Administration to expand foreign language program

Defense, Education and State departments, along with the national intelligence director, to develop plan to expand foreign-language learning efforts.

The United States is taking a new approach to diplomacy by teaching Americans a lesson in cultural and language appreciation.

President Bush last week announced a foreign-language program designed to strengthen national security. Bush, who spoke at the Summit of U.S. University Presidents on International Education, said the best way to spread freedom "is to have those of us who understand freedom be able to communicate in the language of the people we're trying to help."

He said "the war on terror" is not over. "There is still an enemy that lurks," and therefore, the United States must have "a language-proficient military" and intelligence officers and diplomats who can speak the language of those who want to hurt the United States or nations that it helps.

To meet that need, Bush announced the National Security Language Initiative. The program will focus on language areas of critical need, including Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi. Bush will request $144 million in fiscal 2007 to fund the effort.

Under the program, the secretaries of the Defense, Education and State departments, along with the national intelligence director, will develop a plan to expand foreign-language learning from kindergarten to universities. The State Department also will provide scholarships to students to study abroad and short-term opportunities for up to 3,000 high-school students by summer 2009.

The program also aims to increase the number of language teachers. It would establish a National Language Service Corps to recruit government workers and civilians to voluntarily teach. The State Department plans to expand its Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program to attract native speakers of what are considered critical languages.

The program "will press forward to bring people into the Foreign Service and into the Defense Department and into our intelligence agencies who are competent in those languages," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the summit.

To attract international students to study science and technology, Karen Hughes, undersecretary of State for public affairs and diplomacy, announced last week the creation of a Fulbright science and tech scholarship. It will be awarded through a worldwide competition and will offer foreign students an opportunity to study at a "top-flight" U.S. science institution, she said.

Bush also noted at the summit that "it's in our national interest that we solve visa issues." Speaking to the concern by universities that new visa policies have delayed or hindered access of foreign students to attend U.S. institutions, Bush said, "I fully understand some of your frustrations, particularly when you say the balance wasn't actually calibrated well, but we're going to get it right."

Meanwhile, Congress approved language in the fiscal 2006 funding law for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments to support programs for college students who are participating in advanced foreign-language training abroad in areas critical to U.S. national security. Bush signed the bill into law Dec. 30.