National Foreign Language Week

Thanks to everyone who wrote in for a copy of Writing Systems of the World! The book is going to Phill in SE Tennessee. Sometimes you can find it in bookstores, but it’s always available from online retailers and our website. On our website, you can use the discount code OMNIVORE to take 35% off your order.

I see that this week is National Foreign Language Week, which is sponsored by Alpha Mu Gamma, a college-level foreign language honor society. Although I usually draft a blog entry a few days in advance, I didn’t sketch out any ideas this time, expecting that something about NFLW would sort of write itself.

Well, it didn’t. There just wasn’t really much news to pass on. It’s not that people in the US have no interest in languages other than English, but there’s no national language policy around which the timing or activities for a “foreign language week” might be coordinated. The February edition of The Language Educator, a publication of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) reviewed how foreign-language policy and education are approached in other English-speaking countries (Canada, Australia, the UK, and Ireland), however, and so I was curious to see if other countries have some best-practices the US might adopt.

The English implemented a language policy (“Languages for All; Languages for Life”) in 2002, but defunded it in 2011. Australia got started with a national language curriculum, but it’s never been finished. This survey didn’t include New Zealand, but I got lucky and an article on the subject just appeared in today’s New Zealand Herald. It bemoans how New Zealand lags behind Australia and the UK, so, yikes. The article describes New Zealand as a “publicly monolingual country” within “a bicultural legislative framework”, which is an accurate way to acknowledge New Zealand’s efforts to promote, preserve, and recognize Maori even while most public business (and even many conversations between Maoris) take place in English.

The phrase could also be applied to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Article 8 of the Irish constitution of 1937 names “the Irish Language” as the “first official language of Ireland”. Efforts in the Emerald Isle to revive Irish have helped a bit, but so far Erse is just hanging on. There’s no great revival in sight.

The one success story is Canada. From our point of view here in Vermont, we experience Canada’s most Francophone and bilingual region (je me souviens!), but many parts of Canada have a true bilingual vibe.

So since we don’t have any parades lined up for National Foreign Language Week, we might meditate on improvement. The observation I make over and over is that almost all parents want their kids to be bilingual—but don’t aspire to be bilingual themselves. Where bilingualism takes hold, it’s because parents lead the way.

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