale, Ariz., told researchers that knowing a foreign language had given them a leg up in being hired and improved their career paths. It also made them more aware of and interested in other cultures,

• It’s patriotic – According to the National Research Council, “A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry.” In other words, the easier it is to communicate with people, the less they’ll be to go to war.

• It keeps your mind sharp – Knowledge of two or more languages has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s and other similar brain diseases.

• It makes your brain bigger – Students in the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy have to become fluent in several different languages within only 13 months.

Researchers compared the students’ brains with those of others who also have to learn a huge amount of information in a short time, such as medical students. They found that the language learners experienced major growth in several areas of the brain (the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex). But the medical students’ brains didn’t grow at all.

• It can make the world a little smaller. Knowing another language – or developing the skills to learn one – makes it easier to travel and to enjoy other countries’ culture.

Rather than asking whether or not you should have your child learn a second language, I’d suggest that you ask: When? And the answer to that one is “The younger the better.”

Some studies indicate that starting at around age 10, we start losing the ability to hear and reproduce sounds from other languages. That explains why most people who move to a new country as adults can’t quite lose their accent.

But their children master the host language – including idioms, slang, and even swearing – accent-free. Each additional year of second language training increases the chances of experiencing the benefits above.

Armin Brott, a.k.a. “Mr. Dad,” is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”

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Fewer Students Study Languages in Glasgow

From, Jun3 6, 2013:

THE number of youngsters studying languages in Glasgow up to S4 has dropped steeply.

New figures show there were just 3822 entries for exams in the subjects last year, down one- quarter in a decade.

Council bosses expect the figure to fall even further in coming years as what was once compulsory becomes increasingly optional.

The total number of entries at fourth-year amounted to the equivalent of 77% of the total school roll.

Back in 2001 – the year then Education Minister Jack McConnell allowed schools to make foreign languages a voluntary subject – the equivalent figure in Glasgow was 91%.

A spokesman for the council said: “There is no reason why any child in Glasgow should leave school without a modern language qualification.

“But ever since 2001, languages have not been compulsory up to S4.

“Children have a choice and it is up to teachers to encourage them to make the choice to study foreign languages, with all the benefits there are for young people who do so.”

Glasgow yesterday admitted its overall performance with foreign languages at secondary level was “variable”, with the number of exam entries for children in S5/S6 holding up at 11% of the roll, compared with 12% a decade ago.

Figures show French holding up its popularity, with 275 youngsters sitting a Higher in 2012, the lowest figure for nine years but still higher than in 2001.

Just 55 fifth or sixth-year pupils sat Spanish at the same level, down from 65 in 2001 and 63 in 2011.

Only five senior pupils sat Higher German in Glasgow in 2012. That is one-tenth as many as in 2001, reflecting long-term decline in the study of the language of Europe’s biggest economy.

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New Bill to Support Foreign Language Teaching in US Schools

From, May 29, 2013:

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) have introduced, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the “Foreign Language Education Partnership Program Act.” The legislation would create a new U.S. Department of Education initiative to support revolutionary classroom programs that provide carefully sequenced foreign language classes from kindergarten through high school.

“We need to give our young people the best opportunities to master foreign languages to help them thrive in this global economy. By fostering innovative programs for our students, this legislation will help close the foreign language gap among American students,” Lautenberg said. “I hope my Senate colleagues will help make our nation more secure and prosperous by joining this effort to make foreign language education a national priority.”

“Because of poor foreign language education, American companies today lose international contracts, our scientists miss important opportunities for collaboration, and clues critical to our national security go untranslated,” Holt said. “We need to improve dramatically how our children learn languages by establishing a foundation at the earliest ages and building on it through high school, college, and beyond.”

According to studies funded by the Department of Education, only 30 percent of American high school students are enrolled in foreign language classes, and only 25 percent of American elementary schools even offer foreign languages. To address these problems, the bill would create a new K-12/higher education foreign language education partnership program. It would provide up to $50 million in annual funding for model programs of sequenced foreign language instruction from K-12, with the goal of graduating high school students with an advanced level of proficiency. Any foreign language is eligible, but the Secretary of Education may establish priorities on languages critical to national needs.

Information on successful programs and practices would be widely disseminated, with a goal of encouraging school systems nationwide to adopt similar approaches.

The bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Holt will be referred to the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, of which Holt is a member. The House bill is cosponsored by Reps. Jim McDermott (WA-7), Jared Polis (CO-2), John Tierney (MA-6), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), James McGovern (MA-2), and David Price (NC-4).

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