IIE Blog Opening Minds
IIE Blog Opening Minds

Where Have All the Languages Gone?

By: Dr. Allan E. Goodman on Friday, June 5, 2015

By my count, representatives from more than 400 organizations and universities from around the world helped to fill the NAFSA conference expo space to capacity. There were many good messages about welcoming U.S. students and innovative study abroad and internship programs. Many made a special effort to point out just how many courses and programs are now taught entirely in English. That is good news, and bad.

Expo Hall at NAFSA 2015 Annual Conference in Boston, MAU.S. student enrollment in foreign-language studies is declining for the first time in 20 years and just at a time when we need more Americans who are able to speak the languages and understand the cultures where they are visiting, studying, and may possibly work someday. Tens of thousands of federal jobs remain vacant because we do not have enough foreign language speakers to fill them. The U.S. Foreign Service has fewer Arabic speakers than my alma mater has students majoring in film studies.

So, as I went from booth to booth to get more information, I had two thoughts. First, there is clearly more opportunity to study abroad than ever before, with so many countries making a big effort to show that Americans will be welcome. Second, I hope the Generation Study Abroad millennials will realize that while English tends to be the lingua franca there are still many reasons to learn more than a few words from people with whom we share the world.

General Colin Powell once told me that he learned just enough German during his army deployments in the country to get directions to the nearest off-base restaurant. But, he said, he should have learned a whole lot more.

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  • yeabsira said:
    6/6/2015 7:12 AM

    As u said Dr. Allan E. Goodman it's better to increase our way of communication through out the world as Ethiopia can be one of the main land in africa that can offer hospitality and have generous peoples to communicate with.

  • Cynthia said:
    6/13/2015 4:46 PM

    It is unfortunate that U.S. student enrollment in foreign-language studies is declining for the first time in 20 years. My experience is that many people, including adult learners, are turning to audio tapes to learn a second language that will benefit them in the workplace. My oldest daughter took French in college, however the patient population where she works is Hispanic, so now she is studying Spanish via audio tapes.

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For more than nine decades, the Institute of International Education has been at the forefront of international education. The Opening Minds blog is IIE’s take on how this field continues to change. Here the Institute’s leaders will explore international educational exchange, global student mobility, institutional partnerships, international development, and other topics and trends that are shaping higher education around the world.


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