DYK: Demand for Language Skills Are on the Rise in the Workplace?

Did you know that today’s employers increasingly rely on employees with foreign language skills? According to new research by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 90% of those surveyed rely on employees with language skills, and 32 percent of those state a strong reliance.


It seems the demand for language skills in the U.S. workforce is greater than ever before. In boardrooms and in the field, with customers and partners and on social media, U.S. employers today are increasingly conducting business in a language other than English. Accordingly, the ability to effectively communicate in more than one language is a critical asset for U.S. students and employees—not only in boosting their marketability in the workplace, but in helping them thrive in a global economy.

This groundbreaking industry report, based on a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for ACTFL as part of its Lead with Languages campaign, and with support from Pearson LLC and Language Testing International, includes new data emphasizing the vital need for language skills in the U.S. workplace and their impact on the U.S. economy.

How did the vast majority of news outlets miss this news when the research was released back in May?

Perhaps for the same reason that the astounding news reported by the Modern Language Association in January that colleges have shut down a “stunning” 651 language programs over the past three years slipped quietly into and out of the news cycle.

Is anyone paying attention? Shouldn’t employers and colleges get together to discuss the skills needed to properly prepare our students for these jobs?

It’s apparent that the need is there—and growing:

  • 56% of U.S. employers say their foreign language demand will increase in the next 5 years.
  • 47% state a need for language skills exclusively for the domestic market.
  • 1 in 3 language-dependent U.S. employers report a language skills gap.
  • 1 in 4 U.S. employers lost business due to a lack of language skills.


The report goes into detail noting that the demand for language skills is not limited to a single language, market, sector or functional department. Spanish leads as the most in-demand language among U.S. employers (85 percent), with other highly sought-after languages including Chinese (34 percent), French (22 percent), Japanese (17 percent) and German (17 percent). Ninety-seven percent of employers use language skills at least to some extent domestically, leaving only 3 percent using such skills for international needs only. And while customer service and sales come forth as the two departments most requiring language skills, a full 12 percent of employers cite a need for multilingual employees across all departments—from production finance, and everything in between.

YES! Of course!

Combined with the critical cognitive and social skills inherent in the task of language learning, this new data places those who know one or more languages–in addition to English–at an even greater competitive advantage over their monolingual peers.

Along with the survey findings, Making Languages Our Business also presents seven actionable recommendations that employers can take to build a company-wide language strategy:

  • Take stock of current language assets by conducting a formal Language Needs Analysis;
  • Assess employees’ current skills using professional tools;
  • Maintain an inventory of linguistic and cultural competencies of their workforce to identify strengths as well as areas for improvement;
  • Make languages a strategic focus during recruitment efforts;
  • Invest in targeted training for candidates and employees who need additional skills;
  • Form partnerships with colleges and universities that offer intercultural and language immersion opportunities; and
  • Advocate for policies in support of funding for early language-learning programs.

All of these steps will not only amplify an organization’s own language assets but also boost outcomes to enhance the bottom line, something that I have written about for more than 10 years—since my first book, Get Ahead By Going Abroad, came out in 2007. Globally-minded organizations can take a leadership role in contributing to the development of a strong future U.S. workforce by cultivating a pipeline of multilingual talent.

For more than a decade I have been proselytizing that employers and their bottom lines stand to gain the most and therefore are necessary to include in the discussions about education policy from K-16. We must work with them to build the bridges between employers and higher ed, between higher ed and K-12, between K-12 and employers.

If we want our country to have strong national security, world-class diplomatic and trade relations, and a robust economy, we must DO SOMETHING to address the lack of language skills and language learning opportunities here. This begins with actually paying attention to news that matters: the policies, trends and anything else that will have an effect on our future and that of the young people who will become tomorrow’s global, multilingual employees working in a multicultural workplace.

Travelling Through Morocco…By the Book

Originally published on Concordia Language Village’s WorldView Blog

Our well-traveled family of four (two adults and two teenagers) recently spent a number of weeks exploring Morocco. In addition to our guidebook we brought along other books to enhance our travels: a combination of history, memoir, social commentary, cultural portraits and fiction relevant to our itinerary. Come explore Morocco with us as we travel “by the book.”

Our ferry from Algeciras, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco, gave us plenty of time to dive into our books detailing the fusion of Berber, Arab and European cultural influences that is Morocco. A few weeks in Spain had given us a much better understanding of the glories of the Moorish past, and whet our appetite for Morocco’s beauty, including Tangier and the northern coast, the big cities of Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh and Fez, and many small towns in between.

