In this issue of the FLTMAG, Shannon interviewed Betty Rose Facer. She is Master Lecturer in French and Director of the Language Learning Center in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Old Dominion University. She has been participating in JNCL and Language Advocacy Day, representing both IALLT and CALICO, in Washington DC for 15 years.
Thank you, Betty Rose, for agreeing to talk to us about language advocacy.
What is language advocacy? Why is it important? How did you become interested in advocacy personally?
Betty Rose: Language advocacy is an effort to bring awareness to world languages and cultures. It is a vision of “Languages for All” where every American has access to a second language. Language advocacy helps us to engage on matters of policy with our elected officials at the national, state, and local levels from the unique perspective of teaching professionals, government, non-profits, and industry experts. Moreover, language advocacy is a call to share our narrative and the inspiring success stories from our classrooms and our communities. At the very core, advocacy raises our consciousness and continues a dialogue that ultimately contributes to a better understanding of others, attitudes, diversity, acceptance, and respect. Just as in so many other parts of our lives, we need to collectively speak up for what is right and fair, and language advocacy helps us to engage in these important dialogues on behalf of our students and our communities.
I have always engaged in advocacy for any number of worthy causes – environmental issues, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular research, the humanities, and my passion for teaching French language and cultures. In addition, I share a similar passion for politics and so being an Official Delegate to the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) is a natural fit and an absolute thrill for me. I learned the importance of politics, voting, and advocacy from my parents at a remarkably young age. And although their votes were cast in silence, their actions spoke volumes. My family instilled in me the value of community engagement, how to make a difference and influence change for the better. My first participation in activism was a family affair in our hometown of Penfield, New York. Our local Hike for Hope raised awareness and a great deal of money to provide medical care and education to underdeveloped parts of the world. Activism naturally continued to be part of my undergraduate and graduate life, much as it is to this day.
We all know how languages and study abroad experiences can change our lives! In that sense, I have been extremely fortunate in my life, studies, career, and travels to the south of France, and I want the same choices and experiences for others. I want to see more options accessible to all. I think that at times there is a tendency to forget the lack of world language choices offered in rural and low socio-economic schools, how long sequential and well-articulated programs are key to learning a world language, there is a shortage of language professionals and resources, the essential need to represent fair pay to translators and interpreters, and that all languages are important. Discussions with our legislative representatives in Washington, DC remind us of the value of world languages and cultures and continuing that dialogue is everyone’s collective responsibility.
What is JNCL-NCLIS? What does JNCL-NCLIS do?
Betty Rose: The Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) represent more than 300,000 professional members from education (K-12 to Higher Education), the non-profit and industry sectors. JNCL-NCLIS works in tandem to raise awareness about the importance of world languages, diversity, and cultures. JNCL is the tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1972 as an informal coalition of several national teaching associations and was established as a non-profit education policy association in 1981. JNCL has represented language policy for nearly fifty years and continues to advance language and international studies by working with members to identify needs and set policy priorities; raise awareness of language as a profession with the public, government, business and media; and disseminates actionable information on language policy. NCLIS was established nearly a decade later in 1981 and is a non-partisan trade council that lobbies on behalf of language and international studies with the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government. NCLIS monitors budget and legislation to maintain and augment funding for language and international education; works with Congress and the Executive Branch to translate JNCL-NCLIS priorities into legislative and policy initiatives; informs members of developments affecting languages and international education; facilitates state and local support, and works with member organizations to develop effective advocacy plans. Together, JNCL-NCLIS members will celebrate forty years of association and advocacy in 2021!
The mission of JNCL-NCLIS is quite clear: to (1) ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to learn and use English and at least one other language, (2) advance the language profession in the U.S. and (3) raise awareness about the importance of language and international education to the national interest. The goals of JNCL-NCLIS are to facilitate the free movement of people, information, and ideas; build up mutual understanding and acceptance of cultural and linguistic diversity; and promote the personal development of the individual.
JNCL-NCLIS is a growing network that covers all areas of the language field, including research, technology, translation, interpretation, localization, assessment, and others. Language advocacy is a bipartisan effort that happens year-round.
What happens on Language Advocacy Day?
Betty Rose: The annual Language Advocacy Day (LAD) is incredibly exhilarating and I look forward to it all year! This is a major event where JNCL’s Official Delegates and language advocates from across the nation converge on Capitol Hill to more fully collaborate with one other and to meet as a state delegation with their respective Senators, Congressional Representatives, and staff members. These scheduled meetings focus on the current legislative priorities or “Asks.” And while we have a limited amount of time for discussion on three to four priorities, it is essential to realize that there are many pieces of legislation for world languages in the works.
