[lg policy] Kathy Stein-Smith assesses the role of the Language Enterprise in addressing the U.S. world-language deficit

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Feb 9 21:15:39 UTC 2015

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 *Kathy Stein-Smith* assesses the role of the Language Enterprise in
addressing the U.S. world-language deficit

Relatively few American students study world languages, with only 18.5% of
K–12 students and only 8.6% of college and university students enrolled in
a course in a language other than English, according to the American
Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the Modern
Language Association (MLA) respectively. Over the past 50 years, among
college and university students, enrollment in a language other than
English has decreased from 16% to 8.6%, just as the world was transitioning
from the postcolonial to the global era. Al­though the precipitous decline
in world-language enrollments in the 1970s and 1980s has stabilized,
world-language enrollments have not increased in proportion to

Across the Atlantic, 56% of Europeans are capable of holding a conversation
in a second language, and studying at least one foreign language is the
worldwide norm.

The Language Enterprise, as coined by William Rivers, director of the Joint
National Committee for Languages and the National Council for International
Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), in his 2013 presentation “Language Enterprise in the
U.S.: The Public and Private Sector,” is a collaborative partnership of
education, private enterprise, and government in support of world languages
and world-language education.

The effectiveness of this partnership has been recently demonstrated in the
U.S. by the Many Languages, One World Essay Contest and Global Youth Forum
at the United Nations and by the British Academy’s language program and
related government and private-sector initiatives in the UK.

*Many Languages, One World*
The Many Languages, One World (MLOW) Essay Contest and Global Youth Forum,
sponsored by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and ELS Educational
Services, and hosted by Adelphi University, invited college and university
students from all over the world to write essays in one of the official
languages of the United Nations — but not the students’ first languages —
on the UNAI principles. The contest was launched in October 2013, with the
purpose of promoting multilingualism and encouraging study of the six
official languages of the UN, and the essays were due in March 2014. Over
4,000 people were involved in the process, with almost 1,500 students from
128 countries submitting essays and recommended by faculty members at their

After a rigorous selection process, which included evaluation of their
essays, recommendations from faculty at their home institutions, and Skype
interviews to confirm conversational proficiency so that they would be able
to present in the target languages and respond to questions and comments
from the audience, ten winners were selected for each of the six official
languages of the UN and were brought to New York, all expenses paid, for a
week, during which time they made their presentations at the UN General
Assembly. Winners were from 26 different countries on six continents and
included eight U.S. students.

The winners spent their first full day in the U.S. working with the other
students in their language groups and their language-group facilitators
preparing their presentation, and the guiding principle for the preparation
workshops was appreciative inquiry.

The second day was spent at the UN. Each of the student winners had the
opportunity to present in the language of his or her essay on one of the
ten principles of the UNAI. The French-language group, which I was honored
to work with, presented on principle three, “educational opportunity for
all people regardless of gender, race, religion, or ethnicity.” After the
presentations, the students had lunch in the delegates dining room, where
they were seated by language and joined by UN staff and dignitaries who
spoke their languages. The French-language students were joined by two
ambassadors, a UN student intern, and UN staff members, all francophones,
who answered questions and shared experiences in French. The weekend
included a full schedule of educational and enjoyable activities for the
students, most of whom were in the U.S. and New York City for the first

The collaborative partnership of the UNAI, ELS Educational Services, and
Adelphi University had the synergy to create a high-profile event which
brought together students from all over the world and empowered them to
present at the General Assembly. In addition to fostering friendships
across cultures, MLOW received significant online press coverage around the

The most striking aspect of this inspirational event and stunning example
of the Language Enterprise in action was the camaraderie among these
students from all over the world.

According to its website, the UNAI, which observed its fourth anniversary
in November 2014, is “a global initiative that aligns institutions of
higher education with the United Nations in furthering the realization of
the purposes and mandate of the organization through activities and
research in a shared culture of intellectual social responsibility.”
For details on entering the 2015 competition, see page 16.

*The British Academy Language Program*
The British Academy language program, a four-year initiative launched in
2011, has highlighted the need for world languages through newspaper
articles, research publications, and public events, such as the Language
Festivals of 2013 and 2014.

