|dc.description.abstract||The paper discusses language policy in the US and the lack of it. Traditional neglect and erosion of foreign language study competes against new global realities, which paradoxically—in the context of global English—require Americans to increase their knowledge of critical world languages. Foreign-language education in the US is in a state of flux, with multiple actors competing for prevalence. For example, bilingual elementary education in areas where Spanish-speaking immigrants make up significant minorities or even majorities competes against popular anti-immigrant sentiment. Government initiatives to stimulate acquisition of nationally critical languages (Mandarin, Korean, Farsi, Russian, etc.) compete against traditional (dis)interest(s) in language instruction in the K–12 (elementary, i.e., kindergarten through 12 grade) and the higher education systems. These countervailing trends unfold when it is no longer obvious that the US will remain the only superpower.
The challenges to foreign-language learning in the U.S. are formidable. Americans generally assume that English suffices for communicative needs abroad, let alone at home. This prevailing view feeds the decision-making processes in education. In the quest to slash education budgets, “dispensable” subjects are sacrificed first: art, music, and foreign language instruction. In higher education foreign-language instruction is viewed as an arcane relic to be avoided or, if possible, excised altogether.
The University of Kansas (KU) serves as an example of the changes in language education in the US and demonstrates a possible way out of the gridlock. KU has received federal funding for critical languages for decades, but has also recognized the importance of critical and less-commonly-taught languages for a forward-looking education. This example demonstrates the tug-of-war that may or may not change the way American learn and think about foreign language as they reevaluate their position in a multi-polar, globalized world.||