A speech given on the Senate floor by Senator Akaka (D-HI) yesterday about the importance of foreign language education.
July 13, 2005
LEADERSHIP AND COORDINATION IN LANGUAGE EDUCATION
Mr. AKAKA. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the foreign language needs of the country, a problem that is receiving renewed public attention because of the ongoing war in Iraq and the impact the lack of language expertise is having on our foreign policy. As John Limbert, president of the American Foreign Service Association, was quoted in the Federal Times last month, the shortage of linguists 60;makes our mission of representing the American people that much harder.61;
Frankly, I agree with Mr. Limbert. The stability and economic vitality of the United States and our national security depend on American citizens who are knowledgeable about the world. We need civil servants, area experts, diplomats, business people, educators, and other public officials with the ability to communicate at an advanced level in the languages and understand the cultures of the people with whom they interact. An ongoing commitment to maintaining these relationships and language expertise helps prevent a crisis from occurring and provides diplomatic and language resources when needed.
My own State of Hawaii is a leader in promoting language education and cultural sensitivity. As a gateway to Asian and Pacific nations, we in Hawaii understand the importance of knowing other languages and cultures, which help to develop strong relationships with other people. For example, according to the 2000 Census, more than 300,000 people in Hawaii, or about 27 percent of those 5 years and older, spoke a language other than English at home. This is compared to about 18 percent nationwide. In addition, the University of Hawaii is a leader in teaching Korean and is the host of one of two National Korean Flagship Programs established by the National Security Education Program. Hawaii is also host to the internationally recognized East-West Center, an education and research organization established in Hawaii by Congress in 1960, which is a leader in promoting and strengthening relations between the United States and the countries of the Asia Pacific
In 2000 the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services, then chaired by Senator Cochran, held a hearing on the foreign language needs of the Federal Government. At that hearing Ellen Laipson, vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, testified as to the language shortfalls in the intelligence community and how these shortfalls could impact agency missions, especially in emergency situations. For example, a lack of language skills limits analysts57; insight into a foreign culture which restricts their ability to anticipate political instability and warn policymakers about a potential trouble spot. In addition, Ms. Laipson testified that thousands of technical papers providing details on foreign research and development in scientific or technical areas were not being translated because of the lack of personnel to interpret the material, which could lead to the possibility of 60;a technological surprise.61;
Understanding the importance of improving our language capabilities, I introduced with Senators DURBIN and THOMPSON the Homeland Security Education Act and the Homeland Security Federal Workforce Act. Our bills proposed a comprehensive strategy to improve language education, as well as science and math education, at the elementary, high school, and college levels and to provide incentives for individuals possessing such skills as a result of these programs to enter Federal service in critical national security positions. The Senate passed the Homeland Security Federal Workforce Act on November 5, 2003, and provisions of the bill were included in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. In addition, I successfully added an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2005 requiring the Department of Defense to report on how it will address its language shortfalls in both the short and long term. Earlier this year, the Department issued its De
fense Language Transformation Roadmap which lays out an ambitious plan for improving the language education of its employees.
While Congress has adopted several provisions to improve language education, including some that I have proposed, it has not been easy to gain a wider acceptance of this need. It has been said that the events of September 11, 2001, were a modern day Sputnik moment, demonstrating that shortages of critical skills can have dire national security consequences. While Sputnik pointed out the importance of science and math education, September 11th reminded us that language skills and cultural awareness are essential for improving relations with the international community and strengthening our national security. However, nearly 4 years after that terrible day, we are still without sufficient language skills. We still have not learned the lesson that the Soviet launch of Sputnik taught us in 1958: investment in education is just as important to our national security as investing in weapons systems. As such, we need sustained leadership and a coordinated pla
n of action to address this on-going problem and to ensure that this Nation never falls short in its language capabilities again or fails to communicate effectively with our neighbors around the world.
That is why I have introduced the National Foreign Language Coordination Act with Senators DODD and COCHRAN. Our legislation, S. 1089, is designed to provide the needed leadership and coordination of language education. Primarily, the legislation creates a National Foreign Language Coordination Council which is composed of the secretaries of various executive branch agencies and chaired by a national language director. The national language director would be appointed by the President and is to be a nationally recognized individual with credentials and abilities necessary to create and implement long-term solutions to achieving national foreign language and cultural competency. By having the key players of the executive branch on the Council, I hope that each agency will come away with an understanding of what their role is, how they can reach out to their stakeholders for input, and become engaged in addressing this problem.
