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Bush Kicks Off National Foreign Language Initiative

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2006 – President Bush today kicked off a new national program designed to increase the number of Americans fluent in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi, and other critical-need languages.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Commanding General for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry provides an update on Afghanistan operations to reporters during a press briefing in the Pentagon on Dec. 8, 2005. Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David S. C. Chu said Jan. 5 that Eikenberry's understanding of other cultures (the general speaks Mandarin Chinese) has proven a valuable asset during the general's current tour in Afghanistan. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

"We're going to teach our kids how to speak important languages. We'll welcome teachers here to help teach our kids how to speak languages," Bush said in introducing his National Security Language Initiative at the State Department.

Bush addressed university presidents here attending an international educator's conference that's co-sponsored by the State and Education departments. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld attended the event.

The new program will benefit U.S. national security interests by training citizens and military members to understand and communicate with peoples who may have a wrong and limited view of America's ideals and culture, Bush said.

"When Americans learn to speak Arabic, those in the Arab region will say, 'Gosh, America's interested in us. They care enough to learn how we speak,'" he said.

The initiative, according to documents explaining the program, has three main goals, to:

  • Expand the number of Americans mastering critical-need languages and start teaching them at a younger age;
  • Increase the number of advanced-level speakers of foreign languages, with an emphasis on critical-need languages; and
  • Increase the number of foreign language teachers and necessary resources.
Bush said the initiative will target young American children to provide them with other-language capability. The NSLI also involves student exchange programs, the president said.

The State Department, the departments of Education and Defense, and the National Intelligence Directorate under John D. Negroponte, will participate in the new program. As the nation's top intelligence official, Negroponte coordinates the U.S. government's 15 intelligence components.

David S. C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told Pentagon reporters earlier today that DoD is proud to be a part of the president's national language initiative.

The Defense Language Transformation Roadmap that was approved by former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz on Feb. 14, 2005, provides the template for DoD to increase the number of its military and civilian personnel who are fluent in needed languages, Chu said.

"We need a stronger capacity to understand and work with the cultures and peoples of other nations," he said. "The central part of that capacity is linguistic facility."

Chu said DoD is in great need of many more people who can speak and understand some two dozen non-traditional languages identified by DoD as critical to mission accomplishment. For example, he cited the need to obtain more personnel fluent in Pashtun, which is spoken in Afghanistan, and Arabic, which is spoken in Iraq and across the Middle East.

The department will allocate more than $750 million over the next five years to increase personnel with critical language abilities, Chu said. The department also will provide another $25 million to be used by the president's National Security Language Initiative, he said.

DoD's language capabilities will be expanded beyond what's been previously available at the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, Calif., Chu said. DoD will forge partnerships with universities and colleges with grants through affiliated ROTC programs to assist them in teaching languages thought critical to national security. A total of 1,322 U.S. colleges and universities offer primary or associated ROTC programs.

DoD also will provide the resources to expand teaching needed languages at the nation's military service academies, Chu said. For example, the Army is expected to increase the numbers and training of those servicemembers who speak a critical language as part of the 09L military occupational specialty, he said.

Another related initiative, Chu said, involves establishing a Civilian Language Reserve Corps that will seek to add 1,000 new linguists over the next few years to provide a surge capacity to meet crucial military language skill needs.

Chu pointed to the military and linguistic success achieved by Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the commanding general of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. Eikenberry speaks "pretty fluent" Mandarin Chinese, Chu observed, and once served as the U.S. military attaché in Beijing. Eikenberry's understanding of other cultures gained through his language training has proven a valuable asset during the general's present duty in Afghanistan, Chu said.

Referencing findings taken from a recent DoD-sponsored national language conference, Chu said younger people appear to have an easier time learning new languages than adults. "If you start when you're five, you have a great advantage in facility, in accent, in ease with which (a new language) is acquired," Chu said.

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David S. C. Chu

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Full transcript of President Bush's remarks

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