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Language in United States

Language in the United States

The Context

for the Guide to Exemplary Programs & Practices in U.S. Language 

Language education in the United States is facing a critical dilemma.

On the one hand, language instruction and learning have reached unprecedented levels of effectiveness, aided by a strong focus on faculty development, expanding informational and instructional technologies, innovative pedagogies and program designs, and ground-breaking psychological, cognitive, linguistic and educational research.

On the other, enrollment levels have remained consistently low over the decades (at approximately 20% in K-12 and 8% in higher education), resulting in programs constantly threatened with recissions if not discontinuation. Most critically, these enrollments are a clear sign that the nation’s marginalized bilingual and disenfranchised monolingual communities continue to be excluded from language education and its benefits, due in no small part to failure to make language education truly accessible and relevant to all learners in this country who need and desire it.


Systemic Change for America’s Languages:

Systemic change is needed in the way language education is perceived and implemented in this country, moving from a traditionally elitist posture of majority enrollments in low-poverty communities to one of equal and equitable access to learners in marginalized bilingual and disenfranchised monolingual communities. To attack this directly, we have built this Guide, where programs are identified and described to serve as models for teachers, administrators, and funders to meet the needs of Black and People of Color, Native American, heritage, immigrant, refugee populations, as well as other disenfranchised high-poverty rural and urban communities. All of these communities have long been deprived of the proven benefits of language learning and functional bilingualism, and our intent is to use this effort to inform and instigate systemic change as well as future funding.


The traditional view of language learning, « I had two years of high school French and can’t speak a word of it», is rapidly giving way to acknowledgement that a second language is a personal and professional asset, for self-edification, educational achievement and attainment, access to critical social services and rights (health & legal, voting, etc.),and for employment,. These benefits are owed to all learners and are beginning to become available in a way that is demonstrably effective and rewarding.  



Future Ambitions

Our effort is directed at a new future of accessible, relevant, effective, efficient and integrated language education:


Accessible, because this language education focuses on expanding access and equity to Black, Native American, People of Color, and marginalized bilingual (heritage, immigrant) communities, to disadvantaged inner city and rural schools and districts, and to all of America’s Languages, including American Sign Language (ASL). This access is encouraged by evidence of the benefits of language learning for educational achievement and attainment, for employment in globalized enterprises and in human work, and for ensuring equitable access to all health, legal and other social services.

Relevant, because this language education focuses on who the learners are and what they desire and need: On the one hand, it addresses the learners immediate and recognized reasons for learning a second language (family connections, cultural identity, travel, self-efficacy, employment); On the other, it fulfills the educational responsibilities of the programs in which they are enrolled, for example, critical thinking, global perspective, and acceptance of diversity and inclusion.


Effective, because this language education acknowledges the criticality of teaching and teacher development, the advances in research-based pedagogy and learning, the advantages of immersion learning, the gains in informational as well as educational technologies, the commitment to assessment, and the value that emerging bilinguals bring to the language classroom.


Efficient, because this language education addresses all learners’ goals from exposure to professional competences, takes advantage of the full range of venues provided by technology, attends to the advantages of immersion learning to include domestic as well as in-country programs, values teaching and teachers skilled in learner diversity and social-emotional learning.


Integrated, because this language education stresses collaborative efforts with humanities, social studies disciplines, STEM and area and international studies. Most importantly, this language education encompasses the whole of the education system, Pre-K to graduate and profession programs, including community colleges as well as heritage and Native American schools and programs. 


This language education 

  • provides every child the necessary English proficiency in order to fully participate in the economic and civic life of the nation; 
  • provides every child who has a home language other than English, including ASL, the opportunity to keep the language as well as acquire literacy in that language; 
  • provides every child in America, monolingual and bilingual, the opportunity to acquire additional languages; and, 
  • supports a language services industry capable of meeting the immediate needs of society.

These provisions, modeled on those of Australia in the 1980s, ensure for all the cognitive, educational, employment and social affordances of biliteracy and bilingualism.