The Council would be charged with developing and overseeing the implementation of a national language strategy. In particular, the Council would identify priorities, increase public awareness, advocate needed resources, and coordinate efforts within the Federal Government to ensure that we are meeting our goal of improved language education and cultural understanding. As former Senator and 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey recently said, 60;Someone in the executive branch has got to say, 56;Here57;s where we are today, here57;s where we want to be in five years, and here57;s what it57;s going to take to get there.57; 61; The National Foreign Language Coordination Act will do just that.
There have been several articles issued recently that have highlighted the need for more language training and the need for leadership in this area. I ask that the following articles be printed in the RECORD:
Tichakorn Hill, Does Anyone Here Speak Arabic? ( or Farsi, or Pashto?) The Government57;s Push to Close the Language Gap, Federal Times, June 20, 2005. John Diamond, Terror War Still Short on Linguists, USA Today, June 20, 2005. John Diamond, Muslim World Isn57;t Big with U.S. Students, USA Today, June 19, 2005.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows: [From USA Today, Jun. 20, 2005]
Muslim World Isn57;t Big With U.S. Students
(By John Diamond)
WASHINGTON52;Despite an expansion of federal efforts to promote learning Arabic and other languages of the Islamic world, there has been no dramatic increase in Americans studying in countries where such languages are spoken, according to the latest statistics on overseas study. That57;s the case even though the number of Americans studying abroad has more than doubled since the mid-1990s.
There are some signs of growing interest among American students in learning Arabic, which the U.S. intelligence community hopes will help bolster its ranks with specialists for the war on terrorism.
But as Karin Ryding, a professor of Arabic at Georgetown University, points out, U.S. intelligence can57;t get by with 60;hothouse61; Arabic speakers who have learned the language sitting in American classrooms. They must travel to the region and immerse themselves to become fluent.
Overall interest in foreign languages hasn57;t surged either since the Sept. 11 attacks. The difficulty of learning Arabic and other Middle East languages means it will be years before academia can produce significantly more graduates fluent in languages important to U.S. national security.
60;It57;s going to take a good, long while. It57;s going to be a lot more expensive. And it57;s a question of whether you can afford to wait,61; says Andrew Krepinevich, head of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based defense think tank.
Numbers aren57;t good
For 2002-03, the first full academic year after 9/11, 1,293 Americans studied in predominantly Muslim countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. That57;s a 4.5% increase over the yearly average of 1,237 for the five years leading up to Sept. 11, according to an analysis of figures compiled by the Institute of International Education, which administers several federal study-abroad scholarship programs. The figures cover students who financed their own education as well as those who received private and public scholarships.
The list of majority-Muslim countries in which students studied is not identical from year to year but typically includes countries in the Middle East and North Africa such as Senegal, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Turkey; and nations in Asia such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The institute57;s figures show that more Americans are studying abroad: 174,629 in 2002-03, up from 84,403 in 1994-95. Yet fewer are focusing on foreign languages: Two decades ago, 16.7% of Americans studying abroad listed foreign languages as their primary field of study, according to the institute57;s figures. A decade ago, it was down to
11.3%; for 2002-03, 7.9%.
60;Despite our growing needs, the number of undergraduate foreign language degrees conferred is only 1% of all degrees,61; Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said last month. Dodd is sponsoring legislation that would increase federal spending on language and foreign study and create a 60;national language director61; to coordinate language programs.
The stakes are high, according to a January Pentagon report: 60;Conflict against enemies speaking less-commonly taught languages and thus the need for foreign language capability will not abate.61;
Language ability is critical not just for fighting wars or spying, says Thomas Farrell, deputy assistant secretary of State for academic programs. It also means having a better knowledge of 60;regions of the world that are important to the United States,61; Farrell says. 60;We57;re seeking to demonstrate, especially to countries with Islamic populations, that people in the United States have respect for their societies and want to learn about them.61;
Uptick in Arabic studies
For years, U.S. students didn57;t learn much about Arabic. In 2002, the latest nationwide figures available, 10,584 students were studying Arabic, whether as a major or an elective. That was a 92% increase from 1998 but still amounted to fewer than 1% of all students enrolled in foreign language courses in 2002, according to a report by the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages.
