The Many Benefits of Foreign Language Education and Learning – Part III


Now that we have already explored the many health and social benefits of foreign language education and learning, it is time to look at the third and final set of arguments: those related to economic benefits. I decided to leave this set for last since it is the one to probably carry the most weight and, if not, it is the one which definitely has veto power when it comes to discussions on foreign language education and learning.


Forging a Globally Competitive Workforce at Reduced Costs

1. Well-designed dual-language and language immersion programs can reduce costs related to foreign language education when compared to traditional foreign language education methods.

How can this possibly happen? Such programs are cost-effective because no additional teachers or materials would be needed exclusively for language instruction. Consequently, all that would change is the profile of teachers needed since they would have to be bilingual or multilingual. Moreover, for those subjects taught in a foreign language, rather than purchasing books in English, schools would be required to purchase books in the target language.

So, to put this argument more simply, it is like killing two birds with one stone. This is perhaps the most marketable of all arguments, considering that language education is constantly affected by national budget cuts under the argument that it is not a principal educational priority.

2. Knowing a foreign language (or foreign languages) is a practical and no longer optional skill for success in the present globalized, national and international, economy.

Let’s start off with some interesting facts which provide us with some context: The language industry employs more than 200,000 Americans, who earn an annual median wage of $80,000, as reported by the Joint National Committee for Languages reports that. Moreover, according to Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the International and Foreign Language Education (IFLE) Office at the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), one in five jobs in the U.S. are linked to international trade.

These figures are very important because they highlight the size of the language industry as well as that of those indirectly related to it and their incredible employment and economic impact. But what is even more astonishing perhaps is the fact that foreign languages, as a skill, are now required more and more outside of these industries, and instead in specialized fields such as engineering, medicine and technology. Kirsten Brecht-Baker, the founder of Global Professional Search, is quoted in Amelia Friedman’s article entitled “America’s Lacking Language Skills,” warning that there is a “global war for talent.” She argues that the U.S. will most likely need to import human capital due to American professionals’ lacking language skills, since just having specializations in such fields will no longer suffice in the job market.

In Melinda D. Anderson’s “The Economic Imperative of Bilingual Education,” Marty Abbott, the Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, explains that “the Anglophone factor and Americans believing that English is good enough to get along” are the primary factors why the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in producing a multilingual workforce. I hope that with this blog post that notion has been discredited.