In the heart of the winding, twisting Fez medina sit leather tanneries with one of dozens of minarets in the background.

In the heart of the winding, twisting Fez medina sit leather tanneries with one of dozens of minarets in the background.

The book most fitting to begin with (and truth be told, one of us had already read it before leaving Spain) was definitely Leo Africanus (1986), written by the Lebanese writer, Amin Maalouf. It is an imaginary autobiography of the famous geographer, adventurer and scholar Hasan al-Wazzan, who was born in Granada in 1488 and whose family was forced to flee to Fez after the fall of Granada. We found this novel to be a delightful read as we traveled with the protagonist from Granada to Fez (and on to Cairo and Rome), relishing the stories of culture, religion, commerce, climate and politics of 500 years ago. While in Granada, Spain, we had stayed in the old Arab quarter of Albayzín, looked at the Alhambra from St. Nicholas Church terrace, and pictured Leo Africanus and his fellow Muslims being forced to leave their homes as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the last Moorish stronghold in Spain.

A Moroccan medina is a city’s old district, usually walled and a top attraction in almost every town. Medinas are the hearts and souls of cities. Shopkeepers sell all kinds of goods and services, including a wide assortment of dates, a mainstay of the Moroccan diet

A Moroccan medina is a city’s old district, usually walled and a top attraction in almost every town. Medinas are the hearts and souls of cities. Shopkeepers sell all kinds of goods and services, including a wide assortment of dates, a mainstay of the Moroccan diet

We spent a whole day wandering through the Fez medina, eyeing the piles of dates and assortment of sweets, haggling with a shopkeeper over the price of a ceramic tagine, and peeking through the doorway of the University of Al-Karaouine, the oldest university in the world. We imagined Leo Africanus and his friends spending their youth there, learning the Koran and heeding the call to prayer as it came from multiple directions five times a day. Reading the fictional account of a Moor added color and texture to the historic sites, architecture and art, making them that much more interesting.

Fast forward to the newly independent nation of Morocco in the 1950s. We chose The Last Friend (2004) by internationally-acclaimed Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun (who emigrated to France in 1961), which took us on a deep cultural dive into the friendship between two men struggling to find their identities in Tangier in the late 1950s. The Last Friend shed light on this era of repression and disillusionment by giving us a very personal glimpse into the psyches of two very different men. Each narrator tells his version of the story over the course of 30 years, painting a vivid portrait of the strict life in Morocco and how they lived within and outside the rules. We felt we learned much about the psyche of Moroccan people, which carried over into our discussions and people-watching all over this bustling international, yet incr

The author’s twin daughters posing with Sultan, the lead camel for our day-long trek across the Saharan sands, which began near the coastal town of Essaouria. Riding a camel is not like a horse: One leg hangs down while the other is bent-knee with the ankle resting in front of the “handle bar”. Sultan is 15 years old and one of only two camels trained by his guide, Mustafa, using only hand signals (no reins). For the record…camels do not spit and are most closely related to llamas not horses.

The author’s twin daughters posing with Sultan, the lead camel for our day-long trek across the Saharan sands, which began near the coastal town of Essaouria. Riding a camel is not like a horse: One leg hangs down while the other is bent-knee with the ankle resting in front of the “handle bar”. Sultan is 15 years old and one of only two camels trained by his guide, Mustafa, using only hand signals (no reins). For the record…camels do not spit and are most closely related to llamas not horses.

easingly conservative, city.

Storytelling is one of the bedrocks of Moroccan society, but as outsiders we wouldn’t have known this if we hadn’t read Tahir Shah’s memoir-ish In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams (2007). Although the book is set mostly in Casablanca, we also go along with Shah (figuratively and literally) as he travels across Morocco, including a trip across the Sahara. We visit the tailors and shoemakers of Fez, who really do work their magic with fabric and leather the old-fashioned way. We have hundreds of glasses of mint tea in small cafes in every single town we visit, but especially liked Café Hafa, set on a sheer cliff in Tangier with a dramatic view of the Atlantic Ocean. We wander through Rabat and see the rows of “men only” coffee houses and imagine them drinking bitter black coffee while having intimate conversations about people, politics and stories as described by Shah. Shah’s storytelling opened up for us another side of Moroccan culture–one of mysticism, wisdom and secrets that we only glimpsed in Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fna, the large square set in the middle of the medina where everyone gathers after sunset. We rode camels across the Sahara and could appreciate the barren beauty and sheer terror of being left alone in a place which changes dramatically overnight as the winds shift the hills of sand completely leaving visitors at the mercy of a guide.

