National Study on Foreign Language Recommends U.S. to Increase Access to Language Learning

A new report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and its Commission on Language Learning offers an examination of the current state U.S. language education, as well as five key capacity-building recommendations for improving access to it. According to Section 4 of the report, the United States should “promote opportunities for students to travel, experience other cultures, and learn languages in other countries by immersing themselves in multilingual environments.”

America’s Languages: Investing in Language Learning for the 21st Century is the first national study of language learning in over 30 years. It emerged from a bipartisan Congressional request from the following members of the U.S. Congress:  Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii); and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey), David Price (D-North Carolina), Don Young (R-Alaska), and former Representative Rush Holt (D-New Jersey).

Report findings combined with additional supporting data demonstrate that the current language learning capacity in the country is putting the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage in a global society. The vast majority of American citizens remain monolingual. Only 20.7 percent of the U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, and only a fraction of these well enough to use in everyday lives.

The Commission’s five recommendations to shift these trends are:

  • 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.
    • Encourage the coordination of state credentialing systems so that qualified teachers can find work in regions where there are significant shortages.
    • Attract talented and enthusiastic language teachers through federal loan forgiveness programs.
    • Develop and distribute online and digital technologies, as well as blended learning models, particularly in communities with a short supply of language teachers.
    • Provide new opportunities for advanced study in languages in higher education—for future language teachers as well scholars in other fields—through a recommitment to language instruction, blended learning programs, and the development of new regional consortia allowing colleges and universities to pool learning resources.
  • Supplement language instruction across the education system through public-private partnerships among schools, government, philanthropies, businesses, and local community members.
    • Draw on local and regional resources by working with heritage language communities and other local experts to create in-school and after-school instructional programs.
    • Maintain support for state humanities councils and other organizations that create vital language and cultural resources for local communities.
  • Support heritage languages already spoken in the United States, and help these languages persist from one generation to the next.
    • Encourage heritage language speakers to pursue further instruction in their heritage languages.
    • Provide more language learning opportunities for heritage speakers in classroom or school settings.
    • Expand efforts to create college and university curricula designed specifically for heritage speakers and to offer course credit for proficiency in heritage language.
  • Provide targeted attention to Native American languages as defined in NALA.
    • Increase support for the use of Native American languages as the primary languages of education, and for the development of curricula and education materials for such programs.
    • Provide opportunities for Native Americans and others to study Native American languages in English-based schools with appropriate curricula and materials.
  • Promote opportunities for students to learn languages in other countries, by experiencing other cultures and immersing themselves in multilingual environments.
    • Encourage high schools and universities to facilitate learning abroad opportunities for students.
    • Increase the number of international internships sponsored by businesses and NGOs.
    • Restructure federal financial aid to help low-income undergraduates experience study abroad during the summer as well as the academic year.


The full report is available at

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