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Language at the Intersection

Kathy Stein Smith reflects on Virtual Language Advocacy Days 2022, February 2-4, 2022

“Each year, JNCL-NCLIS delegates and dedicated language advocates across the country unite to meet with Members of Congress and promote the importance of language education and international studies.” 

I was delighted to be able to attend the well-organized and well-attended JNCL Virtual Language Advocacy Days, LAD 2022.

For language advocates and stakeholders everywhere, LAD is in many ways the high point of the year, bringing together a broad cross-section of educators, government officials, and many others to discuss the current status of language learning and language use in the US and to explore future directions in promoting and defending languages and multilingualism.

“Located in Washington, D.C., the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) is a mission-driven membership organization representing a national network of +300,000 professionals and specialists from the education, non-profit and industry sectors.

​Our trusted language policy team empowers our members to raise awareness of the benefits of multilingualism to Congress. We speak language policy.”

Reflecting this broad stakeholder constituency, keynote speakers included Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Carlos José Pérez Sámano, First Artist in Residence, Penn Museum, Juliana Urtubey, NBCT, 2021 National Teacher of the Year, Roxana Norouzi, OneAmerica, and closing speakers Rep. Price (D-NC) & Rep. Young (R-AK), America’s Languages Caucus Co-Chairs.

Other events during the 3-day program included the welcome address on the theme, “Languages at the Intersection,” a heartfelt tribute to the late John Carlino, executive director of NYSAFLT and NECTFL and member at large of the JNCL executive committee, and the awards ceremony. This year’s award winners included Dennis Looney (James E. Alatis Founder’s Award), Michele, Anciaux Aoki (J. David Edwards Power of Advocacy Award), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). (Rush D. Holt Award for Language Service to the Nation).

The opportunity for LAD participants to visit with the offices of elected officials – Congressional representatives and US Senators formed the heart of the LAD program, with meetings scheduled throughout Day 2, with specific language asks and a request for our elected representatives to join the Language Caucus, central to the entire LAD program.

While it was a busy 3-day program, the takeaways extended beyond the information and inspiration of the keynotes, awards, and legislative visits, and the opportunities to connect with like-minded language professionals and stakeholders.

Despite our multilingual past and present, relatively few US students study additional languages, often due to a lack of access and opportunity. Foreign language programs in our elementary and middle schools, as well as in our colleges and universities, have declined in recent years. While online programs have increased, they are not yet sufficient to meet the needs of many learners who cannot attend an onsite program. Affordability is another key issue, with support for low-cost community-based programs and funding for fees and tuition needed.

We are truly a multilingual world and society, and – while much has been accomplished, and much is being done – there is so much yet to do both to honor our linguistic heritage and to ensure the future of America’s and the world’s languages. Congratulations to JNCL for a wonderful and inspirational event, and many thanks to the entire JNCL team for their tireless efforts to defend and promote language learning and use in the US.

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