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Languages Make a Difference

by Nicole Naditz

Speech delivered at the Plenary session of the California Language Teachers’ Association Conference. March 31, 2007

 Nationwide and here in California, language teachers and administrators are involved in a decade-long campaign to bring world language education to the forefront of educational and policy discussions.  That campaign is called Discover Languages . . . Discover the World.Teachers up and down the state are spearheading activities to draw attention to the successes of their language students and to celebrate the benefits of language study and multilingualism. From displaying student work in places usually reserved for art projects, to community outreach and performances, to political activism, teachers and students are making language programs more visible.We want everyone to discover the richness of language and of the various cultures embodied in the world’s languages.We want everyone to discover the world of opportunities that are available to those who speak languages other than English.We want everyone to know that languages make a difference.In fact, I’m preaching to the choir. Each of us in this room knows a lot about the benefits of language education and multilingualism:

·     the cognitive benefits
·     the academic benefits
·     the social benefits
·     the mental health benefits
·     the economic benefits and job prospects
·     the national security benefits

We know about the need for quality language programs so all students can enjoy those benefits. Quality programs that are defined by three criteria:

1.  long sequences of language study beginning in elementary school
2.  taught by qualified teachers like you who are proficient in language, culture and teaching methodologies
3.  that engage students with meaningful, rich, and authentic content, as outlined in our state’s  K-12 Foreign Language Framework.

Our role in the Discover Languages campaign is to get excited about those benefits. Our role is to be passionate in our conversations with others . . . conversations in which we elaborate on the many, many ways that languages make a difference. Our role is to invite others to join the choir.Let us take some time now to consider how languages make a difference, beginning with job prospects.Do our counselors know that according to statistics released in 2004, 1 out of every 6 jobs created in the world is an international job?Do they know that in 2004, Rick Rice, the director of workforce development at California’s Employment Development Department stated that “being bilingual is a sought-after skill,” and that, when it comes to looking for jobs, those with bilingual skills are already ahead?Do our administrators know that in 1996, the American Association of School Administrators identified knowledge of foreign languages as one of the most important skills that students will need to develop in order to prosper in this century?This week, I went job searching. I wanted to get an idea of just how many jobs are available for those who speak languages other than English. I do this fairly regularly, so I wasn’t surprised at what I found, but you might be.I went to and searched for jobs in the country that required French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Ukrainian, Thai, Tagalog or Russian skills.Are you ready for what I found?  More importantly, are our students, parents, counselors and administrators ready for what I found?More than 1000 employers nationwide are looking for French speakers RIGHT NOW. Almost 200 of those jobs are here in California.There are more than 550 new jobs available right now for German speakers. Seventy of those are in California.If you speak Chinese, there are more than 800 current job openings in the country, of which 330 are in California.If you speak Japanese, there are more than 1400 job openings in the country. In California, there are 400 employers right now looking for Japanese speakers.Spanish, of course, tops the list, with more than 8,300 jobs nationwide and almost 3000 jobs in California.Currently, there are hundreds of jobs nationwide for speakers of other languages as well.What kinds of jobs?  Regardless of specific language needed, the jobs I find on span all fields: medical, legal, computer technology, science and research, engineering, fashion and interior design, graphics, editorial, administrative assistants, accountants, and many others.To put all of this in perspective, look at all of these Jelly Bellies. How many Jelly Bellies do you think are in here? I won’t tell you the answer just yet, but I can tell you that every Jelly Belly represents a job that is available in the United States RIGHT NOW for those who are proficient in English and at least one other world language. Every Jelly Belly. One more job for employees with language skills.So how many are there? More than 12,700 Jelly Bellies. That’s almost 13,000 jobs for speakers of other languages. 13,000 opportunities for our students. 13,000 examples of how languages make a difference.Nearly 4000 of those jobs are in California. That’s a lot of organizations, industries, and companies that need employees with language skills. In fact, do our students know that four out of five new jobs in the United States are created as a result of foreign trade? Unfortunately, some of those jobs will go unfilled. Each year, 200,000 Americans lose out on jobs with business because they don’t know another language. No one told them that languages make a difference.So we have established that language proficiency will help in the future when our students go to look for a job, but what about right now?Do our parents know that children who have studied languages tend to demonstrate greater cognitive development, creativity, and divergent thinking than monolingual children?Do our administrators know that several studies show that people who are competent in more than one language outscore those who are speakers of only one language on tests of verbal and nonverbal intelligence? Other studies suggest that students who are learning another language show greater creativity at solving complex problems than their monolingual peers.Creative thinking . . . problem solving . . . these are skills that will be highly sought after in the work place tomorrow and these are skills that can help students be more successful in all of their academic pursuits today. These are skills that show that languages make a difference.And we know this. But are we excited about the benefits of language study yet? Are we singing? Is the choir getting bigger?Are we sharing all of the data we have regarding the academic benefits of language study?Do our administrators and colleagues know that learning another language enhances the academic skills of students by increasing their abilities in reading, writing . . .  and mathematics?Do they know that students who have the opportunity to study languages in elementary school are surpassing the national averages in reading, writing and mathematics regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of race, or socio-economic status?And do they know that the longer they study language, the higher their standardized test scores?Many high school students you know either took or will take the SAT or ACT tests. Here, too, studies have repeatedly shown a positive correlation between language study and high test scores. In fact, the College Board identified world language study as having the single greatest impact in raising test scores in math and language arts–even more than taking additional English and math classes alone! Here too, the results cross ethnic, gender and poverty lines. Languages make a difference for ALL students.Do our students know that people who communicate in at least two languages are an asset to the communities in which they live and work? Our society needs people who are capable of interacting with others who speak languages other than English and can adapt to a wide range of cultural backgrounds.Do our colleagues know that the ability to converse with one another in the other’s language enables us to communicate across cultures in our neighborhoods as well as across the world, thus being better global citizens at home and abroad?Do they know that language helps us to understand the perspectives and mind sets of others and as such to develop greater understanding and appreciation of diverse thoughts and behaviors?Do our counselors know that the ability to speak and understand another language allows for a greater sense of respect for others who are different from ourselves and affirms the dignity of individuals from different cultures?Do our students know that language proficiency does even more than open to us a world of media, literature and travel? That it facilitates understanding of how interdependent we are on each other and how our most pressing issues–such as the environment, human rights, and social justice–have no borders.Do they know that languages make a difference?OK. So here’s a quiz. Are you ready? Just call out your answer.

· Does language study enhance academic success? YES!
· Does language study improve standardized language arts test scores? YES!
· For ALL students of all races–boys and girls, rich and poor? YES!
· Does language study improve achievement in Math? YES!
· Does being multilingual improve job prospects? YES!
· Does multilingualism facilitate cross-cultural understanding? YES!
· Does the ability to speak and understand other languages improve our ability to serve, work with, help, and value our neighbors? YES!
· So . . . last question . . . do languages make a difference? YES!

And therefore, so do you.Every day! Thank you.

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