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MaFLA Congratulates Senator Elect Elizabeth Warren

For many years, MaFLA has had the opportunity to discuss and promote foreign language friendly initiatives and legislation in Washington with members of Congress from MA through its participation in the Joint National Committee on Languages (JNCL) and National Council on Languages and International Studies  (NCLIS) Delegate’s Assembly and Legislative Day.   We now have an important ally and strong foreign language supporter in Senator Elect Elizabeth Warren.   Warren’s views on the importance of foreign languages as a core of a world class education are outlined in this interview given to MaFLA Advocacy Chair Nicole Sherf. 

Questions

Senator Elect Elizabeth Warren’s Responses
Did you have the opportunity to study a language in K-16?  If so, what language and how was your language learning experience? I studied French in eighth grade and Spanish in high school and college.  I wish I’d had more opportunities to be exposed to a foreign language and to understand why learning other languages is so important.  At that time, we didn’t fully understand all of the economic and national security implications of studying a foreign language.  There’s no doubt in my mind that every student should have that experience.
Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta constantly speaks of the national need for competency in multiple languages.  Do you agree?   I agree that the ability to communicate in foreign languages is desirable personally and is becoming increasingly necessary both for economic and national security reasons.  American businesses need more people who know foreign languages in order to gain critical access to overseas markets, and our government needs more people who know foreign languages in order to further our foreign policy agenda and protect our national security.
Many agree that proficiency in other languages is critical to our national security and global prosperity.  Have you had an opportunity to use other languages in dealing with these or other concerns? As a teacher, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with students from many different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.  I’ve seen the benefits of speaking multiple languages first-hand, and I’ve watched some of my bilingual and multilingual students go on to make a real difference in the world.
Many states have foreign language graduation requirements or have established exit foreign language proficiency levels for graduates.  Though Massachusetts is known nationally for providing high quality education, we have not yet adopted this type of mandate.  What role do you feel foreign languages play in a world class education? Learning a foreign language is very important to a world-class education.  I agree with the Department of Education’s position that foreign languages cannot be seen as just an “add-on” in either K-12 or higher education.  Part of what we need is a shift toward a view that learning a foreign language is a core part of a well-rounded education.  Knowing a language benefits students in so many ways:  it broadens their outlooks, sharpens their critical thinking and writing skills, prepares them for serving the country, and enables them to compete in an increasingly interconnected world.    
Our Foreign Language National Standard and MA State Framework advocate long sequences of language study in order to achieve functional language proficiency.  How do we remedy this with the fact that, nationally, only 15% of elementary students, 36% of middle school students and 41% of high school students are enrolled in foreign language classes according to a 2008 study?  [Information from Rhodes, Nancy C and Ingrid Pufahl.  Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools:  Results of a National Survey.  Center for Applied Linguistics,WashingtonD.C. 2010] Part of the problem is that we don’t prioritize education enough, let alone foreign language education.  I grew up in an America that made education a real priority.  I graduated from public university with the help of federal funding, and I went into teaching with the added security that the government would forgive a substantial portion of my loans.  But as the need for more advanced and more comprehensive education has increased, the overall support for education has decreased.  It is critically important that we recognize education as an investment in our future, which means providing more robust support for early childhood education, teachers, and innovative programs that reduce our national skills deficit and achievement gap.With regard to foreign languages, I agree with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that it should not be possible for students to complete secondary and postsecondary education without any foreign language study whatsoever.  I support reinstating meaningful foreign language requirements in school.
Foreign languages are the only subject not routinely scheduled in the elementary schools.  Just as it would be unthinkable to have our students begin Math study in the seventh or the ninth grade, foreign language study needs to begin at the elementary level and develop over time.  How can MaFLA work at the federal and state level to advocate for an earlier start so that districts follow suit?   Would you co-sponsor S1015 the Foreign Language Education Partnership Program (FLEPP) introduced by Senator Frank Lautenburg?  It is a bill that would create well-articulated and longer sequenced K-12 foreign language programs. The research is clear at this point:  foreign language education is far more effective when it comes early in life.  Both the Defense and State Departments have encouraged young people to study languages at an earlier age in order to meet our foreign policy needs.  We need an all-out effort – federal, state, and local collaboration as well as public-private partnerships to tackle the issue of language education.  I think MaFLA has an important role to play here by advocating for greater investment in education—both in general and in particular with foreign languages. Congress also has an important role to play, and as a Senator, I would support legislation that helps expand foreign language learning.
Devastating cuts were made over the last year to foreign language programming in FLAP grants and Title VI funding. How do you feel about dedicated funding for foreign language programming to provide a national model of long sequenced and well articulated programming? We need to make sure that the foreign language programs we have in place continue to be funded at a level that ensures their effectiveness.  This includes supporting the Foreign Language Assistance Program and other aid programs designed help students majoring in foreign languages – these are not the areas to be making cuts.  In addition to providing foreign language programs with a dedicated stream of funding, I think we should be giving greater support to less frequently taught languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and Swahili, and investing in programs for sustaining as well as acquiring language skills.

JNCL NCLIS  Annual Conference Information 2012

By Nicole Sherf, MaFLA Advocacy Chair

The Delegate Assembly of the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) met on May 20 and 22 with the Legislative Day on May 21.  This is the conference that informs member organizations of important foreign-language related legislation and advocacy efforts at the national level and facilitates the meeting of the delegates with their state’s legislators.   The goal is to inform MA Senators and Representatives of the special needs of foreign language programming and funding.  MaFLA was represented by the President, Tiesa Graf, and the Advocacy Chair, Nicole Sherf.

JNCL-NCLIS is undergoing a change of leadership as the Executive Director retired and a new one was selected.  Longtime MaFLA friend and Executive Director J. David Edwards was honored for his 31 years of service and dedication to the foreign language teaching profession.  You may want to check out the interview of this fascinating leader conducted by the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey.  The new Executive Director, William P. Rivers, was introduced at the conference.  Selected after a national search, he has extensive experience in research, development, policy and program evaluation and management  which will serve him well.

The orientation for the Legislative Day focused on the need of delegates to push for the restoration of the funding for the devastatingly cut Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) and Title VI of the Higher Education Act and Fulbright-Hays.  Delegates were also encouraged to speak to newer programs such as the Language Flagships and STARTALK that serve as national models for well articulated and sequenced foreign language programming with built in professional development support for teachers.

JNCL President Dan Davidson, Senator Akaka and J. David Edwards at the Senator Akaka’s Reception

The highlight of the Legislative Day for this participant, however was a Senate Hearing on “A National Security Crisis:  Foreign Language Capabilities in the Federal Government” before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, chaired by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), a strong supporter of foreign languages.  JNCL-NCLIS organized three panels of witnesses who testified from various perspectives on the importance of language learning for national security and the global economy.  The panelists included members of the JNCL-NCLIS Board, teachers, students, and military and governmental officials.  Observers packed the Hearing room for this event broadcast on CSPAN.  The Delegates were thrilled to be in the audience for such an impressive event.  Check it out for yourself and be sure to have a paper and pencil ready to make note of the variety of great quotes for all your advocacy needs.

Advocacy for our discipline is so important at all levels from the national to the state to the district.  This conference provides the talking points, information and experience for this crucial skill at all levels.  Though official delegates are sent by member organizations, attendance at the Annual Delegates Assembly and Legislative Day of JNCL-NCLIS is open to language professionals through registration.  Next year’s conference will be held again in May in Washington D.C.  Information about the organization is at their Website www.languagepolicy.org and registration information will be available in the spring.  Please contact them or MaFLA Advocacy Chair, Nicole Sherf (nsherf@salemstate.edu), if you would like more information.