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Volume 22, No. 1 Fall/Winter 1998

Town Meeting

Preparing Young Americans for the Next Century:
Foreign Language and Early Education

At a national town meeting held in September 1998, Senator Paul Simon challenged attendees to become advocates for early foreign language learning. He called on each member of the audience to speak with five other people about the benefits of early language learning and to create language education advocacy groups in their communities to help prepare young Americans for the next century. Language students from the Washington area gave personal accounts about why they liked learning languages.

The meeting, Preparing Young Americans for the Next Century: Foreign Language and Early Education, was hosted by the National Foreign Language Center at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., with assistance from the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Joint National Committee for Languages, and the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL). NNELL maintains its Secretariat at ERIC/CLL's host organization, the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL).

The program featured a keynote address by U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-CA). A lively panel discussion on the state of early language learning in the United States followed, moderated by Tara Sonenshine, Senior Advisor, U.S. Institute for Peace. Panelists included Christine Brown, Director of Foreign Languages, Glastonbury (CT) Public Schools; Helena Curtain, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Fred Genesee, Professor of Psychology, McGill University (Canada); and Werner Rogers, Executive Director of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Panelists discussed the progress that has been made in the effort to make second language learning more widely available at elementary and middle schools across the country, articulation between elementary and secondary foreign language programs, and obstacles to expanding the number of schools offering foreign languages to young learners. Following the panel discussion, Senator Simon issued his call to action, urging all of those in attendance to increase public awareness of the need for children to begin second language learning as early as possible.

To assist teachers and parents in their efforts to establish and maintain foreign language programs, the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics offers a number of helpful resources. One of our most popular publications, Why, How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language? can be obtained from ACCESS ERIC at 1-800-LET-ERIC (538-3742). The brochure is also available on our Web site: Other useful ERIC/CLL publications include two-page ERIC digests (also available on our Web site) offered at no cost and ready-made computer searches of the ERIC database, which can be purchased for $10 each.

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