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The State of Languages in the U.S.



A report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has dramatically set the stage for the future of language education in the U.S. by examining current statistics.
  • Almost 30 percent of business executives report having missed opportunities due to a lack of on-staff language skills, and 40 percent reported that they failed to reach their international potential due to language barriers;

  • An estimated 300-400 million Chinese students are now studying English, compared to about 200,000 U.S. students currently studying Chinese;

  • Approximately 66 percent of all European adults report having knowledge of more than one language, compared with 20 percent of U.S. residents;

  • Only 15 percent of the nation’s public elementary schools offer a program for languages other than English, compared with more than 50 percent of private elementary schools;

  • Across the nation, there has been a significant decline in the number of middle schools offering world languages: from 75 percent in 1997 to 58 percent in 2008;

  • At least 44 states report a shortage of qualified K-12 language or bilingual teachers for the 2016-2017 school year; more states report a teacher shortage in languages than in any other subject.
Citing the decline in language learning across the U.S., the report, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education in the 21st Century, urges a national strategy to make the study of foreign languages a higher priority in the American education system. Read the ATA Newsbriefs article "New Study Calls for More Language Learning" below for details.

H.R.1239 - World Language Advancement and Readiness Act of 2017

Following the release of the America's Languages report, four U.S. congressmen introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to establish high-quality world language programs in America's elementary and secondary schools. The legislation would authorize the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Education, to make grants to local and state school districts that want to "establish, improve, or expand" the study of world languages. Learn more about the bill.

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Industry News


New Study Calls for More Language Learning
Inside Higher Ed (DC) (02/28/17) Flaherty, Colleen

A new report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) on the future of language education in the U.S. calls for sustained funding and creative partnerships to increase teaching capacity and boost language learning. "America's Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century," which the AAAS delivered to Congress in February, was produced in response to a bipartisan request from senators and representatives in 2014 to find out what the U.S. could do to ensure excellence in language education. The report states that the U.S. must "value language education as a persistent national need similar to education in math or English, and ensure that a useful level of proficiency is within every student's reach." Paul LeClerc, director of Columbia University's Global Center in Paris and chair of the AAAS Commission on Language Learning, notes that the plan doesn't call for massive increases in funding at the local, state, or federal levels. "Our greatest challenge is one of teaching capacity," LeClerc says. High on the list of priorities is to increase the number of language teachers at all levels of education. The report recommends ways to organize existing resources so that a larger number of students can be taught to speak more languages at an earlier age. The report recommends hiring more teachers in pre- and K-12 schools and supplementing language instruction across the education system through public and private partnerships among schools, government, philanthropies, businesses, and local community members. The report states that an expanded capacity in world languages is a "social imperative," citing the need for more qualified language experts (including interpreters and translators) who can read, write, and speak a wide range of languages to help bridge language barriers. The AAAS report also urges more support for heritage languages already spoken in the U.S., including Native American languages. In addition, the report recommends promoting opportunities for students to expand their language education abroad by experiencing other cultures and immersing themselves in multilingual environments. LeClerc says having more Americans with competency in languages other than English "is essential from virtually any point of view you can think of"—from economic growth and competitiveness to national defense to increased academic achievement. "The greatest risk for failing to implement the key recommendations in this report is to further aggravate national isolationism," says Rosemary Feal, fellow AAAS commissioner and executive director of the Modern Language Association. Feal adds that in the current political climate, "the recommendations of the report are even more relevant than when it was commissioned." She says language learning is one of the best ways to cultivate empathy, and "the earlier in children's education the process starts, the more likely they are to become well-functioning global citizens."
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Uber Loses Legal Test Case Over Language
BBC News (United Kingdom) (03/03/17)

