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Chapter 11: The Resurgence of Foreign Languages in the U.S.
U.S. companies would be better able to sell their products abroad, and foreign-owned companies would be more likely to invest in the U.S. if potential
employees with the needed foreign language skills were workplace-ready.
Our national stature would be enhanced, as our expats, diplomats, and
study abroad students would be better prepared to communicate effectively across languages and cultures. Our nation would be more secure,
as we would be better able to understand and to communicate with the
world around us. Careers that require or are enhanced by foreign language
skills are on the rise, while foreign language enrollments are in decline, and
existing programs tend not to offer explicit career pathways. The disconnect is clear.
It is interesting to reflect on a public and scholarly conversation that has
engaged so many and that has endured since the 1940s, and most recently
since 9/11, has resulted in so little progress. The World Wars of the 20th
century marked the beginning of the decline of study of German, and the
end of the Cold War marked the end of Area Studies and the decline of
foreign languages generally in the U.S. The International/Global Studies
undergraduate major programs that have succeeded Area Studies no longer emphasize foreign language skills, as demonstrated by the author’s
doctoral research, and international education is often conducted entirely
in English. Foreign language enrollments are declining, and according to
the MLA report, Foreign Languages and Higher Education, only 6.1% of
foreign language majors go on to obtain a doctorate.
Advocacy, a strategic marketing campaign, and the language enterprise
partnership form the foundation of the campaign for foreign languages. In
addition, in order to create and sustain motivation, technology, and all of
the possibilities offered by current and emerging technologies to support
foreign language learning, must be creatively utilized. Most importantly,
in order to effect the needed paradigm shift, the campaign must identify
its audience as all present and potential foreign language learners, offering
flexible models to adult and traditional learners, and willingness to transcend the traditional classroom and take foreign languages to corporate
sites and to informal settings in the community in order to increase buy-in
and engagement from a broader stakeholder base.
Advocacy can take many forms, including advocacy at the national
level as practiced by the foreign language professional associations and
JNCL-NCLIS. Advocates and supports of foreign languages can be
found in government, in education, and in private enterprise, and they
can be institutional or organizational leaders or individual “change agents.
THE RESURGENCE OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES IN THE U.S.
This advocacy, from the local community to the nation’s capital, and from
the halls of academia to the corporate boardroom, is a cornerstone of the
campaign to increase the level of foreign language skills in the U.S.
The strategic marketing campaign should include as many of the aforementioned stakeholders as possible, including heritage language groups.
It should be grounded in current theory and best practices of strategic
social marketing and change management and include a “blue ocean strategy” to expand and develop support for foreign language where it may
not have existed before. It should include elements of “disruptive innovation,” including interdisciplinarity, service learning, experiential learning,
outreach to local language communities, and so on, as well as a competitive strategy in order to win over support and obtain needed resources and
Change management traditionally has been viewed as a generally linear
process driven forward by a core group. However, more recent thinking
has indicated that continuous emphasis on major goals by the broadest
constituency using all available media and methods may be more effective
in a time characterized by multitasking and social media. Most importantly,
as change is a dynamic process, new possibilities can quickly become new
objectives, and even goals, and it is important that an effective campaign
be agile. The ability to offer a broad umbrella to both traditional and
non-traditional stakeholders and to maximize a wide range of methods
is essential in order to bring about the needed paradigm shift in attitudes
toward foreign language learning.
The language enterprise partnership of education, government, and private enterprise, offers a synergy of funding, employment, and the professional expertise needed to educate future professionals in needed foreign
language skills. NAFSA’s global partners and global affiliates, JNCLNCLIS’ corporate members, and the MLOW Essay Contest and Global
Youth Forum, sponsored by the UNAI and ELS Educational Services,
Inc., are examples of the language enterprise partnership at work, and
high-profile events like MLOW are wonderful ways for present and future
language learners to see the rewards and benefits of acquiring foreign language skills.
