arabicI was disappointed to read recently in the Des Moines Register that Kalona Elementary School here in Iowa is discontinuing its Arabic language program due to lack of funding. Not only is it wonderful when school systems teach languages to kids at the elementary rather than secondary level, this country benefits from having more people who know how to speak Arabic.

In 2006 the United States government established the National Strategic Language Initiative (NSLI), "an inter-agency effort ... to dramatically increase the number of Americans learning, speaking, and teaching critical need foreign languages." Languages targeted by the NSLI include Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Darwazi, Farsi, Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Turkish. The NSLI has a number of programs for K-12 schools. Its August 2008 report noted that nearly 47,000 elementary and secondary students had been served to date.

Finding qualified instructors to teach these languages often is difficult for school systems. Finding initial or ongoing funding is a challenge as well. As a society, however, we need to figure out how to make this happen. French, German, and Spanish – the holy trinity of school language instruction – still are important languages but the growing ascendancy of non-Western countries on the global stage also makes other languages important for both economic and cultural reasons.

Photo credit: EidMubarak