My recent 2018 Fall presentations on foreign/world language advocacy at PSMLA, NYSAFLT, MaFLA, and NHAWLT, along with the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on fostering bilingualism in the home at the NYC bilingual fair, have caused me to think deeply about the role of language, and languages, in our lives, in the future of our children, and as part of our personal cultural identity, especially in response to questions from participants and those in attendance.
I came away so impressed by both the dedication and professionalism of language educators and the motivation of parents and communities to obtain the “bilingual edge” and the “bilingual advantage” for their children.
I was also very impressed by the strength and vibrancy of French language learning in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
It is a wonderful time for languages in the US, with more than 60M Americans speaking a language other than English in the home. However, it is a less than wonderful time for language learning in the US, with fewer than 20% of K-12 students and only 7.5% of college and university students studying another language.
Nonetheless, language skills and cultural knowledge represent not only a chance to re-connect with our cultural heritage, but also a personal, cultural, and professional opportunity — as well as part of the global citizenship skills set.
What can — and should — we do?
In addition to being vigilant and proactive allies and defenders of programs that are in danger and at risk, as language educators, we need to work together and develop partnerships with language stakeholders in business, government, and in our communities, in order to drive the public conversation about languages and language learning.
Languages matter – and empower: personally and professionally; cognitively and academically; globally and locally.
Advocacy goals include: building interest; increasing availability; ensuring an early start; and developing sustainable motivation.
It is also important for all language stakeholders to understand that we are in this together, and that advocacy is a wide umbrella, encompassing different languages, grade levels, and methodologies — and that we are in this together.
As language educators and advocates, we need to create a “buzz” about the benefits of languages, language use, and bilingualism in the workplace and in our society.
Language advocacy needs to be strategic, using the theories and best practices of management, marketing, and public relations, in addition to our educational perspectives.
It is especially important to remember that an early start to language learning and immersion are among the most valid predictors of a successful language learning outcome.
Most importantly, we need to reach out to parents and communities with either a present or heritage language.
The role of the AATF Commission on Advocacy is: to “defend” the French language in the US, keeping French in the public conversation through professional engagement, research, and writing; to provide information to French language educators; to support French programs that are at risk or in danger.
This is a wonderful time for languages in the US, and it can be a wonderful time for language learning, if we have the motivation, persistence, and strategy to make it so.
Languages do matter!