Foreign Languages: Tongue-Tied Americans

September 19, 1980

Report Outline
Misgivings of a ‘Tongue-Tied’ Nation
Bilingualism and American Society
Recommendations and Outlook
Special Focus

Misgivings of a ‘Tongue-Tied’ Nation

Criticism from a Presidential Commission

The image of the provincial American is no longer funny; it has become a national concern. A number of prominent politicians, diplomats and educators are attributing some of the country's international woes to Americans' ignorance of the cultures and languages of other peoples. They deplore the nation's deficiency in foreign language training and suggest that perhaps the Vietnam War, the seizure of American hostages in Iran and other incidents could have been avoided if Americans had a better understanding of the world. This has sparked a national movement to expand foreign language training in U.S. schools and universities.

In a report published late last year, the President's Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies concluded that “Americans' incompetence in foreign languages is nothing short of scandalous, and it is becoming worse.” Foreign language training is vital to “the nation's security,” the commission said. “At a time when the resurgent forces of nationalism and of ethnic and linguistic consciousness so directly affect global realities,” it stated, “the United States requires far more reliable capacities to communicate with its allies, analyze the behavior of potential adversaries, and earn the trust and the sympathies of the uncommitted. Yet there is a widening gap between these needs and the American competence to understand and deal successfully with other peoples in a world of flux.”

The commission said foreign language training also would be useful in improving America's balance of trade. At a time of growing global competition, the commission said, American businessmen need to rally all the advantages they can summon, including the ability to speak the customer's tongue.

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
Bilingual and Multicultural Education
Diplomacy and Diplomats