On February 6, some 200 passionate activists came to Capitol Hill to exercise their First Amendment right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In more than 240 meetings, language teachers, interpreters, translators, and language company owners from forty-six states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico spoke our truth to power: America’s languages matter, to the common weal—national security, economic growth, and social justice—and biliteracy makes an enormous, positive, lifelong difference for every child who attains it. Bilingual and biliterate children graduate high school at higher rates, with higher GPAs, than every other group; they matriculate to college at higher rates, complete college at higher rates, and sooner, than every other group; they get jobs sooner and make 2% more per annum than their monolingual peers (and being a linguist, not a mathematician, I won’t attempt to bore you with the equation for compound interest, but that 2% per annum adds up over a career). Adult bilinguals make better financial decisions and are perceived as more attractive (at least I have THAT going for me). Elderly bilinguals have better balance and short-term memory. Being bilingual—however, whenever, and wherever that develops—delays the onset of the symptoms of dementia by an average of 5 years.
In other words, we have a powerful, positive, amazing story to tell, and 200 language activists spend two days shouting it in the halls of power in Washington, D.C. Each of us is an advocate when we teach and inspire children in our classes, when we make the intentional act of using another language to communicate, when we help our peers in our school buildings, as much as when we write to our elected representatives, or travel to the state Capitol to advocate for the Seal of Biliteracy or for more funding for dual language immersion. What we do matters, to the children in our classes and their parents, to our schools and districts, to our communities, and to the nation.
In Washington, the new bipartisan Congressional Caucus on America’s Languages has grown to twenty-one members in just three months, and has shepherded the passage of the Esther Martinez Native American Language Programs Reauthorization Act and the World Languages Advancement and Readiness Grant Program. We’re excited about the coming year, as several bills are working their way through the Congress, such as the SYLLABLE Act, which would fund dual language immersion in high-need districts; the Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching (BEST) Act, which would help states and districts implement the Seal of Biliteracy, and the SPELL Act, which would provide up to $17,500 in federal student loan relief for teachers in dual language immersion. These and several more bills can be found on the America’s Languages Caucus website. In fact, we’ve never seen this much interest in America’s languages, not during the Cold War after the launch of Sputnik, or after the terrible events of 9/11.
And I’ll finish by thanking each and every language teacher, principal supporting them, parent raising a bilingual child, every interpreter and translator—everyone in the amazing language enterprise who works to make the world, and our country, a better, more inclusive, more understanding place through languages. Our successes on Capitol Hill, and our hopes for the future, derive from your tireless work. I am forever grateful for you.