Martha G. Abbott is the executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, an organization comprised of 12,000 language teachers from elementary through higher education.
What existing or new professions will require greater language proficiency in the next twenty years or so? Any bold predictions?
I love this question. It reminds me of when I was teaching in the 70s and we had a poster in the classroom that said “Learn a Language and Be Prepared for These Careers.” There was a short list with jobs like Flight Attendant, Diplomat, Translator, Interpreter, etc.
Nowadays, there is NO career where having another language (or two) won’t be important.
Already we are hearing from employers, that they are paying attention to languages on the resume and when given two equal resumes but one person has listed language expertise—that is the person who will be hired. And I am not just talking about companies and organizations that do business internationally. We have, and will continue to have, critical needs for a multilingual work force here in the U.S.
[Also], Because of our changing demographics, we have increased needs to service a large number of immigrants in a wide variety of ways.
All language teachers encounter adults and youth who say “You teach French/Russian/Chinese/[German].....? I’m really bad at languages. I could never learn [that].” -- What’s your response to this assertion?
We have developed a terrible national psyche that we are not good at languages. I believe it stems from our history of teaching a lot about the language and not focusing on developing the ability to communicate. Research shows that just because you know all the irregular verb forms or where the accent marks go, doesn’t mean you can put together a coherent sentence. So when people used to spend four years “studying” a language and then could not communicate in it, they came to believe it was because they were lacking the “language gene.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Everyone has the potential to learn another language!
With our emphasis now on communication in the language classroom, we can hopefully put that myth out of circulation. My dream is to see a new generation of language learners who are confident users of the language as they interact with others who speak that language both here in the U.S. and abroad!