At the end of journey, we all agreed that we had a much better understanding of Morocco’s past and present, and were eager to keep reading after we arrived home.

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?

Traveling Through Spain …By the Book

Originally published on Concordia Language Village’s WorldView Blog

Our family travels a lot. Our global family adventures began with our twin daughters, Connie and Betty, when they were six months old. They have been part of the trip planning process since elementary school, and now that they’re 18 years old they direct and lead a lot of the adventures. My husband, Mike, a veteran travel writer, identifies the top sites to see and things to do (both well-known and little known), I set the travel schedule and arrange logistics, and the girls research what we need to know and how we should go about our trip.

Most recently, we spent a number of weeks exploring Spain. In addition to the required guidebook or two (we enjoy Rick Steves’ Snapshots for big cities), we brought an assortment of books to enhance our travels: a combination of history, memoir, social commentary, cultural portraits and fiction relevant to our itinerary. Choosing the right titles can be tricky and requires research, so for those of you heading to Spain, come along with as we travel “by the book.” 

We spent the majority of our time in Andalucía, including Granada, Córdoba, Seville and Arcos de la Frontera, exploring Spanish culture built upon the remnants of the sophisticated Moorish civilization that lasted 700 years.

We began in Granada and so naturally, Washington Irving’s Tales from Al Hambra, a collection of essays, journal entries and historical sketches, was first up. The book begins with a chapter in which Irving describes his journey from Seville to Granada with the flourish of a travel writer. The remainder of the book focuses on the fabled palace of the Nasrid Caliphate (where he took up residence in the spring of 1829), and where we spent an entire day. It is clear that Irving was enamored of what he called “one of the most remarkable, romantic and delicious spots in the world”, and we could see why.

The Alhambra is actually a collection of four areas: Palacios Nazaríes is an exquisite Islamic building with perfectly proportioned rooms and courtyards, beautiful tiling, fine carved wooden ceilings and an abundance of water; Charles V’s Palace was added to the Alhambra after the Reconquista and includes the museum; Alcazaba is an old fort with towers and excellent views; and the Generálife boasts beautiful, manicured gardens and a summer palace. Reading Tales around the time of our visit transported us back in time and filled the palace’s empty rooms and halls with colorful stories about the Moors, sprinkled with references to his grand ideas about lost Moorish glories, including the ghosts wandering the place. The Tales stayed with us long after we left reminding us that Irving was indeed a first-rate story teller. 

The Alhambra was built in 889 on Roman ruins, renovated and rebuilt in the 13th century by the Nasrid Caliphate and then taken over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain at the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492

The Alhambra was built in 889 on Roman ruins, renovated and rebuilt in the 13th century by the Nasrid Caliphate and then taken over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain at the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492

n the Mezquita in Córdoba, the contrasts are stark between the and Mihrab (left) and Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

n the Mezquita in Córdoba, the contrasts are stark between the Mihrab (left) …

and the Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

and the Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

Modern Spain is a lot less romantic–and much more complicated–than the sunshine, siestas and flamenco most tourists enjoy. We wanted to better understand the people selling us tickets to the Museu Picasso, serving us tinto de verano in the cafes, and sitting beside us (hundreds of teens actually) at the Maestranza watching novilladas (bullfights designed to promote new talent) on a hot July evening. Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past (2006) by Giles Tremlett, a journalist and resident of Spain, provides a contemporary and sobering view of a people still torn apart by the 1936-39 Civil War and subsequent repression under Generalissimo Francisco Franco. We learned about the cleaving of the population as Catholics stood by or rejected the Church’s actions during the last 100 years. And as we toured the grand Cathedrals of Granada, Seville and Córdoba–built on or near the conquered Moors’ edifices—we talked about the vein of oppression and cruelty exacted by the Church and its monarchs through the ages—and its effects on society still today.

Antoni Gaudí’s presence is felt all over the streets of Barcelona from the many buildings he restored and remodelled like Casa Batlló.

Antoni Gaudí’s presence is felt all over the streets of Barcelona from the many buildings he restored and remodelled like Casa Batlló.

... or the still under-construction Sagrada Família, a monumental Catholic church

… or the still under-construction Sagrada Família, a monumental Catholic church

Barcelona was also on our itinerary, and we felt that it worthwhile to dig a little deeper into Catalan history and Catalonia’s recent bid for independence. Colm Tóibín’s Homage to Barcelona (1990) provided an overview of Catalonia’s distinct 1,000-year history, which helped contextualize Catalan nationalism and the fervent push for independence. This passion was visible throughout the city in the form of the Estelada, the independence flag of Catalonia, coupled with giant signs featuring images of the original Catalan constitution. Reading Homage also explained the passion for the Catalan language and why shopkeepers, ticket takers and restauranteurs would speak to us in Catalan first and English second, choosing not to speak Spanish. The book served as a timeless travel guide as we walked the streets and admired the architecture, art and the role famous artists—Picasso, Miró, Gaudí, Dalí, Casals–have played in this cosmopolitan city’s evolution. 

