Foreign Language Study

September 24, 1958

Report Outline
Rising Demand for American Linguists
Neglect of Language Study in Schools
New Emphasis on Language Instruction

Rising Demand for American Linguists

Passage of the National Defense Education Act of (Sept. 2) 1958 may help to ease a critical shortage of accomplished linguists in this country. The new law is unique among general education acts in that it singles out the study of modern foreign languages, along with mathematics and science, for special consideration. The statute's provisions in aid of language instruction were added in recognition of handicaps the United States labors under from neglect of this kind of study. Reports that Russia is rich in linguists with a command not only of the major tongues of Europe but also of languages spoken in key countries of Africa and of Asia bolstered support for the measure.

The United States formerly showed little or no concern over its linguistic shortcomings. Ability on the part of the country's diplomats, for example, to speak the languages of countries to which they were assigned was not considered as important as it is today. Since World War II, however, American inferiority in language skills has become a serious hindrance to smooth conduct of foreign relations. The State Department and the armed services have sought to correct the deficiency by giving intensive language training to selected personnel, but there is still an acute shortage of linguists.

New Funds for Teaching of Foreign Languages

It is hoped that funds granted under the new law will give added impetus to a widespread drive to improve and extend language courses in the schools. Resurgent interest in teaching of foreign languages, after decades of relegation to the educational background, is already affecting the content of school programs at all levels from the first group on up. If the present trend continues, it is expected that within ten years there will be a sizable crop of high school and college graduates who can speak and understand the most widely used foreign languages.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Bilingual Education and ESL
Dec. 11, 2009  Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion
Nov. 17, 2000  Future of Language
Jan. 19, 1996  Debate Over Bilingualism
Aug. 13, 1993  Bilingual Education
Mar. 11, 1988  Bilingual Education: Does It Work?
Sep. 19, 1980  Foreign Languages: Tongue-Tied Americans
Aug. 19, 1977  Bilingual Education
Sep. 24, 1958  Foreign Language Study
Education Policy