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Chapter 11: The Resurgence of Foreign Languages in the U.S.

Chapter 11: The Resurgence of Foreign Languages in the U.S.

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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.



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

and materials.

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

Languages 2.0

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,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-34159-0_12




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.

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