Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Foreign Language Education in the US — My Cross Country Travels — Presenting/Participating at MLA, NECTFL, SWCOLT, CSCTFL, and SCOLT

I was honored this year to have been invited to present at the 2018 MLA conference in New York, and the annual regional councils of SWCOLT, CSCTFL, and SCOLT (in chronological order). I attended NECTFL as a member of the Advisory Council and of the l’Ordre des Palmes académiques, CSCTFL as an member of the Advisory Council, and SCOLT as a Sponsor.

conferences 2018

My conference travels took me from my NYC-area home to Santa Fe, Milwaukee, and Atlanta to present on the role of foreign language advocacy in supporting both proficiency and the personal and professional empowerment that stems from foreign language skills, to listen to and learn from dedicated foreign language educators from across the country, and to make new friends for French/foreign language advocacy.

While the enthusiasm, dedication, and professionalism of the foreign language educators at each of these conferences were inspirational, the lack of foreign language learning among US students is a cause for concern within the profession and beyond. With fewer than 20% of US K-12 students studying a foreign language, and only 7.5% of college and university students enrolled in a course in a language other than English, the US foreign language deficit has not been addressed, despite our best efforts.

The programs differed somewhat, based on the conference theme and local interests, but I came away encouraged by the emphasis on proficiency, and on linguistic and cultural skills. In addition, the increasing interest in and support for immersion programs as a complement to traditional foreign language education, and especially, the number of sessions on advocacy, give hope for the future.

Advocacy, with its proactive role in “defense” of foreign language learning, and its collaborative nature as a stakeholder partnership including parents and communities, business and government, and educators, is both the foundation for a resurgence of foreign language learning in the US, and the means to achieve it.

Languages do matter!

 

Essential Reading

The Bilingual Revolution (2017). By Fabrice Jaumont. TBR Books.

Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education (2018).

Foreign Languages in Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World (2007).

The National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey (2017).

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