The world is changing. Between political conflict and economic competition, the way we relate to other countries has shifted; however, few schools have changed their language instruction. Most high school students can choose from Spanish, Italian, French, German, or Latin. Very few high schools, almost none of them public schools, offer what the U.S. Department of State considers the largest “critical languages”: Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, Korean, Persian, Russian, or Turkish. The government actively recruits speakers of these languages, and they even offer scholarships for students to study them in-country.
Colleges are doing a better job of addressing the need for language skills, with many offering intensive courses in a few critical languages. Still, the government has recognized that many smaller nations are beginning to play a critical role in the world, whether because they are growing their economies or because of political and social conflict. Only twelve universities in the United States offer Pashto, the language of Afghanistan, and only five go beyond the elementary level. This implies that the government has had to train hundreds of people—an expensive proposition—and rely on native speakers over the course of our conflict.
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