2004-2005: The Year of Languages in the Federal Government


The federal Interagency Language Roundtable unanimously applauds and supports the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' declaration of 2005 as The Year of Languages.  This initiative highlights the present and future critical importance to the American people of developing a citizenry that possesses high-level skills in speaking and understanding other world languages.

As the world advances into the 21st Century, and as the pace of living quickens for everyone, the need to comprehend and to communicate effectively with the people of other nations and cultures has never been more important for Americans.

The need for Americans with truly advanced skills in other languages is felt by American business, which seeks customers around the world and throughout the diverse cultural communities of the United States, and in education, where more qualified teachers are needed, especially in the less commonly taught languages.The same need is even more urgent in the federal government, where expertise in almost a hundred different languages is required by more than 80 distinct agencies, and where the national security of the United States increasingly depends on the complementary abilities to arrive at mutual understandings with the peoples of the world and to monitor and divert the activities of those people who mean us ill.  Language study is also central to a well-rounded outward-looking education.

It is no longer tenable for Americans to implicitly demand that the rest of the world adapt to our inertia by using our language whenever they meet with us.  Too many other countries are working hard to develop poly-lingual skills in order to communicate with and do business with world communities.Already, approximately 50% of Internet communications are in languages other than English, and the proportion is increasing.

Foreign language teachers in the United States are among the most dedicated and most professional in the world, and no one knows better than they that for any individual to acquire true fluency and professional competence in another language requires years of focused study, typically including extended time in a country where the language is spoken.  American students need to begin learning their first foreign language at an early age and continue that study for several years.

The Modern Language Association reported in 2002 that only slightly over 8% of all American college students study any language at all, and, of those, most stop their study after one or two semesters.  The United States needs to do better.To meet national needs, more students need to be enrolled in language study, and those who are enrolled need to continue their study long enough to develop real functional ability.

ACTFL's declaration of a "Year of Languages" is very welcome at this critical time.The ILR membership will do everything in its power to help highlight its importance.