At the end of journey, we all agreed that we had a much better understanding of Spain’s past and present, and were eager to keep reading after we arrived home.

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?


A Student’s Attempt to Understand the Complicated History of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

By Betty Berdan

Thirty years ago today, tanks and soldiers turned a peaceful student demonstration in Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square into a massacre. While the Chinese government has claimed that no one died, the death toll is likely almost 10,000. And hardly anyone there knows about it. If there’s one thing that China is good at, it’s covering up its own unsavory history.

Four years ago, I took a class on modern China in high school. That was when most of the kids in the class learned for the first time of the government’s actions in Tiananmen Square. While I couldn’t fault the American students for their lack of knowledge, I was shocked to learn that several of the Chinese students had never heard of this event. These students lived in Beijing and Shanghai; they returned to China for vacations; they grew up in their country’s educational system until high school. Yet, they weren’t aware of a violent day that shook the rest of the world — one when their parents weren’t much older than the student protestors.

How could these smart people be so oblivious to their country’s recent past? Throughout my seven years of Chinese language and culture classes, this question stuck in the back of my mind, making me wonder what made the Chinese so different that they were able to completely abrogate major events from their history. Censorship and communism couldn’t be the only explanations. It wasn’t until my third visit to China that I finally found an answer.

Betty inside one of the 90 palaces of the Forbidden City, Beijing.

A year ago, I visited my friend and her family in Shanghai. Wanting to show their country to an interested foreigner, they packed me up and toured me around Beijing. We waited in lines to get into every palace and historic site, with passports in hand to enter Tiananmen Square. In all of my learning about China, I couldn’t picture the enormous size of the square. It was difficult to imagine the centuries of history in the place I stood in, looking up at a giant portrait of Mao while soldiers marched by. With the Forbidden City behind me, it seemed easy to forget about a day in 1989 when centuries of other historical events occurred in the same place. Instead of recalling the carnage of one day, there was a better history to remember: this one was an easy one to forget.

Through broken Mandarin and English translations, my friend and her parents explained a Chinese perspective I couldn’t have begun to understand in the classroom. As they defended communism, Mao and censorship, they explained that they had what really mattered: comfort and happiness. They knew that the government hid things from them, understanding that there was information they weren’t allowed to know and atrocities that were covered up. To a democratic westerner, this seemed unacceptable, undemocratic — almost inhumane. But they explained that they lived good lives in a country where they didn’t have to worry about politics or the challenges of daily life. Like any others, their country wasn’t perfect, and its past had its blemishes in order to create a smoother future: a future they were living in and enjoying.

Even if I can’t agree with the Chinese about their acceptance of the government’s covering up the truth and lying to its people, I can understand wanting to not worry about the government every day. Here in the US, I look at how politics is destroying our daily happiness, and how it might be easier to be as uninvolved as the Chinese. At the end of the day, we’re too culturally different to fully accept and understand each other’s politics, but those glimpses into opposing perspectives have allowed me to finally start to see the Chinese peoples’ point of view on an event I could never explain as just an American. Above all, I have learned that there is tremendous value to understanding another culture by trying to see a person, an event, history and a culture from another perspective. All of the time I’ve spent immersed in another culture with hosts has reinforced the belief that different is not bad; it’s just different.

About the Author

Betty Berdan is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University. She has studied Chinese for more than seven years, and has traveled to China multiple times to study abroad and visit friends. She is proficient in Spanish and loves to experience other people, places and cultures.

Preparing to Study in the USA

My most recent book, Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know. is a BESTSELLER! and is being re-released today by IIE. The book remains in hot demand as the USA continues to welcome more international students than any other country, but the same rich, dynamic system that draws these students can be a source of complexity and confusion. This book goes deeper, responding to questions that need answers but are too often overlooked: How do I get involved on campus? Why are sports so prevalent in the USA? Why don’t American students always go to class? Make sure that your students are prepared to navigate and appreciate their USA educational experience!

Available as an e-book in English and Chinese from major vendors through IIE’s bookstore. And soon to be released in Arabic.

