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Navigating the Flat World

I recently participated in a conference at the State Department called the U.S University Presidents Summit on International Education. Sponsored by the secretaries of State and Education, it aimed to strengthen foreign-language learning through a National Security Language Initiative.

It's am incredibly timely effort.

To borrow a term, globalization is "Flattening" the world through expanded trade, cultural exchanges, and cross-border infirmation flows. And language proifiency is the compass for navigating this flat, new world.

It's also critical to U.S competitveness. As a National Acedemies report makes clear, U.S prosperity depends in part on American workers' ability to communicate with a global clientele.

Yet when it comes to language skills, the U.S is stuck in the old world. Department of Education data show just how stuck:

--Only 24% of public elementary schools in the U.S teach foreign Languages.

--Fewer that 1% of American high school students study such strategically important languages as Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Urbu.

--More than 200 million Chinese children are studying English; only 24,000 American schoolchildren are studying Chinese.

Those and other data send a strong message: To complete in the globel marketplace, we need much greater emphasis on learning foreign languages.

For starters, we can help increase our understanding of foreign languages and cultures by making is easier for foreign students to study in the U,S., and then harnessing their brain power, particularly in the sciences, when they're here. At ETS, we recently introduced an internet-based version of our Test of English as a Foreign Language, ot TOEFL iBT. For foreign students, the TOEFL test opens doors to U.S. colleges and universities, and Internet delivery is vastly expanding test access.

We also need to dramatically improve foreign-language instruction in our public schools. The National Security Language Initiative, witch President Bush unvieled at the summit, would do just that by increasing the number of Americans who speak and teach foreign languages, particularly strategically important languages.

As Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling said at the summit "This is not just an education issue; it's economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, a national security issue, and it's everybody's issue."

At ETS, it's our issue, too. That's why we're working on ways to help learners develop the language skills required to succeed. It's also why we're listening to educators, parents and policymakersm, learning from sound research, and leading efforts to achieve informed public policy and informed educational practice.

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