National Language Capacity

Expanding US capacity in languages other than English is central to the mission of NFLC, and this section offers a brief review of NFLC efforts. Today, these efforts are most noteworthy in two project related to US language capacity:

  • the LangNet project and its successor, Analyst Learning Link, has developed thousands of hours of on-line learning materials in more than 50 languages critical to national security. (see “Projects”).
  • Through the STARTALK project, (hot link) , NFLC has been promoting expanded teaching and learning of languages critical to the national interest. STARTALK reaches into more than 40 states and has provided training to thousands of language teachers and summer language learning experiences to thousands of students since 2007.

National capacity refers to the ability of the country to respond to demands for competencies in particular languages. The NFLC has contributed significantly to the understanding of the dynamics of national capacity in foreign languages and has developed a paradigm that reveals the complex relationships among national need, demand, supply, and capacity within the academic, government, private, heritage, and overseas sectors.


The NFLC's strategic approach to systemic change comprises three parallel, interrelated, and mutually reinforcing paths: research, system design and implementation, policy development, and engagement. The principal components of its agenda are:

  1. To continue the research that is so critical to informing the work of the NFLC
  2. To develop foreign language and communications products, programs, and systems tailored to the needs of an increasingly multilingual US society
  3. To promote public policy discourse by providing information that will shape the intelligent conduct of that discourse and by actively engaging other institutions and organizations in programs and projects designed to test ideas and to create models, thus enhancing the opportunities for change.


Over the course of its existence, the NFLC has already had a significant impact on language-related issues in the United States. It is clear from the constant requests for information, assistance, and guidance received by the Center that the NFLC is viewed as an important national resource in several domains: from Capitol Hill, federal agencies, and national associations to individual organizations and institutions. Selected examples of documented change that have occurred as a result of the NFLC's intervention follow:

  • Government Sector: The NFLC's representation on various agency advisory boards and task forces has had an impact on the design of federal programs such as the National Security Education Program that support foreign languages and several Center projects have affected the design and direction of federal research in second language acquisition. The NFLC designed and developed LangNet, a web-enabled quality-assured resource sharing system for learning objects in 21 foreign languages for advanced language learners in the federal government. In collaboration with the US Department of Education, the NFLC developed and implemented a WWW-based data reporting and data warehousing system (EELIAS) for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs.
  • Private Sector: The United States is in the midst of an immigration boom which has left both the public and private sectors struggling to meet the demands of ever growing, non-English speaking client pools. To address the communications needs of growing rosters of limited English speaking (LEP) immigrants, the NFLC has launched a Language Access Initiative which is focusing initially on the US health care field and the communications barriers confronting health care practitioners and their LEP patients. To this end, the NFLC has been working on several medical interpreter and translator training projects designed to make use of the latest advances in language pedagogy and communications software design.
  • Education Sector: The NFLC's development of the Language Mission Project and the participation of staff members in national conferences and seminars have made foreign language a significant part of higher education association agendas. The National Flagship Language Initiative, administered by the NFLC, awarded financial support to US universities to produce university graduates, across disciplines, with a "superior" level of proficiency in languages critical to US national security. The NFLC's conceptualization and initiatives have resulted in intra-field collaboration in less commonly taught languages through the National Council of Organizations of Less Commonly Taught Languages. Curricular and programmatic changes, catalyzed by the NFLC projects and program assessment activities, have advanced the improvement of foreign language programs at individual colleges and universities and at the K-12 level.
  • Heritage Sector: The NFLC has been extremely effective in focusing attention on the heritage language communities as important national resources for language competency; and current teacher training and articulation projects are providing a systematic approach to heritage language maintenance and enhancement in heritage schools, public school systems, and colleges and universities.

Please read the white paper on this subject, Building the Foreign Language Capacity We Need.

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