US Economic Development Committee Info

US Economic Development Committee Info

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In order for America to succeed in the 21st century, our students must receive a well-rounded education that includes high-quality language learning. While the rest of the world is becoming increasingly multilingual, the US is lagging behind. As we move to reform education in this country, the US must continue to learn from the best practices of other countries in order to deliver a world-class education that prepares American graduates to be linguistically literate and culturally competent.



Language Learning in the 21st Century

March 29, 2011

“Business may be global but markets are multi-local. And that type of cross-border understanding and cooperation needs to start in K-12″ – Alfred Mockett, CED Trustee ”

As US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stated, “We must improve language learning and international education at all levels if our nation is to continue to lead in the global economy; to help bring security and stability to the world; and to build stronger and more productive ties with our neighbors.”

Yet the latest enrollment figures indicate that in 2007-08 only 18.5% of students in U.S. public schools K-12 were enrolled in a language class.

As students learn a new language and culture, they develop insight into their own language and culture, thus providing them with a deeper understanding of how language works and how cultures reflect the perspectives, practices, and products of the people who speak that language.

Language learning becomes even more purposeful for students when they see the application beyond the classroom. With today’s communication technologies, language classrooms can bring the world to the students, as teachers provide opportunities for students to use the language beyond the confines of their classroom walls.

By learning other languages, students develop respect and openness to those whose culture, religion, and views on the world may be different. Language students are able to interact with students from the target language in order to discuss issues and reach solutions.

Recommendation 1: Set foreign language enrollment and education standards to make American students competitive with students from other nations.

In France, public school students often receive as much as six years of foreign language instruction compared to the two years received by most American public school students who actually study a foreign language (“France calls,” 2009).

Very few students are actually studying a specific foreign language (as opposed to courses such as “Exploratory Foreign Languages”) in the elementary grades. Under Secretary Martha Kanter assured that the U.S. Department of Education realizes “that international education cannot be seen as an “add-on” or an “extra” […] in K-12” education (U.S. Department of Education, 2010a). To avoid being an add-on, foreign language education must begin early, and be integrated into all levels of K-12 learning. Only by doing this can students master the proficiency skills to achieve the first goal of making American students competitive with international students.

Approximately one-third of seventh to twelfth grade students study a foreign language and fewer than one- in-ten college students enroll in a foreign language class.2

Introductory language courses continue to dominate enrollments. Spanish, the most commonly studied foreign language, accounts for nearly 70 percent of enrollments in secondary schools and just over 50 percent of enrollments in institutions of higher education.3    Few students study the less-commonly taught “critical languages” that are crucial to national security, such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian/Farsi, Russian, and Turkish. While Arabic is attracting an increasing number of students, it still accounts for just 0.8 percent of foreign-language enrollments in American post-secondary institutions.4

CED recommends that international content be taught across the curriculum and at all levels of learning, to expand American students’ knowledge of other countries and cultures.

CED recommends expanding the training pipeline at every level of education to address the paucity of Americans fluent in foreign languages, especially critical, less- commonly taught languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian/ Farsi, Russian, and Turkish.

  • 80% of students in Europe speak at least two languages.
  • Of the over 55 million students in U.S. public schools, only 50,000 students study Mandarin Chinese – a language spoken by over 1 billion people worldwide.
  • Only 14% of U.S. students consider themselves bilingual.