In the News

With US dramatically behind in language fluency, should colleges fill the gap?

Education Dive

A new study from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences finds the United States trailing other developed nations throughout the world in the number of citizens with fluency in multiple languages. Of the 20% of American citizens who can speak at least two languages, only half can speak both at advanced levels, and more than 50% of those speakers are foreign-born.

The study is a preliminary report for a February 2017 release that will examine ways the United States can incorporate more foreign language exposure to support national imperatives in business and cultural competency. Some observers expect colleges and universities to play a major role in developing these areas, despite the dwindling lack of resources and opportunities for students to study foreign language in primary and secondary schools.

Martha Abbott, Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), says colleges and universities might have a harder time building fluency within beginner or intermediate foreign language students, but that it is an essential component for human developing and preserving national interests.

“There’s been a fundamental change, and our enrollments and languages have not kept up with that change at neither post-secondary nor K-12 levels,” says Abbott, who in September was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Security Education Board, which advises the leadership of the National Security Education Program. “If students take it seriously when they enter college, one way schools can help is by allowing students the room to take foreign language, even if they are majoring in other areas where it may not be required, and also promoting study abroad so students have experiences in different cultures.”

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Commission on Language Learning

Paul LeClerc