Technology has already changed the way people learn languages—in
the classroom and for self-directed independent learners. Learners can
easily chat with native speakers online, and foreign language learners
with similar interests can find each other online and meet either online
or in person. Foreign language learning platforms like Rosetta Stone and
Duolingo are available for free, or for a fee, and online video courses range
from French in Action and Destinos to Extra.
Adults and other non-traditional learners may need more flexible learning opportunities, including online and hybrid classes, and organizations
that wish to encourage the development of foreign language skills may
wish to offer onsite learning opportunities during lunch hours, and to offer
compensation to those employees who develop needed foreign language
skills. Independent self-directed learners, whose interests and learning
styles vary greatly, require an equally wide range of learning opportunities
It behooves the foreign language education community to reach out
to these present and future language learners and foreign language supporters. In developing opportunities and materials for these learners who
are outside the system, foreign language educators are taking foreign languages beyond the classroom.
Conclusions and Future Directions—From
the Foreign Language Deficit to Foreign
Abstract The U.S. language paradox—the reluctance of native Englishlanguage speakers to learn another language while living in a nation of
immigrants—poses a challenge to the U.S. in an era where English may
be considered the global lingua franca, but where foreign languages are
increasingly in demand in the global workplace. It is interesting to note
that, despite the efforts, research, and writing of many individuals, so little
progress has been made. Multilingualism is a global competency for all of
us. Increasing awareness, building skills, and developing career pathways
are areas to target during the campaign for languages.
Keywords Language paradox • Intercultural competence • Advocacy
• Immersion • Heritage language • Adult learners • Language enterprise
partnership • Interdisciplinary partnership • Stakeholder
The choice is ours—to remain tongue-tied and jeopardize our economic
and national security, or do effectively address the U.S. foreign language deficit. As Alden wrote, in Foreign Languages and U.S. Economic
Competitiveness, foreign language is “One part of the set of skills that
U.S. students will need to thrive in an increasingly global economy. Study
abroad, foreign travel where possible, and familiarity with other cultures
are all important parts of the mix. But the ability to communicate in one
or more foreign languages is clearly key. Foreign language instruction
© The Author(s) 2016
K. Stein-Smith, The U.S. Foreign Language Deficit,
needs to stop being an afterthought in the K-12 curriculum and instead
become a top priority alongside math, science and the humanities.”
The U.S. language paradox—the reluctance of native English-language
speakers to learn another language while living in a nation of immigrants—
poses a challenge to the U.S. in an era where English may be considered
the global lingua franca, but where foreign languages are increasingly in
demand in the global workplace.
It is interesting to note that, despite the efforts, research, and writing
of many individuals, so little progress has been made. Although American
students study abroad in numbers greater than ever before, they do so
either in English-speaking parts of the world, or in programs with other
English-speaking students where English is the language of instruction.
In addition, Rosetta Stone has recently expanded its efforts into language
arts as if, seemingly, foreign language education had not been popular
enough to support earnings.
The importance of intercultural competence as part of education for
global citizenship cannot be overstated, and the role of the foreign language teacher as intercultural competence teacher, always implicit, must
be highlighted. If more students studied foreign languages and had the
opportunity to acquire both CQ and foreign language skills, more U.S.
students might consider study abroad, and a greater proportion of those
studying abroad might actually venture beyond English-speaking countries and programs.
The students who have participated in MLOW, and especially the student winners, are examples of success in foreign language learning and
achievement, paired with intercultural literacy, global fluency, and a commitment to the ideals of global citizenship, provide a model of best practice for us to learn from.
A successful campaign for foreign languages and increased foreign language learning would have a positive impact on employment and careers
in many areas—increased employability for those with foreign language
skills, the ability for business and government to fill positions requiring
foreign language skills now often left vacant because of the foreign language deficit, and an increase in jobs for foreign language teachers in all
The research has made the case for foreign language learning in the U.S.,
but do we care enough to make it so? A campaign to increase awareness
and motivation, opportunity to begin continued study, and train enough
teachers to ensure the supply of foreign language skills is needed.