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New bill to support innovative approaches to foreign language teaching in schools

Language Magazine

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) have introduced, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the “Foreign Language Education Partnership Program Act.” The legislation would create a new U.S. Department of Education initiative to support revolutionary classroom programs that provide carefully sequenced foreign language classes from kindergarten through high school.

“We need to give our young people the best opportunities to master foreign languages to help them thrive in this global economy. By fostering innovative programs for our students, this legislation will help close the foreign language gap among American students,” Lautenberg said. “I hope my Senate colleagues will help make our nation more secure and prosperous by joining this effort to make foreign language education a national priority.”

“Because of poor foreign language education, American companies today lose international contracts, our scientists miss important opportunities for collaboration, and clues critical to our national security go untranslated,” Holt said. “We need to improve dramatically how our children learn languages by establishing a foundation at the earliest ages and building on it through high school, college, and beyond.”

According to studies funded by the Department of Education, only 30 percent of American high school students are enrolled in foreign language classes, and only 25 percent of American elementary schools even offer foreign languages. To address these problems, the bill would create a new K-12/higher education foreign language education partnership program. It would provide up to $50 million in annual funding for model programs of sequenced foreign language instruction from K-12, with the goal of graduating high school students with an advanced level of proficiency. Any foreign language is eligible, but the Secretary of Education may establish priorities on languages critical to national needs.

Information on successful programs and practices would be widely disseminated, with a goal of encouraging school systems nationwide to adopt similar approaches.

The bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Holt will be referred to the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, of which Holt is a member. The House bill is cosponsored by Reps. Jim McDermott (WA-7), Jared Polis (CO-2), John Tierney (MA-6), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), James McGovern (MA-2), and David Price (NC-4).

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