Publications include Lost for Words: The Need for Languages in UK Diplomacy
and Security (2013), Talk the Talk (2013), Languages: The State of the
Nation (2013), andposition statement “Language Matters More and More”
(2011). “Born Global: Rethinking Language Policy for 21st Century Britain”
is scheduled for publication in 2015; interim findings were presented at
the Languages Show 2014.

The “case for language learning” series of articles published in the
Guardian newspaper, the School Language Awards, and the Public Language
Champion Awards are examples of the Language Enterprise collaborative
partnership of the private/academic sector with the corporate sector.

During this same period, the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2014,
“Gateway to Growth,” highlighted the importance of languages, and the
British Council published Languages for the Future (2013). Following that
the national curriculum included additional world language requirements in
September 2014 (see “Elementary Practicals,” *LM* November 2014), and
world-language requirements have been added to high school exit exams.

Other trends in world languages and their teaching include: foreign
language advocacy; the global anglophone foreign language deficit; career
opportunities in world languages; languages for specific purposes (LSP) and
business-language studies (BLS); programs for heritage-language speakers;
immersion programs; the popularity of Spanish; technology in world-language
learning; and English as a second language in Europe.

The challenge remains the global reluctance among English speakers around
the world to dedicate the time and effort necessary to acquire foreign
language skills at the level of proficiency or fluency necessary for them
to be a career asset. While many English speakers may believe that, as
English is the global lingua franca, they do not need to learn another
language, this is far from true in a globalized world where 75% of the
population does not speak English.
A strategic social-marketing campaign to raise awareness among Americans of
the importance of world-language skills is needed, and this campaign needs
to be a collaborative initiative, with participation across the entire
Language Enterprise of education, government, and business.

In order to be effective, the strategic social-marketing campaign for world
languages will need to operate at the local, state, and national levels to
raise awareness of, and interest in, other languages and cultures among
Americans. In addition, U.S. students need to be made more aware of the
career and professional opportunities available to those with foreign
language skills, and programs to develop these skills, particularly in
languages for specific purposes and business-language studies, need to be
promoted and expanded. On campuses and in the classroom, extra- and
co-curricular activities make all the difference, with service learning and
experiential learning, as well as language houses, festivals, and library
language tables among the available options.

Programs for heritage-language speakers designed to respond to their
specific language-learning needs need to be expanded in order to empower
them to improve their career prospects, but also to maximize their
potential contribution to business and government.

High-profile programs and events, like Many Languages, One World and the
British Academy language program, are examples of effective Language
Enterprise collaborative partnerships, which have the potential to change
the world-language-learning paradigm.

*According to Languages for All? The Global Anglophone Challenge*
“In recent years, much of the discussion regarding foreign language
education has centered on its perceived benefits: a more robust economy,
stronger national security, improved cognitive ability, and advantages in
college admissions and the job market, just to name a few. Recent surveys
show that 85% of American adults now believe that it is important for youth
to learn a second language, yet 79% of Americans are still monolingual.
It’s time to shift the discussion from ‘Why should we learn a second
language?’ to ‘Why aren’t we learning languages?’”

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). “Enrollment
Survey.” http://www.actfl.org/enrollment-survey
British Academy. “Languages.” http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/Languages.cfm
Confederation of British Industry (CBI)/Pearson Education and Skills Survey.
Gateway to Growth. http://www.cbi.org.uk/media/2807987/gateway-to-growth.pdf
ELS Educational Services. “Many Languages,One World.”
European Commission. Eurobarometer. Europeans and Their Languages.
“Global Trends in Foreign Language Demand and Proficiency.“ Student Travel
Planning Guide
Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages
and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS). http://www.languagepolicy.org
“Languages for All? The Anglophone Challenge.” http://www.casl.umd.edu/lfa
McComb, Chris. “About One in Four Americans Can Hold a Conversation in a
Second Language.”
Modern Language Association (MLA). Enrollments in Languages Other Than
English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2009.
Rivers, William P. “The Language Enterprise in the U.S.: The View from
United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). https://academicimpact.un.org

*Kathy Stein-Smith*, who was honored to have participated as the
French-language facilitator of the Many Languages, One World initiative,
has just been appointed chair of the AATF (American Association of Teachers
of French) Commission on Advocacy. She is associate university librarian of
the Frank Giovatto Library at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey.
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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