The Department of Education is spending about $10 million this year for language study centers based in the Middle East, U.S. language development centers and scholarships for study abroad. The Pentagon is spending $3.6 million for Middle East language scholarships and other language programs. Some of the money is tied to promises that students will commit to jobs in national security.
The State Department handles the bulk of federal money for language scholarships through its Fulbright programs for undergraduates and scholars. Last year, the department spent $86 million on Fulbright and other programs out of a total education and cultural exchange budget of $231 million. Not all of that $86 million was focused on Muslim countries, however.
Concerned that no one coordinates the federal programs, a group of senators52;including Dodd, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii52;wants to start a National Foreign Language Coordination Council.
For now, U.S. military and intelligence agencies compete with one another for a small pool of qualified candidates. Arabic professor John Walbridge of the University of Indiana is worried about the push to fill hiring quotas.
60;They57;re desperate for people,61; Walbridge says. 60;They57;re recruiting people who by no reasonable standard are ready to do intelligence work using Arabic.61;
[From USA Today, June 20, 2005]
TERROR WAR STILL SHORT ON LINGUISTS
(By John Diamond)
WASHINGTON.52;Nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the federal government has created a profusion of programs to train students in languages and cultures important in the war on terrorism. But government leaders and language experts say the effort is an uncoordinated jumble too slow to produce measurable results.
60;We57;re not there, and we57;re not moving fast enough,61; says Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Since 9/11, Congress and the White House have pumped money into new and existing programs for training in Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages and cultures. Annual spending has jumped from about $41 million in 2001 to $100 million today. While the funding and programs have grown, the results are, so far, insufficient, according to Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. The government needs to hire 34,000 foreign-language specialists, particularly Arabic speakers, for homeland security, defense and intelligence agencies, he says.
The effort to produce more speakers of Arabic and other languages of the Islamic world is needed because many Americans fluent in these languages have difficulty getting security clearances if they have relatives in the region. Producing a 60;homegrown61; speaker of Arabic, with its different alphabet and many dialects, can take 10 years, says professor John Walbridge of the University of Indiana, 60;if you apply
No government agency coordinates this effort, and there are no readily available statistics on how many students get federal money intended to produce more speakers of Arabic, Urdu and other strategic languages and more experts on the Islamic world.
Based on public records and interviews with relevant officials, about $9.5 million in federal money goes to programs designed specifically to produce job candidates for U.S. intelligence and other national security agencies. Only about 40% of that total, roughly $3.8 million, is focused on the Middle East.
The number of students in these programs52;named for current and former chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee52;is modest: 150 in the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program and 230 in the David Boren Scholarship program. About one-third of the students focus on Middle Eastern languages.
60;Someone in the executive branch has got to say, Here57;s where we are today, here57;s where we want to be in five years, and here57;s what it57;s going to take to get there,61; 57; says Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who served on the federal commission that investigated 9/11. That panel pointed out last year that only six students received undergraduate degrees in Arabic in 2002.
Walbridge and other Arabic scholars agree that living in the Middle East is essential to becoming fluent. But the number of Americans studying in predominantly Muslim countries has remained about the same as pre-Sept. 11 levels. In 2002-03, the most recent year for which figures are available, fewer than 1,300 Americans were studying in Muslim countries, or less than 1% of the Americans studying abroad.
60;As a nation, we just don57;t have any sort of organized language policy, and it shows,61; says Kirk Belnap, director of a federally funded National Middle Eat Language Resource Center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
[From the Federal Times, June 20, 2005]
DOES ANYONE HERE SPEAK ARABIC? OR FARSI, OR PASHTO . . . THE GOVERNMENT57;S PUSH TO CLOSE THE LANGUAGE GAP
(By Tichakorn Hill)
When a congressman asked David Kay, the former head of the U.S. team searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, how many on his 1,400-person team spoke Arabic and understood the technology of weapons of mass destruction, the answer was discouraging.