Our fruitful discussions with Senators, Congressional Representatives, or staff members provide dedicated time to discuss, educate, listen, and learn more about what is needed to help the profession. It’s a unique opportunity to tell our stories about what is working best for our students or to explain the need for more funding for certain agencies and programs. In truth, we are the experts that the staffers rely on to become better informed on the issues that can ultimately lead to real action. In my view as a constituent, that is an awesome responsibility! These meetings can last anywhere from 45 minutes around a conference table to 10-15 minutes on the stairwell in the halls of Congress. Things are very fluid on Capitol Hill and we always remain respectful of the precious time we have with our elected officials and staff members.
Language Advocacy Day 2020 was a complete success. As an example, the congressional visits that took place earlier this year in February included 128 House meetings, 92 Senate meetings, more than 3 external meetings, with 185 attendees representing 46 states in the nation. That is an amazing representation for world languages and cultures on the Hill! We ask for co-sponsorship on legislation, request funding, discuss priorities and appropriations, and hold our elected officials accountable with continued follow-up information. Certain state delegations, like Virginia, are quite large and have many official delegates representing K-12, higher education, the language industry, non-profits, and business while other delegations may have fewer members. Regardless, we are all having the essential conversations on world languages. JNCL-NCLIS follows up on all of our meetings with Senators and Members of Congress to provide additional information and remains in contact with each office.
JNCL-NCLIS provides Official Delegates with lobbying materials and workshops, as well as an overview to the current proposed legislation in preparation for our meetings on the Hill. Some delegates are asked to meet with other agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Department of Education. As part of an external meeting, I have had the great honor to join the JNCL delegation to visit the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) where Senior Program Officers described their particular division and possible grants to include world languages and cultures.
The Delegate Assembly immediately follows the Language Advocacy Day. This offers an opportunity to more fully review congressional debriefings on Capitol Hill, develop policy recommendations, listen to panel discussions, review organizational finances and elections, and hear committee reports that help advance the mission and goals of JNCL-NCLIS. Although JNCL-NCLIS may meet once a year for Language Advocacy Day and the Delegate Assembly, the fine work by members of the organization continues year-round.
What have been some successes of language advocacy in recent years?
Betty Rose: I am very proud and pleased to report on some of the many successes of JNCL that are a having a significant impact.
Most recently in July of this year and with good reason for celebration, the Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching (BEST) Act (H.R. 3119) passed in the House of Representatives as part of the William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2021. Congresswoman Julia Brownley [D-CA-26] sponsored the BEST Act that creates a federal grant program to help states create and implement a Seal of Biliteracy program that encourages and recognizes high school-level students who achieve proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in both English and at least one other language. This will better prepare students to succeed in a global economy and workforce. The State Seal of Biliteracy has been established in 40 states and the District of Columbia. There is now a Senate companion bill (S. 3328).
One of my favorite pieces of legislation is The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Reauthorization Act (S. 256) that passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and became public law in December 2019 and is now reauthorized through 2024. Another reason to celebrate! It revises a grant program administered by the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services to preserve Native American Languages. It will ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages.
The World Languages Advancement and Readiness Grant Program was signed into law on December 20, 2019 as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Originally introduced in February 2017 and re-introduced by Representatives David Price [D-NC-4] and Don Young [R-AK-At Large] as the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act (H.R. 1094), advocates now have good reason to rejoice in the first-time funding of $15 million by the House Appropriations Committee made on July 13, 2020. The law establishes a competitive grant program to support world languages education in K-12 schools – the first new K-12 program since FLAP. These will establish high-quality world language programs, provide effective use of technology, and provide professional development. It is important to keep in mind that the World Language Advancement and Readiness Grant Program became the first piece of federal legislation in a generation that addressed the language needs of the nation. The next step will be the Senate.
We celebrate the establishment of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on America’s Languages in November 2019 chaired by Representatives David Price [D-NC-04] and Don Young [R-AK-At Large] to support and enhance world language competency and international education among students and professionals across the U.S. This was a direct result of the recommendations from Commission on Language Learning report by the Academy of Arts and Sciences, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century.” The Caucus plans to raise awareness, ensure adequate resources, and focus on access for students and educators who wish to participate in these fields of study. We applaud the current twenty-one U.S. Representatives who have joined the Caucus.
The introduction of The World Language Teacher Student Debt Reduction Act is a bill that extends equity in student loan forgiveness for World Language Teachers sponsored by Abigail Spanberger [D-VA]. It would increase Pell Grant Loan Forgiveness amount from $5,000 to $17,500 – the same amount that teachers of Math, Science and Special Ed experience. This creates equity, addresses teacher recruitment and retention.