The U.K.'s High Court of Justice has ruled that Uber drivers in London should be required to pass reading and writing English-language proficiency tests. The ruling will also apply to all minicab firms in London. Uber took legal action in August after Transport for London (TfL), the local government body responsible for London's transportation system, said that drivers should have to prove their ability to communicate in English. Uber states that the standard of reading and writing required by the tests is too high. In court, Queen's Council Attorney Tom de la Mare argued that the language rules could mean about 33,000 private hire drivers out of a total of 110,000 operating in London would fail to renew their licenses over the next few years. In addition, de la Mare said the proposals would have a disproportionate effect on drivers from non-English-speaking countries and encourage "indirect discrimination on grounds of race and nationality." However, Judge John Mitting rejected Uber's claim, stating that "TfL is entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English-language compliance." TfL's new rules are partly a response to protests from drivers of London's famous black cabs, who are concerned that Uber drivers are undermining their business model by not meeting the same professional standards. TfL says the language requirements are vital to ensure passenger safety and to raise standards. "Writing an essay has nothing to do with communicating with passengers or getting them safely from A to B," says Tom Elvidge, Uber's general manager in London. "We intend to appeal this unfair and disproportionate new rule," Elvidge adds. London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he welcomes the court's decision. "Drivers being able to speak English and understand information from passengers and licensing requirements is a vital part of ensuring passengers get the high standard of service they need and deserve."
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Japan Bolstering Emergency Support System for Foreigners
Nikkei Asian Review (Japan) (03/02/17)

The Japanese government is developing a new framework for helping foreigners who need emergency medical or other assistance. The three-part support framework includes a multilingual smartphone app that sends real-time warnings for earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as information on the nearest available evacuation centers. Also in the works is a system that uses interpreters to help with emergency phone calls, as well as the deployment of bilingual or multilingual personnel to provide and coordinate information at evacuation centers. The move, spearheaded by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, comes at a time when record numbers of tourists are flowing into the country. The number of foreign visitors topped 20 million for the first time in 2016, and the government expects twice that many in 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics. Currently, the ministry distributes disaster information in English on the Japan Meteorological Agency's website. Mobile service providers, such as NTT Docomo, provide a multilingual service that delivers early warnings for earthquakes and alerts for tsunamis issued by the agency. However, there have been complaints that local governments do not offer enough language options for evacuation information during disasters. The app is expected to provide the latest disaster information and directions to evacuation areas in English, Chinese, Korean, and other major languages. It will also use pictograms to help those whose languages are not covered.
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University Launching Prize to Close Gender Gap in Translation
University of Warwick (United Kingdom) (03/06/17) Buxton, Alex

The University of Warwick in the U.K. is launching the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, which will be awarded for the first time in November 2017. The prize aims to address the gender imbalance in translated literature and to increase the number of international women's voices accessible by a British and Irish readership. "We've come a long way with the championing of world literature over the past decade, but we've noticed that it is markedly more difficult for women to make it into English translation," says Maureen Freely, head of English and comparative literary studies at Warwick and president of English PEN, the U.K. branch of PEN International, the international literary and human rights organization. "This prize offers us an opportunity to welcome in the voices and perspectives that we have missed thus far," Freely explains. A recent report by Nielsen Book showed that translated literary fiction makes up only 3.5% of the literary fiction titles published in the U.K., but accounts for 7% of the volume of sales. If translated literature as a whole is underrepresented on the British book market, then women's voices in translation are even more peripheral. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, for example, was awarded 21 times, but was won by a woman only twice. "This prize is a rallying call to translators and publishers everywhere. There are dozens of fine women writers waiting to be translated," says Susan Bassnett, professor emerita of translation studies at Warwick. The Warwick Prize for Women in Translation will be awarded annually to the best eligible work of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, or work of fiction for children or young adults written by a woman and translated into English by a female or male translator. The prize money of £1000 will be split equally between the female writer and her translator(s). Entries can be submitted by U.K. and Irish publishers between April 3 and July 3, 2017. The shortlist will be announced in October and the winner will be announced in November.
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India to Publish First Sign Language Dictionary
BBC News (United Kingdom) (02/28/17) Arya, Divya

