You can make a difference!
An important element of language advocacy is public policy. By staying up to date on current issues in legislation, you can begin to build a network for action. Some ways you can affect policy include writing letters to your local officials and congressman, visiting policymakers, and building coalitions of concerned people like you who care about language.
The United States is a multilingual country:
Ethnologue estimates that the United States is home to speakers of 245 different languages. While the United States does not have an official language, English is considered the de facto language for public purposes. However some states, including Louisiana and New Mexico, have declared languages other than English an official language.
The Modern Language Association (MLA) has created a map of the major languages used in the United States based on the data from the 2000 Census. You can find it here.
US English has compiled data on the diversity of language use in the United States. You can find it here.
"I would like to write to my local official. What should I include in the letter?"
Writing to your school officials, business representatives, local and state representatives and senators does not have to be a daunting task. The idea is to be clear and concise. It can easily be broken down into a few sections:
a) Introduce yourself. Write a few sentences stating who you are, why you are writing, and any credentials you might have.
b) Explain the issue. If you are writing about a specific bill, be sure to refer to it by number and name.
c) Always utilize facts (and not emotions) in your explanation of your concerns.
d) Demand action. Make a request or suggestion on what you hope to see done, whether it is a change in policy overall or a specific vote on a bill.
Sample letters: templates you can use to write a letter demanding change
Whether you would like to create a program, expand a program, or save an existing one, we suggest contacting your school district's superintendent and / or the school board.
I would like to express my concern for the future of your students who do not have the opportunity to study foreign languages.
The benefits of any world language education program are numerous and widespread. Learning a second or third language has lead to improvements in other academic subjects across the board: development of basic skills, higher standardized test scores, cognitive development, and benefits to critical thinking. There are rewards of world language learning that are directly correlated to a student's success as an adult, too. Understanding other languages and cultures provides employment opportunities, facilitates travel, and can lead to higher pay. To begin world language instruction early is to give students a jump start on these benefits. The long sequence of instruction leads to more advanced proficiency and provides intercultural understanding through exploration of different world perceptions and values.
If the goal of any educational system is to produce well-rounded and productive members of society, it goes without saying that world language education is an integral part of the process. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that routinely graduates students from high school with knowledge of only one language. Your school district can help to improve this image by reinstating your elementary and middle school language programs.
We cannot send students into the world today as monolinguals and feel confident that, with the ever-growing global interconnectedness of our world today, they will be economically secure or culturally aware. Competence in other languages is no longer frivolous; it is fundamental.
On behalf of the students and teachers of [SCHOOL DISTRICT], thank you for your time and consideration.
If you are hoping to sway votes on an issue of policy, you will want to contact your local, state, or federal politician.
- The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has a variety of samples to use for writing your local politician, Senators and Representatives, business leaders, and the local media.
Remember that elected officials and prominent community members receive many letters every day. This should not discourage you from writing to them; rather, it should remind you to use their time wisely. Take time to write a well thought out, respectful, articulate, and knowledgeable letter and it will be more likely to capture their attention.
You can click the given links to find the contact information for your local representative or for your senator, or look up specific legislation to find out whom you should contact.
Language policy in the United States: Current policies, debates, and case studies
GovTrack: here you can type in "language education" to find all current bills being debated in Congress having to do with language education in the US
Bilingual Education Act of 1968
Institute for Language and Education Policy
JNCL's Congressional Visit Simulation
Michigan State Government World Language Requirement
Ideas for successful programs: The standards and ideas of other language organizations
ACTFL Federal Legislative Priorities
Advocacy from Glastonbury, Connecticut's successful World Language in Elementary program
CAL Digest for Immersion Programs and Features
Jessica Haxhi's presentation on the Keys to Success for Elementary School World Language Programs
National Standards in Foreign Language Education: a collaborative project of ACTFL, AATF, AATG, AATI, AATSP, ACL/APA, ACTR, CLASS/CLTA, NCSTJ/ATJ