I always discuss the Title VI (domestic)/Fulbright-Hays (overseas), in the U.S. Department of Education, because these IFLE programs are designed to strengthen instruction in world languages and international studies and provide professional development opportunities for educators with grant and fellowship programs. These programs highlight Language Resource Centers and study abroad opportunities that develop language and research capabilities. Under the Title VI of the Higher Education Act (HEA), IFLE administers domestic programs that provide a variety of grants to institutions of higher education. Title VI programs support Language Resource Centers across the nation. These LRCs create a network of resources that promote teaching and learning of world languages. Each center specializes in a specific area of research, teaching materials, digital tools and resources, assessment, professional development, initiatives for less commonly taught languages, K-12 initiatives, and outreach and dissemination. I am a big supporter of these centers and have benefitted tremendously from their expertise for many years, including the short courses offered through the National Foreign Language Resource Center at the University of Mānoa (High-Leverage Teaching Practices and Project Based Language Learning, Selecting and Adapting Materials for Online Language Learning and Teaching) and the Social Media Workshop summer workshop at the Language Acquisition Resource Center at San Diego State University (former LRC). I continue to rely on many of the high quality Open Educational Resources produced by these LRCs. The professional development opportunities remain essential for world language teachers and I encourage everyone to consult this resource.
Contributions to the language industry include legislation to restrict the use of LPTA (Lowest Price Technically Acceptable model) and support the Tradeoff Model. The Modern Worker Empowerment Act (H.R. 4069, S. 2983) was a bill introduced to harmonize federal employee classification schemes, allowing flexibility for the Translators and Interpreters to retain their status as independent professionals. It is important to note here that the Language Industry, including translation, interpreting, localization, and more employs more than 200,000 Americans full-time and accounts for at least $40 billion per year revenue in the U.S. economy.
The collaborative effort by CALICO and IALLT to contribute to the “World Languages and Technology” Policy Paper on technology and languages to the White House, Office of Science and Technology Policy was an enormous success in 2014. This was later used as part of the ACTFL statement on Technology.
Funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) increased by some $7.75 million is a great success. I am an enthusiastic supporter of NEH and I am pleased to see that Congress continues to make it a priority with federal funding through grants that have a real impact. Moreover, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included special stimulus funding for NEH to provide emergency relief to humanities institutions affected by the pandemic. The new NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations program distributed $30 million to better support educational and cultural institutions challenged by the pandemic, including libraries, museums, and universities.
What are the biggest challenges that language advocates are facing? What are some national challenges? Do you know of any state or local challenges that JNCL-NCLIS has helped with?
Betty Rose: JNCL members have been instrumental in changing the mindset of how world languages and cultures are viewed. This has happened over many years of engaging with elected officials and their staff on Capitol Hill. In addition to national security and economic benefits of world languages, there is growing appreciation for the enhanced cognitive benefits, critical thinking skills, and contributions to a global economy. In fact, more employers want to have the valuable language skills and intercultural competencies in potential employees (JNCL’s Global Talent Survey, 2015). A major challenge will continue to be the economic impact of the coronavirus on the language industry’s companies and freelancers, including essential services provided by interpreters working in healthcare, court systems, and public services.
There are additional challenges facing our communities. The High School CODES Act was a serious threat to the integrity of high school language programs in every state in the nation. The CODES Act and other bills like it amend the Perkins Act and incentivize the replacement of world language education in local education agencies. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, an amendment to the Perkins Act would have equated world language credits with computer coding credits as a requirement for high school graduation and state college entrance requirements. JNCL strongly opposes limiting students’ opportunities to world language education and worked with state language organizations to defeat proposed state legislation. We can acknowledge the value of both 21st century skills, but one skill should not replace the other. In the Commonwealth of Virginia and Maryland, this bill continues to resurface.
There is much concern certainly for humanities funding across the federal government and the efforts to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an example. NEH provides essential support for research, public programs, education, and preservation in the humanities through competitive grants to educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and individual scholars. It is an independent federal agency authorized by Congress through passage of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965. There are several grant programs appropriate for world language and cultures initiatives.
JNCL works diligently to keep up the standards of the industry. For example, JNCL-NCLIS has worked with chapters of the American Translators Association in Texas to defeat a bill that would have lowered the passing score on the Texas Court Interpreters Certification Examination from 70% to 60%. In a similar vein, advocacy efforts by JNCL-NCLIS to amend California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a bill designed to reclassify independent contractors as employees, are reshaping policy to support the language industry. An amendment to AB5 would provide an exemption for professional interpreters and translators.
It is necessary to reflect more deeply on the key recommendations of the Commission on Language Learning by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAA&S) to increase the number of language teachers, supplement language instruction across the education system, support heritage language learners, support Native American languages, and promote opportunities for study abroad. The decades-long shortage of qualified teachers is a threat to our communities. This includes a world language and bilingual K-12 teacher shortage. Referring back to the AAA&S Commission on Language Learning and the final report, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century, one of the key findings of this report stated: “One of the biggest obstacles to improved language learning is a national shortage of qualified teachers. Forty-four states and Washington, D.C., report that they cannot find enough qualified teachers to meet current needs, but every school district in the nation responds to the teacher shortage in its own way (by cutting classes, by combining classes, by contracting before- or after-school enrichment programs, to name a few). We need better information about these district-level responses to attach a specific number to the national teacher shortage, and encourage any study that advances our knowledge of the size and scope” (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2017).
