Thursday, 7 June 2007

No Return to Compulsion? Lack of Foreign Languages Skills in the U.S.

One of the main messages from The Languages Review published in March 2007
was that there would be no return to compulsory study of modern foreign languages, unless the incentives put into place to encourage schools to increase their foreign languages uptake at KS4 proved to be ineffective.

It is therefore interesting to see that other English-speaking countries are afflicted by a lack of foreign languages skills in their workforce.

There has been on-going recognition of a lack of languages skills in the Unites States
As illustrated by this article published in the Desert News (Utah) in March,1249,660203468,00.html

“A person who speaks three languages is trilingual; a person who speaks two languages is bilingual; a person who speaks one language is — American. The cliche is an old one but was used at a translation summit in Salt Lake City on Monday to stress the need for greater language skills among the U.S. population if Americans hope to thrive in the international business community and improve their country's cultural and political standing across the globe.
"Sometimes breakdowns of communications have serious consequences," said Stephen Sekel, who oversees the editing and translation of official documents for the United” Nations”.
“The United Nations is facing a shortage of language professionals, who must have advanced language proficiency in three languages — one of which must be Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish or English”

Alfred Mockett, an international business executive who co-authored a report on international studies and foreign language education for the committee. Mockett said only one in three junior high and high school students in the United States studies a foreign language, and the number drops to one in 10 for college students. "In Denmark, even truck drivers speak three languages," he said.

This article from the American Forces Press Service highlights the new emphasis put on languages to ensure recruits are also culturally competent abroad.

..”ever-increasing numbers of cadets and midshipmen are studying and majoring in humanities and social sciences, with a growing emphasis being put on regional studies and language instruction”.

"We are increasingly a part of coalition forces, no matter where we go and where we operate," Mr. Mueller said. "And the better one understands the elements of those coalitions, the more effective one can be. In fact, it's critical that we understand other cultures, other languages, other regions of the world in order to work effectively in those coalitions." ”
As the largest service with the biggest footprint around the world, the Army is leading the global trend. Ten to 15 percent of cadets in every West Point class major in one of seven languages: Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese and Russian, Colonel Ragsdale said. All West Pointers, regardless of their major, must take at least two semesters of a foreign language, he said. Beginning with the class of 2010, cadets with non-technical majors must take four semesters of language training.”


Miss Profe said...

Hi! I came to your blog by way of misssimmonds.

Your post re: compulsory language and the US is a sad albeit hard, cold truth. Unlke many parts of the world, here in the US learning languages is touted by school officials, parents and politicans in theory, but the will, motivation, public support and financial resources just aren't there. At the very expensive prep school where I teach, some students still whine about why they HAVE to take a language -when they're failng/too lazy to do the work. It is a travesty.

I will be visiting again. Thank you for your blog!

IC Jones said...


I am glad you enjoyed reading the blog. Languages are becoming more and more elitist here in the UK and also less and less socially inclusive. Even when languages were compulsory after the age of 14, some schools were "disapplying" students for all sorts of reasons: special needs, learning or behavioural difficulties, special abilities in other subjects... The truth is, to learn foreign languages, there is no substitute for regular practice and you do have to learn vocabulary... On the other hand, I have known below average students in terms of general ability do well just because their attitude and work ethic was up to it. Hopefully, they also got a bit of inspiration from their teacher...