Outreach Activities and Impact of the Commission on Language Learning

In November 2019, David Price (D-NC) and Don Young (R-AK) announced the creation of the Congressional Caucus on American Languages, a bipartisan effort to support and enhance foreign language competency and international education among students and professionals across the United States. According to Rep. Price’s press release, “[t]he decision to launch a new America’s Language Caucus resulted from a 2017 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Commission on Language Learning report: America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century that makes clear that the United States needs significantly more bilingual and biliterate citizens to help ensure national security, promote economic and job growth, and develop the potential of every American student.”

The Commission's report was cited by the U.S. Department of Education's International Strategy, "Succeeding Globally
Through International Education and Engagement
," issued in November 2018.

On February 28, the day of the public release of America’s Languages, Representative David Price (D-North Carolina) introduced the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act, a bill cosigned by Don Young (R-Alaska), Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey), and sixteen of their colleagues.  The act proposes three-year competitive grants to support local and state school districts that want to establish, improve, or expand innovative programs in world language learning. The bill concludes with the following paragraph:

“The Commission on Language Learning of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, requested by Congress in 2014, will release its final report on February 28, 2017.  The initial data demonstrate that ‘by several measures, the United States has neglected languages in its educational curricula, its international strategies, and its domestic policies.’  It is clear that effective communication is the basis of international cooperation, and a strong national defense depends substantially on the ability of Americans to communicate and compete by knowing the languages and cultures of other countries.”

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 (S.1790), signed into law by the President in December 2019, incorporated as an amendment the grant program from the World Languages Advancement and Readiness Act.

The Commission’s report is cited in the Biliteracy Seal and Teaching (BEST) Act introduced in both the House (H.R.3119) and Senate (S.3328). The BEST Act directs the Secretary of Education to award renewable two-year grants to states to establish or improve a Seal of Biliteracy program to recognize student proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in both English and a second language. The grants require states to provide participating students who demonstrate that proficiency a permanent seal or other marker on their secondary school diploma or its equivalent, and documentation of that proficiency on their official academic transcript. 

Representative David Price (D-North Carolina) organized a “Dear Colleague” letter, ultimately signed by 65 Members of Congress, which references America’s Languages in its defense of federal funding for Title VI education programs and Fulbright-Hays Fellowships. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) organized a similar letter signed by 23 Senators.

The Commission's report has been used in deliberations about the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, which authorizes Department of Education grants to provide and expand study abroad opportunities for undergraduate students, and the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act, which strives to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages by reducing the minimum number of enrollees in Native American language educational programs funded by an existing grant program.

The work of the Commission was featured on August 22, 2018 during a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee covering federal efforts to revitalize native languages. Commission member Jessie little doe Baird offered testimony as a member of the Commission as well as Vice Chairmwoman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. The Academy submitted a copy of the language report for the official record, and colleagues distributed copies of the call to action, "Bridging America's Language Gap," to the attendees. After the hearing, colleagues presented Jeannie Hovland, newly appointed commissioner of the Administration of Native Americans, an office of the Department of Health and Human Services, with a copy of the Commission's report.

To coordinate additional follow-up for the Commission on Language Learning, the Academy convened the America’s Languages Working Group, including Commission members and other representatives from the language profession, academia, government, business, NGOs, and heritage and indigenous communities. Many of the Working Group members participated in the rollout of the Commission’s report, America’s Languages, in 2017. By convening the Languages Working Group, the Academy has played an important role in bringing together organizations that do not have a history of strong collaboration, despite common interests in advancing language learning. So far the Academy has convened five successful meetings and coordinated Working Group outreach and follow up.

The America’s Languages Working Group has four goals:

  • A description of the challenges and benefits of language education, through the rollout and dissemination of the Commission’s final report, America’s Languages.
  • The identification of audiences, especially decision-makers, who are interested in the Commission’s recommendations, through the publication of a call to action.
  • The creation of an online resource that highlights successful language initiatives around the country, related to each of the report’s key recommendations, as evidence that improved language education is feasible and scalable.
  • The organization of a conference of funders and funding organizations, including major philanthropies and relevant government agencies, to strategize new investment in language education.

The members of the America’s Languages Working Group include:

Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Executive Director, Stevens Initiative - Aspen Institute, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education, US Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education 

Jurgita Antoine, Native Language Research Director, American Indian Higher Education Consortium

Lenna Aoki, General Counsel, Office of Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI)

Howie Berman, Executive Director, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

Richard Brecht, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, Co-Director, American Councils Research Center, American Councils for International Education

Dan Davidson, Director of Research and Senior Academic Advisor, American Councils for International Education; Member, AAA&S Commission on Language Learning

Ruth Davis, Chair, International Mission of Mercy USA, former Director of Foreign Service Institute, former Director General of the Foreign Service, Career Ambassador

Kathleen Diamond, Founder and CEO of Language Learning Enterprises, Inc., Charter Member, Association of Language Companies

