The Department of Defense announced today the initial results of The National Language Conference that was held June 22-24 at the University of Maryland. The conference was prompted by the greater need for citizens with foreign language competence to help respond to requirements of the 21st century and the Global War on Terrorism, the increasing globalization of industry, and the need to provide government services to a diverse and multi-lingual population in the United States.
The initial findings of the conferees were:
Increasing language skills and cultural awareness are national requirements that
will be filled primarily at the state and local level.
There is a need for greater coordination within the elementary, secondary, and
post secondary educational system and a need for coordination at the national level;
A national language strategy should be affordable and encompass both bottom-
up and top-down initiatives;
The rich population of multi-lingual Americans found in our heritage
communities need to be invited to participate in this national initiative.
The population needs to be aware of career opportunities for those possessing
language skills, and these skills should be recognized as valuable in todays business and governmental environment.
An increased government and industry emphasis on the value of foreign language
competency is necessary to spur the allocation of resources for education and also to attract students to study them.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, praised the efforts of the conferees, and the promise for national security, saying, The greater our ability to communicate with people, the easier the burden on our troops and the greater the likelihood that we can complete our missions and bring our people home safely. Even better, the greater our linguistic skill, the greater the possibility that we can resolve international differences and achieve our objectives without having to use force. I am asking the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness to follow-up on the recommendations of the conferees with other interested federal agencies.
Conference speakers and panelists outlined the needs of the federal sector and industry, and the capabilities and possibilities of the American educational system. Conferees then met to propose actions that might be taken to make the United States population more competent in foreign languages. The results of the conference work will be assembled in a white paper proposing national policies and programs to address foreign language needs, in a first step toward spurring national action on this issue.
Rep. Rush Holt, the keynote speaker for the conference, said, In 1958, Congress responded to Sputnik by passing the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), which created a generation of scientists, engineers, and Russian linguists who helped win the Cold War. Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans found themselves again facing a Sputnik moment. They realized that they were caught flat-footed, unprepared to confront Al Qaeda terrorists. We need a national commitment to languages on a scale of the NDEA commitment to science, including improved curriculum, teaching technology and methods, teacher development, and a systemic cultural commitment.
More than 300 people attended the event, representing federal agencies, academia, the nations educational system, industry, language experts and researchers. Experts from Australia, Finland, and the Netherlands were also on hand to discuss their nations responses to foreign language needs.
Rosemary G. Feal, the executive director of the Modern Language Association said, The National Language Conference was great. The conference brought together people from many different communities, and all voices were heard. The conference participants found much common ground and have begun the important task of identifying next steps. The language future of the United States just became a lot brighter as a result of the light shed at the National Language Conference.
The Department of Defense co-sponsored the conference with the Center for Advanced Study of Language.