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American Academy of Arts & Sciences to Conduct First National Study on Foreign Language Learning in More Than 30 Years

Study is requested by bipartisan group of members of U.S. Senate & House of Representatives

7/30/2015

Press Release

CAMBRIDGE, MA | JULY 30, 2015 – The American Academy of Arts and Sciences today announced the formation of the Commission on Language Learning, a national effort to examine the current state of U.S. language education, to project what the nation’s education needs will be in the future, and to offer recommendations for ways to meet those needs.

The Commission will work with scholarly and professional organizations around the country to gather available research about the benefits of language instruction at every educational level, from pre-school through lifelong learning, and will help to initiate a nationwide conversation about languages and international education.

The Commission was formed in response to a bipartisan Congressional request from Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey), David Price (D-North Carolina), Don Young (R-Alaska), and former Representative Rush Holt (D-New Jersey).

In their request, the members of Congress asked the American Academy to undertake the new study to examine the following questions: “What actions should the nation take to ensure excellence in all languages as well as international education and research, including how we may more effectively use current resources to advance language attainment?” and “How does language learning influence economic growth, cultural diplomacy, the productivity of future generations, and the fulfillment of all Americans?”

In calling for the Academy’s study, the members of Congress emphasized that American society is increasingly multilingual, Americans are more engaged around the globe than ever before, and most of the major challenges and opportunities—from public health issues to the development of new technologies—require international understanding and cooperation. Yet, by some estimates, as many as 80% of Americans can only speak one language, while, by contrast, 50% of Europeans over the age of 15 are able to converse in a second language.

“Language learning should be among our highest educational priorities in the 21st century,” American Academy President Jonathan Fanton said. “By reviewing existing practices and proposing new ideas, the Academy’s Commission will advance the conversation about language education, focusing on a body of knowledge and a set of skills that will become more critical as communication between and among cultures increases.”

Paul LeClerc, the Director of the Columbia University Global Center in Paris, has been selected to serve as chair of the Commission. An expert in the French Enlightenment, Dr. LeClerc is the past president and CEO of the New York Public Library, and he also served as President of Hunter College.

Commissioners appointed to date are: Martha Abbott, Executive Director, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages; Dan Davidson, President, American Councils for International Education, and Professor of Russian and Second Language Acquisition and Director of Russian Language Institute, Bryn Mawr College; Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley; Karl Eikenberry, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General, and Director of the U.S.-Asia Security Initiative, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University; Rosemary Feal, Executive Director, Modern Language Association; Carol Gluck, George Sansom Professor of History, Columbia University; Philip Rubin, former Principal Assistant Director for Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Senior Advisor to the President, Haskins Laboratories; Diane Wood, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit; and Pauline Yu, President, American Council of Learned Societies. More members of the Commission will be added throughout August and September.

“We hope that the commission will be a galvanizing effort,” said LeClerc, “bringing together all of the people who have done important work over the last few decades to identify the personal, social, political, commercial and even the biological benefits of language learning. The evidence, when gathered together, is striking and undeniable. For ourselves and for the nation, we need to do a better job of learning how to communicate across language barriers.”

The Commission will study all the ways in which Americans receive language education, from classes in traditional academic settings to government programs to workplace enrichment, in order to identify best practices and opportunities for improvement. The last major, national report on language learning was Strength Through Wisdom: A Critique of U.S. Capability, published in 1979 by the President’s Commission on Foreign Languages and International Studies.

Initial support for the Commission is provided by a $220,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and by the Academy’s New Initiatives Fund.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world. In its work, the Academy focuses on higher education, the humanities, and the arts; science and technology policy; global security and energy; and American institutions and the public good. Current Academy research has resulted in reports like The Heart of the Matter—cited by the members of Congress in requesting that the Academy undertake this new study of language learning—and Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. The Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.

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Contact:

Dave Nuscher
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Chief Communications Officer
617-576-5043
dnuscher@amacad.org

 

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