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$8.7 Million in Grants Awarded for Critical Foreign Language Instruction


U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced $8.7 million in grants to school districts in 20 states to help increase the number of Americans learning foreign languages critical to national security and commerce.

As part of President Bush’s National Security Language Initiative, the grants are intended to address the shortage of critical foreign language speakers by supporting new and expanded programs in grades K-12.

“Too few speak languages like Arabic, Chinese and Farsi at a time when communication is vital to a peaceful world,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. “We hope these funds will enable more students to become fluent in critical languages.”

Less than one percent of American high school students study Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Urdu, according to the State Department. Less than eight percent of U.S. undergraduates take foreign language courses, and fewer than two percent study abroad in any given year. Foreign language degrees account for only one percent of undergraduate degrees conferred in the United States.

The National Security Language Initiative aims to boost the number of Americans studying Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi and others in programs from kindergarten through college. To do that, the initiative will help develop teachers in those languages and encourage students to study critical foreign languages.

Besides the Education Department, other federal agencies have roles in the initiative, including the State Department, Defense Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

To help raise public awareness about the language shortage, Secretary Spellings has told audiences that, “This is not just an education issue; it’s an economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, a national security issue, and it’s everybody’s issue.”

While only 44 percent of our American high school students are studying any foreign language, Spellings said learning a second or even a third foreign language is compulsory for students in the European Union, China, Thailand and other countries.

“Many begin learning before they’re even 10 years old,” she said. “And as fluent, accent-less adults, they will have a strong advantage over monolingual Americans in developing new relationships and businesses in countries other than their own.”


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