India will soon publish its first sign language dictionary. A team of 15 people in Delhi are working on the massive task of compiling more than 7,000 signs that deal with words used in academic, medical, legal, technical, and routine conversations by deaf people in India. The government-funded dictionary project, which will offer Indian sign language translated into English and Hindi, will be available in print and online. "Indian sign language is very scientific and has its own grammar, but lack of awareness has meant that many deaf people are not even aware of institutions where they can learn it and equip themselves for public communication," says Andesha Mangala, a professor at the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Center. According to the latest Census data, India has around five million deaf and hearing-impaired people, but the country only has about 700 schools that teach sign language. And unlike English or Hindi, it is not written. So, while it works for interpersonal communication, the wider lack of knowledge of sign language means that deaf people have to become proficient in languages they have never heard or spoken. "When we don't hear or speak a language, we don't understand its grammar and syntax," says Islam Ul Haq, a master trainer in sign language who has been deaf from birth and does not speak. The dictionary aims to help in developing this "bilingualism" and grammar. While British and American Sign Language dictionaries are an important reference point for the dictionary, signs used by deaf people in India are very different because of their cultural, geographical, and historical context. Because of this, each sign in the dictionary will be accompanied with a photo illustration and information about the usage of the corresponding English and Hindi word. Avnish Kumar Awasthi, a senior bureaucrat at the Ministry of Social Welfare, says the dictionary is the government's first step toward creating awareness about India's sign language. "Lack of knowledge of sign language in our country has meant that deaf people drop out of the education system rapidly, and despite quotas in government jobs, they are unable to benefit from them," he says. Awasthi eventually wants to make sign language training compulsory for teachers to ensure that deaf students can study alongside other children in regular schools.
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Lead With Languages

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has launched a national language proficiency awareness and advocacy campaign. The multi-year Lead With Languages initiative aims to make language learning a national priority by promoting the growing importance of language skills to a wide array of careers. Check out the campaign's Call to Action and follow #LanguageMatters on Twitter.
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Win a Free Registration to ATA's Annual Conference

Just think—you could be the winner of this year's ATA School Outreach Contest. So, make a school outreach presentation, take a photo, and get ready to win a free registration to the ATA 58th Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. Watch the video and get inspired! Learn how with this How-to Step-by-Step Guide!
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Take Advantage of ATA Division Membership

Membership in an ATA Division is a benefit meant to be used over and over again. How? Take your pick from Division blogs, e-newsletters, listserves, websites, and information archives—all focused on the language- and specialty-specific issues and topics that mean the most to you. Don't let this be a "someday I'll take a look" plan. Do it now and see what ATA's 20 divisions can do for you and your business.
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3 Reasons You Need to Use the ATA Logo

Did you know that Association members—individual, corporate, and institutional—can use the ATA logo for business cards, websites, and brochures? There are also unique ATA logos for ATA Chapters, Affiliates, and Divisions.

Why use the ATA logo?
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And best of all, it looks really great!

Take time to take advantage of this ATA member benefit. Read the ATA Logo Usage Guidelines, then click atalogo@atanet.org to request the logo files. Be sure to include your ATA membership number in your email.
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Coming Up in the March/April Issue of The ATA Chronicle

How to Deal with Questions During a Translation Project
What can translators do to ensure a project goes smoothly from start to finish? Well, one of the best and most straightforward things you can do is to ask the client some questions. (Nancy Matis)

Crafting the Perfect Pitch: A Comprehensive Guide
Of all the ways to market your skills, getting an article in a publication or posted to a blog your clients will read is my all-time favorite method. (Jonathan Downie)

The Embassy Translator Revisited
What do embassy translators do and how do they contribute toward carrying out the mission of a foreign embassy in the United States? (Cheryl A. Fain)

Transitioning from Student to Translator
There are a number of ways you can show potential clients that you’re a professional even before you’ve landed your first paid job. (Meghan McCallum and Sarah Puchner)
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Access to The ATA Chronicle's searchable archives is available online! And don't forget to check out the latest issue of the Chronicle Online.
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March 15, 2017

In This Issue

State of Languages
Members Save 25%
Lead with Languages
Win Conf Registration
Division Membership
Why Use the ATA Logo
The ATA Chronicle


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