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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% of business executives report having missed opportunities due to a lack of on-staff language skills, and 40% 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% of all European adults report having knowledge of more than one language, compared with 20% of U.S. residents.
  • Only 15% of the nation’s public elementary schools offer a program for languages other than English, compared with more than 50% of private elementary schools.
  • Across the nation, there has been a significant decline in the number of middle schools offering world languages: from 75% in 1997 to 58% 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” 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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