July in Review: A Broad Agenda For Languages Advances Through Congress...

As Congress breaks for the August recess, we, the language community, can reflect on a very active period on Capitol Hill in advancing a broad agenda for languages in the United States.  

The work that you have done over the past seven years, whether coming to Capitol Hill for JNCL-NCLIS  Language Advocacy Day , or during other language advocacy events for the American Translators Association, the Association of Language Companies , and the American Classical League , builds trust on the Hill with the members and staff whose support we need .

As you'll see while reading this July update, your advocacy has had a direct impact on the advancements we're seen for languages in the United States. I thank each and every one of you for this.

Languages Matter to National Security, Economic Growth, and the Fulfillment of the Potential of All Americans

As I’ve said many times, the story we tell –of how languages matter to national security, economic growth, and the fulfillment of the potential of all Americans – resonates in Congress. Now, your actions and advocacy have propelled an unprecedented and comprehensive legislative package through the halls of Congress. 

There’s genuine support in the Congress, on both sides of the aisle, for what we do –for what YOU do. Your hard work –in the classroom, in the community, as teachers, interpreters, translators, owners and leaders of language companies, as well as your advocacy in person here in DC, in your state capitols, and your support for policy alerts– matters. And it’s making a difference nationally

The 6 Language Bills That Could Become Law

At the moment, there are six bipartisan bills advancing through the 116th Congress, all of which have a realistic chance of becoming law . Moreover, they all respond to specific recommendations in America’s Languages , the report of the Commission on Language Learning of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: 

  • The World Languages Advancement and Readiness Act, which was incorporated as an amendment into the House of Representatives’ version of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amendment passed the House unanimously. On July 29, Senator Cory Booker introduced the Senate version of WLARA in that chamber, and we are now working to secure support for the amendment. –Read more on WLARA

  • The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Program Reauthorization Act, which the Senate approved unanimously, is now in the House of Representatives, Committee on Education and Labor. JNCL-NCLIS is part of a broad coalition working to secure more co-sponsors for this bill, in order to bring it to the floor of the House; –Read more on Esther

  • The Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching Act (BEST Act), which has been introduced in the House by Representative Julia Brownley. We are working with several Senate offices on a Senate version; –Read more on the BEST Act

  • The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, which was introduced by Mr. Simon’s close-colleague and friend, Senator Dick Durbin (IL), is in Senate HELP committee. JNCL-NCLIS is part of a broad coalition of advocates asking that more be done to advance the America’s Languages recommendation to increase the amount of students studying abroad each year. –Read more on the Paul Simon Act;

  • The Reaching America’s English Learners Act has been introduced in both the House (Rep. Langevin) and the Senate (Sen. Cortez-Masto) to ameliorate the teacher shortage and preparing future-educators with the necessary tools to guide classrooms of multilingual and multicultural children. –Read more on RELA;

  • The Defense Language Improvement Act, as with WLARA, was incorporated as an amendment to the House version of the NDAA. Today’s service members in uniform need to be equipped with the necessary tools to maintain positive relations and foresee potential situations at home and abroad. This bill expands the educational opportunities for service members who graduate from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC), one of the premier foreign language institutions in the nation, by offering students a BA in world language study. –Read more on DLI. 

Language Access for All is a Matter of Fundamental Social Justice

On the regulatory front, the Trump administration continues to chip away at language access for all . The Civil Rights Act of 1964, multiple Supreme Court decisions in the past 50 years, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and other laws and regulations guarantee that if you don’t speak English you are provided language services when accessing federally funded programs, be they judicial, health, social services, and so forth. 

Language access for all is a matter of fundamental social justice , and is also one of the factors driving the growth of the language industry in this country.

However, new regulations proposed for section 1557 of the PPACA would limit language access , making it harder for patients to communicate with their doctors and understand the ins-and-outs of the medical and insurance industry. 

You can read JNCL-NCLIS’s analysis of the proposed rule eliminating Section 1557 here . You may also listen to the informational webinar here , hosted by the National Health Law Program and sponsored by JNCL-NCLIS member, LanguageLine Solutions. Comments on the proposed regulation are due to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by August 13 th ; please do send in your comments via this link (provided by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum).
A second front in language access is the elimination of interpreting services from the initial hearings for immigrants in the administrative courts of the Executive Office of Immigration Review. This has been widely reported in the press .

The American Translators Association and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages have both issued statements condemning this action. This past month, JNCL-NCLIS has met with the professional staff members of the Judiciary Committee in the House and Senate to raise awareness of these issues and assess what can be done to pressure the Trump administration to reverse this.

Joint National Committee for Languages News: New Website & New Hire!

Another bit of good and exciting news: the new JNCL-NCLIS website is here! We hope that you have a chance to explore it and send us your feedback . This was a year-long, in-house effort, led by our Managing Director, Mr. Trey Calvin . It’s a significant improvement over the old site, and Trey deserves kudos for executing this complex task

Finally, JNCL-NCLIS would like to officially welcome Ms. Alissa Rutkowski , our new Communications and Policy Associate, to our growing policy team! Many of you met Alissa when she was interning with us during Language Advocacy Day. Please join me in welcoming Alissa to the team.

As always, stay in touch, send us your ideas, your concerns, and your stories. 

Warm regards, 

Bill Rivers
Executive Director