Defense Department Takes the Offense on Languages

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 07, 2005 1 min read
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Uncle Sam wants U.S. schools to take seriously the teaching of foreign languages and other cultures.

“A Call to Action for National Foreign Language Capabilities,” is available from the National Language Conference.

A national language center supported by the U.S. Department of Defense is soliciting proposals for establishing a Chinese-language program that would build students’ proficiency, from the elementary level through advanced studies in higher education.

The program would expand the National Flagship Language Initiative, a federally financed program housed at the University of Maryland College Park that currently provides advanced language study for college students in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian.

“The lack of such clearly articulated national models remains one of the most serious deficiencies in language learning in the U.S.,” says a letter sent last month to potential applicants in higher education. The grantees will work with schools and districts to institute Chinese language programs. The Washington-based Academy for Educational Development will oversee the initiative.

At the same time, the Defense Department is calling for a national strategy for promoting foreign-language study and greater understanding of other cultures in order to address the country’s economic and security needs.

“Gaps in our national language capabilities have undermined cross-cultural communication and understanding at home and abroad,” says a paper drafted earlier this year with advice from government officials, business leaders, educators, and language organizations.

It recommends policies and programs that promote language study and cultural understanding through stronger school-based programs and in the workplace.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, national-security experts have warned that the United States’ foreign-language capabilities are insufficient to meet the demands for translators, analysts, and other critical positions in government and business.


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