60;I could count on the fingers of one hand,61; Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., recalled Kay as saying about a year ago.
Similarly, Holt asked special forces who were combing through Afghan mountain ranges for Osama bin Laden how many of them spoke the local language of Pashto. They said they picked up a little while they were there.
60;If Osama bin Laden is truly American public enemy No. 1, how do we expect to track him down if we cannot speak the languages of the people who are hiding him?61; Holt said.
Whether it is military troops, intelligence analysts, translators, interpreters, or just federal employees delivering services to an increasingly diverse American population, there is a troubling shortage of people with foreign language skills. And the shortage is most critical in Middle Eastern and South Asian languages: Arabic; Pashto; Dari, which is spoken in Afghanistan; Farsi, spoken in Iran; Kurdish, spoken in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Armenia and Syria; and Urdu, spoken in India and Pakistan.
The consequences, say experts, are disturbing. The problem threatens government efforts to keep the peace and rebuild infrastructure in Iraq, translate foreign documents and interpret foreign conversations that could prove to be valuable intelligence, explain U.S. policies to foreign populations, investigate terrorists, and track down illegal aliens.
The shortage of linguists 60;makes our mission of representing the American people that much harder,61; said John Limbert, president of the American Foreign Service Association and a former ambassador to Mauritania. 60;Most of that mission involves communication52;speaking and listening to what others are telling us. I don57;t see how we can do that without knowing the language of those with whom we are
The Defense and State departments, intelligence agencies, the FBI and many other agencies were suffering severe shortages of linguists even before 9/11. The FBI, for example, complained to Congress in 2000 that it had large stockpiles of audio tapes and documents awaiting translation. The Defense Department didn57;t have a single Dari-speaking employee. And it had only one Marine and one sailor who spoke Pashto.
Kevin Hendzel, a spokesman for the American Translators Association, estimates it will take intelligence agencies between 10 and 15 years to catch up in translating tons of materials recovered from Iraq and Afghanistan. 60;As a society, we pay a huge price for not being competent in foreign languages. This is particularly true in the national security area where the people who want to do us harm do not speak English,61; he said.
Federal agencies are expected to hire more than 10,000 contract and staff linguists this year.
But while hiring of linguists since 9/11 has exploded, it still hasn57;t kept pace with the government57;s needs52;especially for people who know Arabic and South Asian languages.
Federal managers blame the American education system.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, out of 2 million college graduates in 2004, only 17 earned bachelor57;s or advanced degrees in Arabic. Only 206 earned degrees in Chinese, the world57;s most popular language.
60;Academia is not producing enough of the right kind of linguists fast enough,61; said an FBI official. 60;And we simply cannot wait for the education system to catch up.61;
But the government is trying to kick-start the system. Last year the Defense Department began awarding grants to universities for foreign language studies in Chinese, Arabic, Korean and Russian.
And in Congress, Holt introduced this year the National Security Language Act, which would subsidize colleges and universities that teach critical languages and offer intensive study programs overseas. The bill, which has 43 cosponsors, also would repay student loans for those who study critical foreign languages and then work for federal agencies or as elementary or secondary school language teachers.
The recruiting challenge
In their rush to recruit people with hard-to-find language skills, agency managers are trying a variety of tactics.
They hold job fairs in minority communities, such as Arabic communities in California and Michigan. They advertise in foreign-language newspapers, offer thousands of dollars in sign-up bonuses, and recruit at colleges and universities where needed languages are taught.
But there are a lot of factors working against them. One is stiff competition for a limited pool of candidates.
60;We57;re always in competition with other federal agencies and the private sector for that talent,61; said Reginald Wells, deputy commissioner for human resources at the Social Security Administration.
Many candidates are foreign-born and foreign-educated, which presents another challenge for agencies trying to verify their credentials.
And as if finding people who speak difficult languages is not difficult enough, finding people who know those languages at a professional or technical level is even harder.
60;Many of our assignments are highly technical and they [native speakers] simply do not have vocabulary to move between the two languages. That57;s where our challenges lie,61; said Brenda Spraque, the director of Office of Language Services at the State Department.
