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Letter from Fellow

Washington D.C. Office
U.S National Strategy and Foreign Language Education

Korean Language Program in the State of New York
Suh Ah-jeong
KF Washington D.C. Office Director
A diverse array of foreign language education programs are being implemented in the United States. Of note, the State of New York government is spurring efforts to enhance the international competitiveness of students through the systematic education of foreign languages and cultures. This feature provides an overview of the foreign language education policy of the United States and the Korean language program of the State of New York.

Foreign Language Education in the U.S.
I visited New York to attend an education symposium on the foreign languages of strategic importance to the United States. Since the establishment of the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Education, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in 2006, the United States has undertaken a variety of support programs to encourage the education of critical-need foreign languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, and Persian, at all levels of education, from kindergarten through university. Prior to this initiative, in 2002, the U.S. Department of Defense launched the National Flagship Language Program. Under this program, a handful of universities were designated to offer special programs of Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Central Asian languages, Hindi/Urdu, Persian/Farsi, and Korean to a select number of graduate students, in an effort to promote their development as next-generation leaders with a global perspective. In addition, the U.N. and UNESCO have designated 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to publicize a sense of crisis, in which 50 percent of world languages are now in serious danger of extinction. It is said that 96 percent of the world languages are spoken by only four percent of the world’s population, causing one language to die off every other week.

U.S. Education Policy
From this background at the national level as well as the unique situation of the State of New York, where numerous ethnic groups reside and as many as 106 languages are used, the New York state government hosted the symposium in an effort to upgrade the international competitiveness of the next generation through systematic and focused education of foreign languages and cultures. The symposium, held at the Corwin Center of the Teachers College of Columbia University, was attended by some 200 individuals, including teachers, federal and state government officials involved in NSLI programs, UNESCO representatives, publishers, and members of “Hi Hangeul,” an organization that seeks to promote the adoption of Korean as an official foreign-language subject of New York City schools. Although the symposium agenda included the discussion of Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and Korean, the composition of participants and discussion centered on the Chinese language, reflecting the reality of the local educational system. Nevertheless, considering the fact that the Foundation has thus far focused on Korean language education at the university level, the symposium was a useful occasion to understand foreign language education at primary and secondary schools, and the U.S. policy toward foreign language education and the related support system.

Korean Language Education in the State of New York
▶ According to information compiled by the State of New York’s Education Department for the symposium, there are 20 secondary schools in which the number of students of Korean-origin exceeds 100.
▶ According to “Hi Hangeul,” Korean is taught at about 12 schools not as an elective foreign language subject but just as an additional optional subject.
▶ Almost no school retains a full-time instructor specifically for Korean language education; instead, teachers of Korea-origin but other subjects or languages teach Korean for about two hours a week, in addition to their major subjects.

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