Working Together to Build a Multilingual Society

January 1, 2004

Nearly every sector of our increasingly global economy and culturally diverse workforce needs multilingual, cross-culturally aware workers.?
Maria Carreira & Regla Armengol, Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
Center for Applied Linguistics
Center for the Study of Language and Education, Institute for Education Policy Studies, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, The George Washington University
Delta Systems, Inc.
National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
Center for Applied Linguistics4646 40th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20016-1859
Together to
Build a
The Need for a Multilingual Society
The United States has a critical need for individuals who are proficient in languages other than English and who can work in the fields of| international diplomacy, foreign relations, and trade| business, marketing, media, and public relations| national security and defense| interpreting and translating| law| engineering| education| medical and health professions| environmental professions| service professions| community development
Proficiency in more than one language benefits individuals and the country as a whole.
Parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers, business leaders, and labor leaders can take action to make the vision of a multilingual society a reality.
Reaping the Benefits of Multilingualism and Language Ability
In today?s global society, the ability to speak more than one language is a valuable asset. Americans fluent in languages other than English enhance our economic competitiveness abroad, improve global communication, help to maintain our political and security inter-ests, and promote tolerance and intercultural awareness (Pratt, 2002; Sollors, 2002).
Research has found a posi-tive link between proficiency in more than one language and cognitive and academic skills (Armstrong & Rogers, 1997; Bialystock & Hakuta, 1994: Cummins, 1992; Hakuta, 1986). Some studies indicate that individuals who learn a second language are more creative and better at solving complex problems than those who do not (Bamford & Mizokawa, 1991; Cummins, 1992). Standardized test results show that students who have focused on foreign language studies routinely achieve among the highest scores in all subjects tested (The SAT College Board, 2002).
Although the opportunities for learning languages may vary depending on where we live in the United States, there are many ways that we can encourage the study of languages in our homes, in our schools, in our work places, and in our communities.
This brochure was prepared with funding from the U. S. Department of Education under contract No. ED-99-CO-0008. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.
November 2003
Promoting Multilingualism
For more information contact
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
700 South Washington Street, Suite 210
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone 703-894-2900,
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
4646 40th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20016-1859
Phone: 202-362-0700
Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL)
4646 40th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20016-1859
Phone: 202-966-8477
National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
1030 15th Street, NW, Suite 470
Washington, DC 20005-1503
Phone: 202-898-1829
National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA)
George Washington University
2121 K Street, NW, Suite 260
Washington, DC 20037
Phone: 800-321-6223; 202-467-0867
National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL)
Nancy Rhodes, Executive Secretary
Center for Applied Linguistics
4646 40th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20016-1859
Phone: 202-362-0700
What Parents Can Do
Enroll your children in language courses.
Expose your children to people from different language and cultural backgrounds.
Use a language other than English with your children.
Speak positively to your children about the value of knowing another language.
Enjoy videos, music, and books in other languages in your home.
Give your children opportunities to participate in summer language programs and camps.
Have an exchange student from another country stay in your home.
Discuss with your children?s teachers what you can do to reinforce your children?s language development.
Talk with other parents, PTA members, and the principal about getting a language program started in your children?s school.
What Teachers Can Do
Set up an in-class lending library with books, magazines, and videotapes in other languages.
Plan activities that encourage students to develop an appre-ciation for the linguistic and cultural diversity represented in your school and classroom.
Give your students opportunities to use the languages they know in and out of class -- in the school, at other schools, or at community events.
Encourage parents who speak a language other than English to use it with their children.
Ask community members who use languages other than English in their careers to discuss career opportunities with your students.
Invite foreign exchange students to make presentations about their language and culture.
Align your school?s foreign language curriculum with the national standards for foreign language learning.
Travel and study abroad to expand your knowledge of other languages and cultures.
(See Lindholm-Leary, 2000, for further suggestions.)
What School Administrators Can Do
If your school or district does not have a language program
Develop a rationale for establishing a program by reading research and other professional literature on the benefits of second language learning.
Work with district administrators and the school board to establish a steering committee made up of parents, language teachers, district administrators, and business and community members to investigate the feasibility of establishing a program.
Learn about different types of language programs to deter-mine the most appropriate one for your school or district.
Generate community support for language programs at PTA meetings and teacher conferences.
Invite community leaders, business representatives, teachers, and administrators to district-wide planning meetings.
If your school or district already has a language program
Ensure that all students have opportunities to study languages and to gain high levels of proficiency.
Provide opportunities for students who already speak languages other than English to develop advanced skills in those languages.
Hire teachers who are proficient in the languages they teach.
Provide resources and professional development for language teachers.
Create opportunities for collaboration among language teachers.
Purchase language materials for school and district libraries.
Devote sufficient time to the study of languages (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 1998).
Help to create well-articulated course sequences.
Hold career days to provide information about jobs that require skills in more than one language.
Use student and community resources to strengthen the program through tutoring, international fairs, cross-cultural exchanges, and guest speakers.
What Policymakers Can Do
Budget financial resources to establish and improve second language programs in schools, districts, or states.
Maintain ongoing professional development for second language teachers.
Establish policies that promote the study of second languages at all levels by all students and that respect the diversity of students in your community and state.
Support research on the effectiveness of various program models and instructional practices.
Advocate for the establishment of standards for student and teacher language performance at local, state, and national levels.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (1998). ACTFL performance guidelines for K-12 learners. Yonkers, NY: Author.
Armstrong, P.W., & Rogers, J.D. (1997). Basic skills revisited: The effects of foreign language instruction on reading, math, and language arts. Learning Languages, 2(3), 20-31.
Bamford, K.W., & Mizokawa, D.T. (1991). Additive-bilingual (immersion) edu-cation: Cognitive and language development. Language Learning 41(3), 413-429.
Bialystok, E. & Hakuta, K. (1994). In other words: The science and psychology of second language acquisition. New York: Basic Books.
Carreira, M., & Armengol, R. (2001). Professional opportunities for heritage language speakers. In J. K. Peyton, D. A. Ranard, & S. McGinnis, S. Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource (pp. 109-142). McHenry, IL, and Washington, DC: Delta Systems and Center for Applied Linguistics.
Cummins, J. (1992). Bilingualism and second language learning. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 13, 51-70.
Hakuta, K. (1986). Mirror of language: The debate on bilingualism. New York: Basic Books.
Lindholm-Leary, K. (2000). Biliteracy for a global society: An idea book on dual language education. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Available:
Pound, E. (1934). The ABC of reading. London: Routledge. Reprint, New York: New Directions, 1960.
Pratt, M.L. (2002). What?s foreign and what?s familiar? PMLA. Special Issue on the relation between English and foreign languages in the Academy, 117, 1283-1287.
The SAT College Board. (2002). College-bound seniors: A profile of SAT program test takers. College Entrance Examination Board. (Retrieved from July 23, 2003)
Sollors, W. (2002). Cooperation between English and foreign languages in the area of multilingual literature. PMLA, Special Issue on the relation between English and foreign languages in the Academy, 117, 1287-1294.



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