Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Foreign Language Advocacy Is for Everyone – Ensuring That All Our Students Have the Opportunity to Learn Another Language

I am so happy to have had the opportunity to discuss Language Advocacy Month – February — and other ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) initiatives recently with ACTFL Executive Director, Howie Berman.

With its membership of 12,500 foreign language educators, along with stakeholders and supporters in business and government, ACTFL is a leading voice in foreign language education and foreign language advocacy in the US.


In addition to specifically highlighting advocacy and advocacy initiatives at all levels during the month of February, the new Executive Director discussed Educators Rising, a program intended to increase awareness of foreign language education as a possible career choice among students, to recognize student effort and achievement, to encourage those who may be interested, and to empower them through knowledge and information about the profession. This program, with college scholarships available for high school seniors,  is especially important in terms of building language teaching capacity in the US, along with encouraging language students through recognition of the effort and achievement, and  strengthening the relationship between language teachers and students.

In addition to career options in foreign language education, ACTFL has recently conducted a survey of US businesses of all sizes in order to determine to what extent businesses, both globally and locally, are impacted by the lack of foreign language skills in the workplace, findings of which are expected to be released shortly.

At this time, when foreign language enrollment is decreasing in our colleges and universities, and where the number of foreign language programs in the elementary and middle schools have declined, it is more important than ever for all of us who believe in the importance of foreign language learning to participate in this public conversation about foreign language learning, and to support local, state, regional, and national foreign language advocacy initiatives.

Advocacy is a broad umbrella, and it is important for all of us to get involved in the advocacy activity that resonates with us personally and professionally, which can be a particular language, grade level, methodology, or geographic area, etc., using the skills and funding available.

However, recent reports have confirmed that opportunities for US students may be at risk at all levels, just as language skills are increasingly important in the workplace.  In addition to local and specific concerns, it is of critical importance that we support foreign language advocacy at the national level, through ACTFL’s Lead with Languages campaign and other associated initiatives, and through active participation in the work of national associations like AATF (American Association of Teachers of French), NNELL (National Network for Early Language Learning), and many others.

In addition to ACTFL, other national organizations actively advocating for foreign languages include the MLA (Modern Language Association), specifically the ADFL (Association of Departments of Foreign Languages), the AATF, through its national organization, its state and regional levels, and its national Commission on Advocacy, and others. JNCL-NCLIS (The Joint National Committee for Languages – National Council for Languages and International Studies) represents over 100 organizations and is known for its annual Language Advocacy Day.

At the regional and state level, many of the professional associations provide information on advocacy to members through their websites, and many also include advocacy groups, active especially in state or regional issues.

Let’s all “Lead with Languages” and make sure all our students have the opportunity to learn another language!


To find out more about ACTFL and ACTFL initiatives –








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