JNCL is always available to assist by providing consultation, developing advocacy materials, writing letters, and training advocates.
For people who don’t have a lot of time but want to help, what is the first step that they could take to help advocate for languages in the United States?
Betty Rose: There are certainly opportunities to take action at every level and from simple to more dedicated time commitments.
(1) Become familiar with the JNCL-NCLIS mission and know that there are official delegates making a difference on behalf of the world language profession. Register on the new JNCL-NCLIS Legislative Action Center (https://www.languagepolicy.org/take-action) to receive timely alerts on important legislation. This is the quickest and easiest way to remain up-to-date on and involved in language advocacy.
(2) Educate yourself on the legislation and policies for world languages. Stay informed of the issues at the national, state and local levels.
(3) Write to your elected officials and encourage them to make sound decisions that promote world language legislation. Constituents can write their state and local representatives on important issues that come to a vote. As a constituent, everyone has a powerful voice. Pre-composed letters on pertinent issues are made available through the JNCL-NCLIS Legislative Action Center and simply require a constituent’s name and address. These electronic letters reach our representatives and make them aware of the issues. The more we voice concerns as a collective group, the more chances we have to influence and champion change.
(4) Share your personal world language story. The JNCL-NCLIS website offers space to describe how languages have changed your life. Encourage your students to share their experiences with the ACTFL “Lead with Languages” Campaign. Ask your representatives to share their stories. Interview them or ask them to be a featured guest on a student run podcast series.
(5) Send your elected officials information on the impressive accomplishments you and your students have made in and outside of class. Perhaps you have been awarded a research grant that will significantly contribute to the field. Creative newsletters are also quite valuable and effective in this regard.
(6) Invite your representatives and staff members to your institution for a visit. Ask them to visit your classroom to speak on the importance of world language education and what this can mean for students. Virtual events may be a possibility during the coronavirus pandemic.
(7) Attend local school board meetings to discuss the importance of world languages. Share with parents the success stories and value of learning another language.
(8) Meet your elected officials in your hometown. Your senators and representatives return home when Congress is not in session. Take the opportunity to meet them at special gatherings and virtual events. Schedule a visit to meet with your member of Congress in your district. Attend their virtual events.
(9) Write an op-ed or a letter to the editor for a local news outlet. Share your experiences in support of world language learning and teaching.
(10) Encourage friends, family, and colleagues to get involved. Consider joining JNCL-NCLIS as an official delegate through your organization. Register to join us for the virtual Language Advocacy Days 2021 that will take place on February 3-5. All are welcome to attend LAD.
What are some of the legislative priorities for 2020-2021? Are there certain programs that are under the microscope?
Betty Rose: The focus on Capitol Hill is the response to the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis during an election year. This will continue to influence the legislative priorities for FY2021 and appropriations with difficult budgetary decisions ahead. JCNL-NCLIS closely follows the President’s budget requests and the call to eliminate certain programs. That said, JNCL-NCLIS will continue to ask Congress to increase funding and support for all of our programs. An emphasis is placed on the quality teacher shortage across the nation for world languages, providing grant opportunities, creating partnerships with K-12 and higher education, and professional development opportunities. JNCL-NCLIS urges Congress to exempt language educators from suspended visa programs. These restrictions would negatively impact language and immersion programs. In addition, there will be a focus to protect individuals from discrimination in health care and the ability to access language services.
Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about language advocacy?
Betty Rose: I think the big take away from this interview is to know that there is a fabulous organization with dedicated members advocating for world languages and cultures on behalf of the “Language Enterprise.” I would encourage everyone to take meaningful action in advocacy efforts that compel Congress to act. I will re-emphasize that world language advocacy is bipartisan and it is in our national interest to promote global citizenship. To that end, everyone has a responsibility to support world language education. We can all do something simple by signing up to receive the action alerts and policy updates that better inform us of the issues related to world languages. Don’t be overwhelmed by the enormous task, but instead think and begin locally. Start the conversation. Everyone has a passion for world languages and everyone has a voice. Decide on your level of comfort and commitment to advocacy. There is much opportunity for all by engaging in the conversations and actions that matter – it’s the message my parents taught me years ago.
Thank you for allowing me to share information as part of this interview.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Rita Oleksak and Alissa Rutkowski.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. (2017). America’s languages. Commission on Language Learning. Cambridge, MA: Author.