Sharon Fechter, Dean of Humanities, Montgomery College

Don Gentile, Senior Language Authority, Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Joel Gomez, President & CEO, Center for Applied Linguistics

Leslie Harper, President, National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs

Stephen Kidd, Executive Director, National Humanities Alliance

Sheri Spaine Long, Executive Director, American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese

Dennis Looney, Director, Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, Modern Language Association

Tommy Lu, Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools, Chinese Community Schools of Delaware

Gail McGinn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Planning (retired), Office of the Secretary of Defense

Rita A. Oleksak, President of the Board of Directors, JNCL-NCLIS

William Rivers, President, 7,000 Languages

Antonia Folarin Schleicher, Executive Director, National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages and Indiana University

Katie Steen, Policy Associate, Association of American Universities

John Tessitore, Senior Program Advisor, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Santiago Wood, Executive Director, National Association for Bilingual Education

Learn more about the America's Languages Working Group

The American Academy and the America's Languages Working Group, an informal group convened by the Academy to coordinate follow up on the Commission's report, released a call to action signed by 37 individuals and over 150 organizations, urging greater support for languages in order to maintain and enhance American global leadership.

The call-to-action, "Bridging America’s Language Gap," includes endorsements from business, government, and cultural leaders such as Norman R. Augustine, retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation; Melody C. Barnes, former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; documentary filmmaker Ken BurnsRobert D. Haas, Chairman Emeritus of Levi Strauss; former Secretary of Defense and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon E. Panetta; and Natasha Trethewey, 19th United States Poet Laureate.

"Bridging America’s Language Gap" has been endorsed by dozens of businesses, academic and professional associations, school systems, and other institutions that support the five recommendations of the America’s Languages report:

  • Provide access to languages for all age groups and every level of the education continuum, from early childhood through retirement;
  • Prepare more language teachers, without whom we cannot advance language education;
  • Promote public-private partnerships in language education to amplify the work begun in our schools;
  • Support heritage and indigenous language communities in their traditions and birthrights, and as an important and distinctive national resource; and
  • Encourage international learning experiences for students, teachers, and workers through educational and professional programs, as a critical aspect of advanced language learning.

In July 2018, the International Association Of Teachers Of Russian Language And Literature (MAPRYAL)—an association of teachers in Russia—published a translation of the America’s Languages report. MAPRYAL positions the report as a model for other nations who are trying to boost their own language capacity. They are now translating the Commission’s data report as well.

Commission members Dan Davidson and Brian Edwards participated in a panel at the annual conference of the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages, April 21-3, 2017 in Rolling Meadows, IL.

Philip Rubin led a discussion at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, May 25-28, 2017 in Boston, MA.  As a result of that session, the APS is now pursuing a variety of ways to respond to the report, including ways to encourage new research about the challenges of language instruction and the cognitive effects of language learning.

Paul LeClerc, Dan Davidson, and Nicholas Dirks participated in a panel at the College Board’s AP Annual Conference in Washington DC, July 27-30, 2017 in Washington DC. The Board’s leadership is now exploring opportunities to support language learning in its government outreach efforts.

Dan Davidson presented the findings of the commission in keynote addresses to The University of Kansas College of Arts and Sciences/School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (September 1, 2017), the International Korean Educators Network (October 14, 2017) and the ISEP Leadership Conference and Dean’s Conference (October 20, 2017), and during panel presentations to the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature (September 15, 2017), the Defense Language Institute (September 22, 2017), and during the Joint Meeting of the Russian Association of Teachers of Russian and the International Association of Teachers of Russian (October 3, 2017).

On September 29, 2017, Karl Eikenberry, Rep. David Price, Academy Chair Nancy Andrews, Chancellor Randy Woodson of NC State and others participated in an event at Stough Elementary School in Raleigh, NC to discuss the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act among other initiatives that support language education in North Carolina. Primary, secondary, and college teachers in the audiences are now considering a regional or state teaching workshop as a follow-up. ACTFL will be drawing on the event as a model for its own continuing outreach.  The program was either the second or third event to be held in a K-12 school in the Academy’s 237 year history.

Jessie little doe Baird, Rosemary Feal, and others participated in a panel on “America’s Languages: Innovation in Heritage Language Education” at the National Humanities Conference in Boston, MA on November 4, 2016.

The Commission has also been the subject of panels and presentations at the following conferences:

  • Council of Independent Colleges Institute for Chief Academic Officers in November 4-7, 2017 in Austin, TX.
  • American Councils for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, annual meeting, November 17-19, 2017 in Nashville, TN.
  • Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, January 4-7, 2018 in Salt Lake City, UT.
  • Modern Language Association convention in January 4-7, 2017 in New York, NY.
  • American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, February 15-19, 2018 in Austin, TX.
  • Globalization and Localization Association, March 13-16, 2018 in Boston, MA.