Kathleen Stein Smith, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Metropolitan Campus


The COVID pandemic disrupted education and learning at all levels, impacting students everywhere. In addition, already-existing challenges to language learning have only become worse. Advocacy is needed more than ever before, and we can all be advocates individually and through our professional associations.  We need to reconnect with advocacy and with potential partners in our schools, our communities, and beyond, and to re-envision the advocacy goal of expanding access to languages for all interested students. Framed by our communities and our goals, we need to recharge our strategies and methods with the newest data and technologies to empower all our students with the skills needed in an increasingly multilingual society and world. This article is based on the author’s session at the OFLA 2022 conference.

The Need for Advocacy

In a multilingual world, US students lag behind much of the world in language learning (Grosjean, 2010, 2020; Devlin, 2018; AMACAD, 2020). In a globalized and interconnected world and an increasingly multilingual United States, although 70M speak a language other than English in the home in the US, fewer than 20% of K-12 students study another language,, and only 7.5% of college and university students are enrolled in a course in a language other than English (Zeigler & Camarota, 2019; AMACAD, 2017; MLA, 2019). 

At the same time, the personal and professional benefits of language learning and use, as well as the demand for language skills and cultural knowledge in the workplace, are well known (ACTFL, n.d.; NAE, 2017; ACTFL, 2019). At the present time, only 15% of public elementary schools offer a language program, and programs at the college and university level have declined in recent years, highlighting the need for advocacy,, especially in those areas (AMACAD, 2017; Spencer, 2019).

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse in terms of both student learning and budgets for education (Kuhfeld, Soland, Lewis, & Morton, 2022). 

Advocacy can help.

The Goals of Advocacy – Expanding Access, Affordability, and Opportunity

Advocacy has been defined as “persuading people who matter to care about your issue” (Daly, 2011, 15), and the goal of advocacy is to expand access to language learning so that every interested student can have the opportunity to learn another language.  In order to achieve this primary goal, it is necessary to promote language learning and to defend programs that may be at risk.

As access and opportunity are often related to affordability, it is often through improving the affordability of language learning that opportunity can be expanded by increased funding for individuals and for language programs. 

Online learning can be both a more affordable option and can offer access and opportunity for students who cannot attend an on-site class.  Free online educational resources (OERs) can play an important role in affordability and access, especially for those students who cannot pay the cost of a traditional textbook.

In addition to promoting and defending language programs, it is also important to work to establish additional programs, especially immersion and heritage language programs, as well as those at the elementary school and college levels. 

Methods and Strategies of Advocacy

Advocacy can be considered within a framework of “everyday” and “emergency” advocacy, promoting languages and language learning every day in our classrooms and beyond, as well as acting to defend programs at risk. 

The first step for any educator interested in advocacy is professional engagement at the national, regional, state, and local levels – in organizations like OFLA and CSCTFL, and in organizations like ACTFL, JNCL, AATF, AATSP, and many others at the national level. 

In addition, a broad range of advocacy activities are available to current and potential advocates, including research, writing, and speaking; online and social media; political action, and social movements – informed by theory and practice in change management, marketing, public relations, psychology of influence, etc.

The most important thing to remember is that with its wide range of roles and opportunities for engagement through our professional organizations or individually through the avenues mentioned above, advocacy is for everyone, with each advocate able to advocate in alignment with their interests, skills, and availability.

Advocacy Stakeholders and Partners

Language educators have been powerful and effective advocates through their professional associations and as individuals. However, partnerships are essential to bring about a resurgence of language learning and use. 

Within education institutions, interdisciplinary partnerships, joint degrees, and double majors are just a few examples (MLA, 2015; MLA, 2007). Organizations in related areas, including ATA and GALA, are examples of potential partners in launching a translation or professional language studies program. 

Additional partnerships with communities, parents, and heritage language speakers, with businesses and government, as well as with external partners, are essential. The French for All Initiative, launched in December 2022 during French President Macron’s visit to the US, is just one of many examples (Cultural Services, 2022).

Challenges to Advocacy to How to Overcome Them

Challenges to advocacy include the fact that it can be arduous and time-consuming and an additional commitment beyond the workplace. It is, however, important to note that the choice to become a language advocate is driven by our beliefs and core values rather than by any workplace requirement. In addition, each one of us may choose how much time we can devote to advocacy, a time commitment that may vary over the course of a career.

Unfortunately, advocacy is all too often an eleventh-hour initiative launched after an elimination or cutback in a program is already on the table. The best strategy is to engage in continuous, “everyday” advocacy to avoid surprise crises. However, even in many crisis situations, if we all work together in partnership, much can be achieved.

Conclusion – We can all be language advocates!

We can all be language advocates, starting with “a cup of coffee,” “elevator pitch,” or other informal encounters with family and friends, community members, school administrators, and – most importantly – with students and their parents. 

L’union fait la force!


American Academy of Arts & Sciences. (AMACAD). (2017). America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century.

American Academy of Arts & Sciences, (AMACAD), (2020). The Importance of Languages in Global Context: An International Call to Action.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (ACTFL). (2019). Making Languages Our Business.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (ACTFL). (n.d.). Why Learn Languages.

Cultural Services. French Embassy in the United States. (2022). French For All: A New Comprehensive Initiative to Support Equity in Access to French Language Education in the United States.,United%20States%3A%20French%20for%20All.

Daly, J. (2011). Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others: The Authoritative Guide to Selling Concepts, Compelling Action, and Getting Results. New Haven: Yale.

Johnson, S. (2019). Colleges Lose a ‘Stunning’ 651 Foreign-Language Programs in 3 Years.

Kuhfeld, M., Soland, J., Lewis, K., & Morton, E. (2022). The Pandemic Has Had Devastating Impacts on Learning. What Will It Take to Help Students Catch Up?

Modern Language Association. (MLA). (2015). Data on Second Majors in Language and Literature, 2001-2013.

Modern Language Association. (MLA). (2019). Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education.

Modern Language Association. (MLA). (2007). Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World.

New American Economy. (NAE). (2017). Not Lost in Translation: The Growing Importance of Foreign Language Skills in the U.S. Job Market.

Zeigler, K. & Camarota, S. A. (2019). 67.3 Million in the United States Spoke a Foreign Language at Home in 2018