Not all candidates who meet the grade want to work for, say, the Foreign Service and be posted far from their families, said Nancy Serpa, former director of the Human Resources for Recruitment, Examination and Employment at the State Department.
60;The Foreign Service is not a career for everyone, and finding people who want to spend their career overseas away from their family is very difficult to begin with, even though we have a lot of people who take the Foreign Service test,61; Serpa said.
National Security Agency managers find that many candidates are reluctant to move even to the agency57;s Maryland headquarters.
60;We may be successful in attracting people to the type of work we do and the opportunities and possibilities we have available, but we57;re not always successful in encouraging them to move to Columbia or Baltimore,61; said John Taflan, NSA human resources director.
Getting new employees a security clearance is another hurdle.
60;We require, for all our full-time positions and even some of our contract positions, that people have the ability to obtain a security clearance, and that57;s become extremely difficult for those who are naturalized American citizens,61; Spraque said. 60;That limits your pool to a large extent.61;
Despite the recruiting challenges, agencies have been hiring.
Since 9/11, the FBI has hired nearly 1,000 linguists and plans to hire 274 more next fiscal year. Currently it has nearly 1,400 contract and full-time linguists who speak 100 languages. Ninety-five of those linguists are native speakers of their languages. The bureau increased its linguists by 69 percent and the number of those in critical languages, such as Arabic, increasing by 200 percent.
The State Department this year is hiring nearly 400 Foreign Service generalists, many of whom will get training to speak another language. It57;s also hiring translators and interpreters. Many of those new hires will staff new embassies in Baghdad, Iraq, and Kabul, Afghanistan; and a new liaison office in Tripoli, Libya. Currently the department has about 7,000 employees speaking 60 languages working in the United States and at 265 posts abroad.
Likewise, the National Security Agency is aggressively recruiting: Currently at 35,000 employees, the agency plans to hire 1,500 people every year until 2010, and many will become language analysts. It offers sign-up bonuses of up to 20 percent of a person57;s salary for those who speak critical languages. NSA also hires 50 to 200 bilinguals a year whom it then trains to speak a third language.
The shortage of linguists prompted the Defense Department to overhaul its language program. The department in April unveiled a plan, called the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, to build up its foreign language skills. It includes directing money to colleges and universities to teach languages. Also, the department plans to invest $45 million more than current levels52;$195 million in fiscal 200652;in its Defense Language Institute. The department also will build a database of active-duty personnel, civilians, reservists and retirees who speak foreign languages.60;9/11 really changed our whole orientation to understand that this is a major issue that57;s going to be with us for a long time,61; said Gail McGinn, Defense deputy undersecretary for plans. 60;It57;s going to take a long time to solve it.61;
Today, Defense has nearly 84,000 military linguists who speak about 250 languages and dialects52;up from 72,000 in 2000. The military services plan to train about 2,300 linguists this year. The Air Force is the most active and plans to train 1,500 military linguists this year.
Agencies that cannot hire or train enough people with foreign language skills borrow them from other agencies or contract for them.
Congress in 2003 also created the National Virtual Translation Center, an interagency clearinghouse that lets agencies share translators with each other or to seek the services of translators in the private sector and academia. The center also performs translation work for intelligence agencies.
Federal contracting for people with language skills has taken off since 9/11. But as demand has shot up, so have labor rates.
Before 9/11, a linguist speaking Arabic might get paid $15 or $20 an hour. Now, rates are about double that. And for those with security clearances and expertise, rates are up to between $70 and $80 an hour. A contract linguist working in Iraq now can make $150,000 a year, Hendzel said.
Not all agencies are willing to pay so much, he said. Some want to settle for $20 an hour and hire someone who can speak a foreign language but may not be certified or have experience or expertise in a particular field. By doing that, Hendzel said agencies risk getting poor-quality work that could undermine their missions.
60;Mistranslation or distortion are as dangerous as a lack of translation,61; he said.
Mr. AKAKA. We all understand the importance of language education and cultural understanding in this country; we just need to figure out how we make it happen. I am confident the National Foreign Language Coordination Council will provide the needed leadership and coordination to reach our goal.
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