These are troubled times for language programs in the United States, which have been battered by irresponsible cutbacks at all levels. Despite the chatter about globalization and multilateralism that has dominated public discourse in recent years, leaders in government and policy circles continue to live in a bubble of their own making, imagining that we can be global while refusing to learn the languages or learn about the cultures of the rest of the world. So it was surely encouraging that Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fixture of the foreign policy establishment, agreed to deliver the keynote address at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Annual Convention in Boston on November 19.
Haass is a distinguished author, Oberlin- and Oxford-educated, and an influential voice in American debates. The good news is that in his talk, "Language as a Gateway to Global Communities," Haass expressed strong support for increased foreign language learning opportunities. He recognized the important work that language instructors undertake as well as the crucial connection between language and culture: language learning is not just technical mastery of grammar but rather, in his words, a "gateway" to a thorough understanding of other societies. We in the language learning community should take heed and be sure to build curriculums that provide systematic introductions to those histories, political systems, and ways of life. The Modern Language Association has made curricular recommendations along these lines in the report "Foreign Languages and Higher Education," which ACTFL President Eileen Glisan praised in her remarks that preceded the keynote address.