Foreign Language Classes at Risk as Federal Funding is Cut

The Department of Education is set to pull the plug on $27 million worth of foreign language education grants, as the Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP), which awarded grants in three- or five-year increments, is scrapped.

"What this cut does is pull the rug out from these programs," said Martha Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFA).

"Some of them are in the middle of being funded; I think it'll be interesting to see how the communities react to this."

The grants were split by a mix of 55 charter schools, school districts, and states, but now FLAP's absence might affect more than the schools that were being funded, writes Jason Koebler at US News.

The money helped schools develop new foreign language classes that could then be emulated in other schools if found successful in their pilot run. But that's coming to an end now — as are many other foreign language programs, mainly in elementary schools, as they're cut by state legislatures.

"They've usually been added on, so it's easy to cut," says Abbott.

However, this comes as a growth in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese classes is being seen in American schools. A recent report by ACTFA shows that the number of K-12 students taking Chinese classes tripled between the 2004-2005 school year and 2007-2008, while the number of students taking Japanese increased 17 percent, writes Koebler.

The government has funded several programs in languages like Arabic, Chinese, and Urdu in the name of globalization and national security. Some new Chinese programs are even paid for by the Chinese government to encourage American/Chinese relations.

"When a country's economy is strong, the government is often willing to support extending the learning of that language," Abbott says.

The idea that language-studying students see academic benefits beyond the remit of the language their studying is backed by several reports. The average SAT scores in both the verbal and math sections increased significantly in language-studying students.

Students who took four years of a foreign language scored more than 100 points higher on each section than students who took half a year or less, writes Koebler.

However, Abbott is keen to express that there is more to studying a foreign language than their academic benefits.

"Students who study a foreign language have an openness and acceptance to people who speak other languages and come from other cultures.

"We need to be growing students who can interact around the world. If we continue to grow a citizenry that is uncomfortable interacting and can't get out there on the global stage, then we're going to find ourselves in significant trouble in the world economy and the future."

01 20, 2012
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