foreign languages

Report warns a decline in language learning could spell bad news for U.S.

The need for language learning is important for success in business and international affairs, a new report indicates

It also points to evidence of the dwindling of language education at every level, from early childhood education to the nation’s colleges, with declines in the number of K–12 schools teaching languages, as well as the number of students taking language courses in college.

Varying local and state policies for language education have resulted in dramatically different language enrollments at the K–12 level, with the share of students taking languages as high as 51 percent in New Jersey, and less than 13 percent in eight states.

The report also aims to offer a more nuanced picture of language skills by highlighting a continuum of skills and expertise—ranging from a limited ability to speak or understand a language to advanced capacity to speak, read, and write in another language. It notes sizable gaps in current data—pointing to the need for further data collection.

The forthcoming 2017 report of the Academy’s Commission on Language Learning will respond to this data by offering concrete recommendations and strategies to improve language education so that every U.S. citizen can share in the rewards and benefits of learning a language other than English.

The Commission will highlight an emerging consensus among leaders in business and politics, teachers, scientists, and community members that proficiency in English is not sufficient to meet the nation’s needs in a shrinking world—even as English continues to be the lingua franca for international business and diplomacy.

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Laura Ascione

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