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America’s Languages Initiative

America’s Languages Initiative

The Congressionally-requested 2017 American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAA&S) Commission on Language Learning and its report “America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century,” refocused attention on language education, “…a national strategy to improve access to as many languages as possible for people of every region, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background…”  (America’s Languages, Executive Summary) offering a new rhetoric and identifying a strategic goal and five specific recommendations aimed at a dramatic growth in equitable access for increasingly diversified learners to more effective learning in many more languages.

 

Convened by the AAAS at the launch of its report, the America’s Languages Working Group (WG) has adopted the report’s rhetoric, embraced its goal, and developed a strategy, mechanism, and platform to implement them:

 

  • Goal: “…a national strategy to improve access to as many languages as possible for people of every region, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background….” 

Our interpretation of this goal includes broader and more equal access to language education in the United States as well as inclusion of all of America’s languages, especially those of Native American, heritage and immigrant communities, as well as the less-commonly taught languages (LCTLs) that receive little attention from American students. 

 

  • Rhetoric: The WG now promulgates the meme of “America’s Languages ”
  • Strategy: America’s Languages Initiative constitutes a 3-year plan to help guide systemic change and funding of language education into the future;
  • Mechanism: The almost 200 America’s Languages Working Group and Fellows, recognized educators and stakeholders, volunteer their time to build and populate the Guide.
  • Platform: The Guide ( http://americaslanguages.org/)
  • Public Vetting: A final assessment and national colloquium.

Feasible Approach. Our approach comprises the following assumptions about feasibility.

  • Bottom-up: In contrast to traditional top-down national language strategies, we start with actual programs and practices that are successfully addressing improved access and more effective programming, most often at the local grass-roots level. These programs serve as clear indicators of what is feasible and able to serve as models for development among their peers. We then use this data set as the basis for vetting its feasibility and acceptability for improving access to language education.
  • Partnership Synergy: In keeping with its focus on ACCESS, this initiative partners with organizations representing the communities it is intended to serve.
  • Unique: Future strategy and investment are based on concrete data. The Guide provides an evolving set of actual programs and practices that are capable of exemplifying enhanced equity of access and effectiveness in meeting all student needs.
  • Cost effective: The America’s Languages Working Group and Fellows represent almost 200 distinguished educators and stakeholders who volunteer their time and effort to build, expand, and maintain this data set of exemplary programs. The partnership with the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) at the University of Texas blends its focus on broad access with the America’s Languages Working Group. 

 

The Guide As its organizing rubric, we use the overall goal of Access and Excellence together with the specific recommendations of, America’s Languages.

  1. "Increase the number of language teachers at all levels of education so that every child in every state has the opportunity to learn a language in addition to English;"
  2. "Supplement language instruction across the education system through public-private partnerships among schools, government, philanthropies, businesses, and local community members;"
  3. "Support heritages languages already spoken in the United States, and help those languages persist from one generation to the next;" 
  4. "Provide targeted support and programming for Native American languages as defined in the Native American Languages Act;"
  5. "Promote opportunities for students to learn languages in other countries by experiencing other cultures and immersing themselves n multilingual environments."

The Guide documents existing examples of programs that can serve as models for teachers, administrators and funders to meet the needs of Native American, Heritage, Immigrant and refugee populations, as well as BIPOC and disadvantaged rural and urban communities, all of whom are long deprived of the educational and employment benefits of functional bilingualism.

Our plan for systemic change requires catalyzing and expanding these grass-roots programs by identifying and making these programs visible to national-level funders, including the Congress and Department of Education, national associations of state legislators and governors, and public and private funders and philanthropies.

Much as the 1979 President’s Commission on Foreign Languages and International Studies led to a national summit in 1984 at the Aspen Institute and the founding of the National Foreign Language Center, the WG is building on its "Call to Action" and the Guide to organize a summary Colloquium of foundation representative and philanthropists as well as leaders from academic, business and government, and NGOs. This final colloquium is intended to provide evidence on the effectiveness of this approach to access and excellence in language education in order to inform language educators and stakeholders and attract greater and more permanent support for more equal access to all of America’s languages.

Into The Future

The Guide and dissemination efforts are intended to continue into the future, with constant updating of program entries . We envision the impact of the America’s Languages Initiative to be an improved understanding among stakeholders and funders of the need for expanded access to language education and of its relevance to the nation and its children’s future.