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Iraq Study Group Findings Expose U.S. Language Gap

CONTACT: Steve Ackley

December 15, 2006, Alexandria, VA – The nation’s largest professional association of language educators has seized on the Iraq Study Group’s recent report to President Bush as a call for action to deal with America’s growing language gap.  The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) put the focus on the report’s conclusion that American interests suffer because of limited language skills.

“All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans’ lack of language and cultural understanding,” says the report. “Our embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency. In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage. There are still far too few Arab language-proficient military and civilian officers in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. mission.”

This latest finding is only the most recent example of how the U.S. is in an increasingly wider language gap compared to other nations in the world, according to ACTFL Executive Director Bret Lovejoy.  “We must heed the warning that accompanied the President’s National Security Language Initiative last January, that our country must increase funding of and support for language education.”

There are, Lovejoy cautions, both short-term and long-term issues that must be dealt with.  “Clearly, immediate steps are needed to expand the communication abilities of government agencies in such languages as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi and others.  But America also must invest in language education at the K-12 levels and in higher education in order to narrow the gap in our abilities compared with the rest of the world.  This has business and economic implications in addition to the obvious national security implications.”

The 9,000-member association has developed a long-term public awareness campaign called Discover Languages … Discover the World, designed to demonstrate to students, parents and legislators at all levels that investment in languages must become a national priority.  The campaign combines local and national special events, student competitions, distribution of informational brochures, seminars and workshops, and media outreach.  ACTFL also offers a comprehensive program for testing proficiency in more than 60 languages and is recognized internationally as a leader in this area.


Friday, December 15, 2006