[lg policy] US Leaders Have Much to Learn from European Language Policies

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 25 14:41:01 UTC 2013

 US Leaders Have Much to Learn from European Language Policies


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In case you haven’t heard it, the joke goes like this: What do you call
someone who speaks several languages? Answer: a polyglot. What do you call
someone who speaks two languages? Answer:  bilingual. And how about someone
who only speaks one language?

Answer: an American.

The punch line isn’t very funny anymore. In fact, the need to address
language diversity in the U.S. is increasingly dire, and the lack of public
discussion or policy in the midst of significant demographic and economic
change means the situation will only get worse.

One out of five U.S. households now speaks a language other than English.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people five and older
who don’t speak English at home has exploded five times faster than the
nation’s population growth over the past three decades. And don’t assume
this is just about Spanish. More than 300 economically viable languages are
spoken in the U.S. today.

The bottom line is that U.S. leaders have got to stop taking language for
granted. To remain competitive and effective both globally and
domestically, the U.S. must address the full impact of linguistic diversity.

U.S. leaders could take a cue from Europe on how to approach language
issues. The European Union (EU) is about to launch Horizon 2020, a
comprehensive program to increase Europe’s long-term competiveness through
research and innovation.

Building on previous multi-year investments in linguistic diversity and
infrastructure, Horizon 2020 looks ahead to Europe’s multilingual needs and
priorities. Among other things, it addresses innovations in translation
technology, advancements in automated translation, and more rigorous
educational standards for professional translators.

Specific examples of European projects include:

   - QTLaunchPad, a European Commission-funded program to measure
   translation quality through industry collaboration with European research
   - META-NET, a program to develop automated translation capabilities
   across all European languages;
   - And a partnership between the European Commission, higher education
   institutions and language-industry companies to offer internships for
   graduates with a European master’s degree in translation.

The U.S. should follow Europe’s lead in building its own multilingual
future. To remain competitive, the U.S. *must bring language into the
conversation about the national economic infrastructure*. Specifically, the
United States needs to increase funding for language education, support
initiatives that lead to the professionalization of the translation
industry, and focus on our own new and innovative forms of language

U.S. leaders need to realize the critical role multilingual access and
equality will play in the country’s ability to compete in the future, and
they need to start making it happen now.

*Hans Fenstermacher is Chief Executive Officer of the Globalization and
Localization Association (GALA), the world’s largest trade association for
the language industry. More at www.gala-global.org.*


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