Over 120 Hoosiers spent a recent Saturday in Indianapolis plotting the major routes and by-ways of a roadmap leading toward increased world language learning in Indiana.
“We are starting at a deficit,” acknowledged Michael Nugent before the crowd gathered at the first Indiana Language Roadmap Summit February 10. Director of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office, Nugent had a sympathetic audience. Most of those in attendance were all too aware of the relatively low level of world language learning across the country and had a stake in increasing it for their state.
The summit brought leaders from the business, education, government, health care, and law enforcement communities together to start drawing a roadmap whereby the state of Indiana could increase access to world language learning. “Access is about providing doors for students to learn new languages,” explained Hilary Kahn, principal investigator for the project, and assistant dean of international education and global initiatives at the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies. “Equity is ensuring all students have the chance to walk through them.”
The Indiana Language Roadmap project is funded through IU by the Language Flagship, an initiative of the National Security Education Program within the U.S. Department of Defense. Administered through SGIS’s Center for the Study of Global Change, the two-year project is led by Kahn, who is the center’s director, and co-investigator Yea-Fen Chen, Director of the Chinese Flagship at SGIS.
Scaling up to a statewide language infrastructure requires a paradigm shift of sorts, suggested keynote speaker Richard Brecht. Language instruction needs to be targeted toward meeting the needs of a global society, and world languages should be rebranded as “America’s languages.” Brecht is co-director of the American Councils Research Center, a think tank devoted to providing evidence for language policy and management decisions in education and the work place. He advocated for the implementation of dual language immersion programs as a means toward creating “a pipeline of globally competent individuals.” In his own remarks at the summit, State Representative Bob Behning also endorsed incorporating dual language immersion programs in Indiana schools. Behning is chair of the House Committee on Education.
Given how internationally engaged Indiana has become and how critical global understanding and multilingualism are for the state, as Kahn has remarked, there’s a practical reason to increase language learning in Indiana. “A globally competent workforce” will be required to fill “over 800,000 future jobs in Indiana,” explained Blair Milo, the state’s first secretary for career connections and talent. But learning world languages contributes toward less tangible, though equally important goals as well, she told those assembled. “Language helps share our humanity and informs a larger world view,” stated Milo. Her experience of speaking “even a little” Arabic while serving overseas as an officer in the Navy helped her to gain this perspective.
Another member of the state’s business community vaunted the compounded rewards of multilingualism and cultural openness. Just learning the basic niceties and the correct pronunciation of names goes a long way, suggested Keith Kirkpatrick, President of KPM Group and Chairman of the Northwest Indiana Trade Alliance, Kirkpatrick is one of the regional leaders working with Language Roadmap committees around the state. Being “genuinely interested in other places and other peoples from all walks of life and from all over the world,” Kirkpatrick assured the group, will foster connections that “may pay huge dividends” in the long run.
While touting increased economic productivity, participants drew upon their respective experiences to suggest other benefits accruing to increased world language learning and a more culturally conscious population. The ability to navigate cultural and linguistic difference is essential from the perspective of law enforcement, explained Kurt Wolf, captain of the Detective Division of the Lafayette Police Department. Wolf highlighted the need for individuals who could communicate in languages beyond English and advocated for initiatives that help to train people on cultural variance and how to be respectful in a variety of contexts.
Burma native and Marion County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lun Pieper gave a presentation that reinforced Wolf’s message. In her work, she recognizes the need for more cogent translation protocols to protect the rights of the state’s growing Burmese refugee population. In her additional role as Burmese Outreach Director, Lun provides cultural competency training to various law enforcement agencies, and provides crime prevention presentations to the Burmese community in Indianapolis. In the high stakes context of legal interpretation, Lun stressed, cultural as well as linguistic competencies are required.
Twenty-first century health care in Indiana also demands that professionals have world language skills. Beyond fundamental fluency, there is a need for emergent bilinguals to deepen their language repertoire with vocabulary specific to a particular field, suggested Enrica Ardemagni, president of the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care.
Along with the presentations, the summit gave participants from diverse fields the opportunity to work together in small groups to identify needs, challenges, additional stakeholders, and next steps to forging the state’s language roadmap. The summit discussions along with the work of the regional committees will inform the final Language Roadmap plan, which will be officially launched at a November 2018 summit. From that date until May 2019, participants will lay the foundation for the long-term implementation of the roadmap.