The U.S. Department of State has launched a new website, languages.state.gov, with the intention of developing a “new generation of critical language speakers.” The website aims to be a one-stop platform for U.S. government language program resources, where U.S. Americans can take a quiz to identify language programs that fit their goals and explore U.S. government scholarships and other resources. The website will categorize the language programs offered by the U.S. government by several criteria, including course length, location, and audience.
The focus is on enhancing the ability of U.S. Americans to study critical languages, which in turn will help the U.S. meet national security goals. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo accompanied the launch with an opinion article in Newsweek (Oct. 15, 2020), where he argued, “we should follow the example set by our farsighted predecessors. That’s why I’ve directed the State Department to ramp up critical-language study, beginning with Mandarin but also encompassing other critical languages such as Russian, Hindi, Arabic, and Farsi.”
Pompeo continued, “Deeper knowledge of languages—and of the peoples and nations who speak them that such knowledge brings—can illuminate otherwise unseen threats and lower the likelihood of open conflict. It can bring into focus hidden opportunities for cooperation and enhance appreciation of a nation’s internal politics. Additionally, among friends, it can expand the trust and broaden the sympathies that already exist, which are crucial to an effective partnership.”
According to Pompeo, his department is expanding programs in advanced Mandarin and increasing the incentives for diplomats to pursue extra years of study, including increasing the number of U.S. Americans studying Chinese outside of China once travel restrictions are lifted.
The secretary also called on Congress to pass legislation that would create ROTC-style college tuition vouchers for critical-language study, which he described as a “national imperative.”
The article concluded with a call to action: “One often-overlooked form of influence is the vigor and finesse in foreign affairs that comes from understanding our strategic competitors, as well as friends and partners, in the languages that formed their opinions, outlooks, and plans. There’s no time to waste.”