An Education In Translation

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Collegiate Supply, National Demand

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The educational system in the United States is not perfect by any means. There are educational issues that need to be reworked, adopted and/or eliminated. Despite these issues there are countless numbers of educators who work so diligently with their communities and political representatives to try and address particular issues that they are passionate about.

Global Language Needs

One issue that should be of great concern is the lack of qualified linguists in the workforce. Why is this concerning? Our world is more globalized than it has ever been. Since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century to the present, the world has been experiencing a great global transformation comparable in scope to the phenomenon that immediately followed the discovery of the New World (referred to as the “Colombian Exchange”).

Our globalized world requires now what would centuries ago seem like an unconquerable feat. Goods and services as well as the communication required to produce and move them are expected to be dispersed in a matter of days, hours, minutes and in some cases seconds among people who do not speak the same language.

If this is the reality of our world, then in order to successfully compete, nations must ensure that their citizens are equipped and prepared to meet the linguistic challenges that our world demands. An online article published by Forbes in 2012 entitled “America’s Foreign Language Deficit” reported that Arne Duncan (U.S. Secretary of Education) discovered in 2010 that 53% of Europeans can converse in another language, whereas only 18% of Americans can. Since it takes time to learn a language proficiently, that 18% would not have had time to increase for 2013. Because there has been little to no effective change within the institution charged with preparing its citizens for the workforce, I don’t expect to see that statistic improve for the U.S.

National Deficiencies and their Consequences

This linguistic deficiency has clearly been felt by the U.S. government. The Hill.com states that The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that in 2009 U.S. agencies were ill-equipped in foreign language translation during the national crises of September 11th and the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Even today, the government has stated more linguists are needed. Especially since the war in Afghanistan, there has been an increase need for speakers of unpopular languages such as Pashto and Dari.

It is not only the government feeling the consequences of the language deficiency, but the general national community as a whole. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been reinterpreted to include those individuals who are identified as Limited English Proficient (LEP). This means that all agencies that receive federal monies must provide these services at no cost to the individual. If our schools are not producing linguistically trained citizens, this means that there are fewer individuals available to provide these services for their communities.

Unfortunately, due to the language deficiency, what is left is the tendency to cut corners and employ those lacking the necessary education and skills to produce good work. One such case in 1980 involved a non-English speaking 18-year-old boy from Florida who fell into a comma. A law suit of $71 million was filed because a misinterpretation of his symptoms, by a staff member with no linguistic training, lead him to receive incorrect treatment. We also hear of legal cases where mistrials have been declared due to errors in legal interpretation. Now more than ever, it is vital that we take a more serious approach to language investment in schools.

Proactive Change in Language Investment

Language education is not very uniformed in this country. In areas where there are large diverse ethnic groups, language programs and classes are available but in areas where there is low diversity, foreign languages are not offered. Educators and the communities that they serve need to keep in mind that they have the responsibility to not only prepare their students for the local workforce but also for the national and global workforce.

It is my desire to help Americans have more of a healthy, realistic view of foreign language education. Although, over the years schools and universities have developed some type of foreign language requirement for admissions and graduation, more is needed.  As it stands, foreign language education is not offered at all in many states at the elementary level, despite studies that conclude that the ideal time to learn another language is the years before the age of seven. Advocating for foreign language education in our schools is a matter of future financial national security.  We must do everything in our power to keep funding for language programs off the chopping block. This will ensure that our nation will be able to surpass its success in the global economy.

Sources: http://www.forbes.com/sites/collegeprose/2012/08/27/americas-foreign-language-deficit/

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/102833-government-still-trying-to-catch-up-on-foreign-language-capabilities

http://www.massenglishplus.org/content/Language_Rights/Interpreter_Services/fed.html

I encourage you to leave comments. I’ll reply to all questions to the best of my ability. Any errors tactfully brought to my attention will be greatly appreciated and will be acknowledged in the comment area. If there is cause, feel free to disagree with me, my guest bloggers or with others who leave comments. Keep in mind that comments with an unreasonable number of links, as well as all off-topic, vulgar, harassing and disparaging comments that include harsh and excessive profanity will be deleted.


2 Comments

  1. LBF says:

    Yes, we are behind and we need to get the general public involved with the idea of more foreign language instruction in elementary schools. If we can mandate that every American student must master algebra and biology, surely we can make room for the study of foreign languages. With foreign language study we can also reap the benefits of better cultuiral understanding.

    • LBF:

      Yes, a mandate would definitely push the issue. In a perfect world I want the public to come to see the value in foreign language learning without having to be forced to do so. Maybe if we start assigning it more value within the cultures of our schools the success rate of foreign language learning would be greater than if it were mandated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a parent-teacher conference for a struggling student and have heard comments from the parents like “I am not happy with his/her grade but at least failing Spanish is not as serious as failing math, science, English, or history.” I’m tired of people treating the subject that I teach like it is a second-class citizen. And yes, much to my dismay, even some educators have made dismissive remarks about the importance of foreign language.

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