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America’s Languages: Investing in Language Learning for the 21st Century
The Full Report, Statistics, and Call to Action by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Commission on Language Learning
A Call To Action
Our national security, economic competitiveness and fabric as a united people demand that we increase our nation’s language skills and global competence.
Today, fewer than 10% of Americans overall speak a second language. This is not enough. The ability to communicate in languages other than English and understand cultures other than our own has never been more vital in an increasingly interconnected world where:
- 95% of the world’s consumers live outside the United States, meaning American jobs and exports are more dependent than ever on foreign markets;
- English is not the dominant language in the world’s fastest-growing economies;
- Growth in the U.S. market is increasingly driven by minority consumers with the Asian-American and Hispanic markets alone representing over $2 trillion a year;
- Americans are engaged diplomatically and militarily around the world as never before, and
- Issues such as the environment, health, poverty, development and peace are increasingly defined as global problems that require international understanding and cooperation.
Yet, despite a rapid increase in demand for language skills, fewer students are taking language classes. Barely one fifth of K-12 students study a second language, and on average starting at age 15 and for only two years. In higher education, a mere 8% of students enroll in language programs, with less than 1% studying languages designated as critical to U.S. economic and national security interests. Making matters worse, just 16 states require world language study for high school graduation, while 44 states and the District of Columbia report they cannot find enough qualified world language teachers to meet current needs.
We, the undersigned, invite parents, educators, business and thought leaders, foundations and communities, and policymakers at all levels to join the Lead with Languages campaign in this critical effort to prioritize language education and ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn a second language.
Key action steps include:
- Increase student enrollment in world language programs at all grade levels of K-12 and postsecondary education by building awareness among parents and students of the critical link between language skills and career success in the global marketplace;
- Strengthen and increase language programs at all education levels through greater investment, increased use of online technologies and blended learning, and expanded public-private partnerships among schools, colleges and universities, government, businesses and local communities;
- Address the shortage of qualified language teachers at all education levels by actively promoting the profession, and through better coordination of state credentialing systems, federal loan forgiveness, more advanced study and training opportunities, and other measures to bolster the teacher pipeline;
- Encourage all states and districts to adopt the Seal of Biliteracy, indicating on high school diplomas that competence in two or more languages is important, while motivating students to learn a new language and demonstrate skills that are attractive to future employers and college admissions offices;
- Develop language proficiency in heritage language speakers by building their own and their families’ awareness of the benefits of preserving and valuing their native language abilities, while offering them guidance, more language learning opportunities, specialized curricula, course credits and other resources at all education levels; and
- Provide more avenues for students to travel to other countries to learn languages and immerse themselves in other cultures through greater study-abroad opportunities at all education levels, more international internships sponsored by businesses and NGOs, and restructured financial aid for low-income undergraduates.