Continental shift in priorities

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Globalisation, the war on terror and economic migrancy are setting new language challenges. TES correspondents report

UNITED STATES

Globalisation and the war on terror could, if President Bush has his way, be the driving forces behind far-reaching changes in the way languages are taught in schools.

An ambitious $114 million (pound;62m) blueprint outlined by the White House calls for language instruction to be more closely aligned to America's "national security and global competitiveness" interests.

The proposed "national security language initiative" would jump-start the teaching of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other "critical-need languages". It calls for intensive new programmes of language study from nursery school to university level.

The scheme, awaiting approval from Congress, includes $24m for education authorities to forge ties with universities to build study programmes "from kindergarten to university", $24m in incentives for schools to offer the languages, $5m to train a 1,000-strong "language teachers corps" by 2010, and $3m to train existing staff.

Robert Slater, director of the national security education programme, the US defence department agency spearheading the initiative, said: "There is recognition that, in terms of national security, we have tremendous language deficiencies in our military, defence and diplomatic communities, and in the general workforce. That's the immediate imperative driving this.

But global competition will ultimately drive us more."

Fewer than 1 per cent of American secondary students currently study Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Urdu. Spanish is the most popular language in secondary schools, studied by 69 per cent of the 44 per cent of pupils who take languages, followed by French, chosen by 18 per cent of language students.

The proposals represent not only a departure in the type of languages being emphasised in US schools, but also a dramatic shake-up in how they are taught. Lessons are to be more formal and structured than the usual somewhat haphazard approach to Spanish and French.

Just 24 per cent of state primaries offer languages, of which 79 per cent focus on "introductory exposure", rather than achieving fluency targets, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Carl Falsgraf, director of the center for applied second language studies at Oregon university, and director of the Chinese K-16 flagship program, said US secondary schools typically offer two years of language instruction, which is enough for students to get by as tourists, but not enough to use in a professional arena.

A joint venture between his campus and Portland, Oregon's education authority is in the vanguard of the new approach being pushed by the White House (see story below).

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now