Book Review: “Tong Wars” by Scott Seligman

Guest Blog by Anna Catalano / @annacatalano

A captivating narrative tells a story of the early generation of Chinese immigrants who settled in New York City. Scott Seligman, China-hand and journalist by background, transports us into the violent and corrupt streets of New York’s Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century. The research uncovered by this work qualifies the author as a historian as well, as he details the decades of incidents surrounding two rival brotherhoods using volumes of both published and unpublished documents.tong-wars-cover

On the surface “Tong Wars” is the true story about Tom Lee, who arrives in NYC with the intent of helping to strengthen the Chinese community in Manhattan. As is frequently the case with ambitious newcomers in well-established big cities, the lure of quick money and power turns Tom’s focus to the underbelly of society, and he quickly becomes aligned with corrupt law enforcement, politicians, and criminal activities. In addition to legal restrictions (The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), blatant discrimination goes unchecked, and as a result, the tongs become surrogate organizations providing belonging and protection. The stories of conflict between rival groups On Leong Tong and the Hip Sing Tong are underpinned by significant details extracted from historical archives. This level of detail lends credibility to the real stories told that might otherwise seem to be lifted from the big screen.

The true value of this book is that it causes one to pause and reflect on today’s real-world struggles of minority groups arriving in new lands, hoping to preserve some of their culture while pursuing their dreams to achieve success and stature. The reality of living in a country where you have no social, economic, or political currency is understood by very few. In reading this story, the reader will find himself in conflict by sympathizing with the concept of achieving power by any means. This untold story of Chinese immigration captures a fascinating perspective and gives reason to question how modern-day societies continue to create formal and informal mechanisms of exclusion.

You can find much more information on the book at www.tongwars.com. Order your copy today from Amazon.com!

Anna was one of the six women featured in Get Ahead By Going Abroad: A Woman’s Guide to Fast-track Career Success. To read more about Anna’s perspective on leadership, check out her blog, Shades of Leadership.


Anna Catalano is a board director, a wife, and a mother of two, and involved with organizations and causes that are making a difference in the world.

A River, Trail, Mountain or Settlement Runs Through It: Going Global by Starting with Features Close to Home

Guest blog by Kelly Clark

My colleagues and I were preparing for an ArtsLit Academy in Owensboro, Kentucky, a town on the banks of the Ohio River with a long and rich culture based on and around this vital natural feature. In preparing to lead K-5 teachers through experiential learning based on a sense of place, I searched for children’s books that spoke to the power of a river in the life of town. I couldn’t find them. What I did find were books about all the geographical elements in a state, books about boats or bridges, fictional histories or memoirs that used or relied upon the river as a backdrop, and books about the water cycle and the place of rivers within that cycle.

Each of the books I found had separated the river into distinct content areas: geography, engineering or transportation, history and fiction, or science and climate studies. It seemed evident that there is a gap in the literature, or perhaps more accurately, an outdated way of thinking about texts to support teaching.

If we want teachers to cover an increasingly large amount of content at a deep and meaningful level, we have to approach the concepts intentionally so that that content, woven together, is covered through relevant and authentic learning while students grow in skills and global mindedness.

When I talk with elementary school teachers about adding global elements to lessons, one of the biggest stumbling blocks they mention is that they don’t have time to add content to an already packed day. My suggestion is that by reframing the content around local landmarks or geographical landmarks and extending that learning from the local to global, they make connections while building a sense of civic pride and understanding about their own cultures.

Space does not allow for a full scale discussion of all the rivulets and streams that would emerge when students immerse themselves in inquiry-based learning on the river flowing past their front door. But I can offer some suggestions for ideas to form essential questions that might start the wondering that would shape the class learning.

Bringing the river into the classroom would seem most at home in social studies, most likely under Human-Environmental Interactions, but it could also have geography and economic components. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to add in art, music, math, history, engineering and science strands. To provide some food for thought, I have grouped sample questions about rivers into three categories.


  • Where am I? What is around me?
  • Where does this river go? If I can’t see the end or beginning how do I know where it starts and ends?
  • Using maps, where are other places that have rivers? Are there towns like mine on rivers in other countries?
  • Why is our town on a river? How does a river both help and hurt a town?


  • Why are there boats on the river? What are the boats carrying?
  • Thinking about goods, how do people get the things they need? Does everything we need and use come from our own town?
  • How much does a boat carry? What is the cost?
  • Is the river the best way to travel and move goods from place to place?
  • When your town was young, and travelers came by river, what did they bring with them?
  • Are people, cultures and goods still moving on the river today? Who and where are they coming from?


  • Why is water important? What are the ways we use water?
  • Why is this river important to our town? To other towns on the river?
  • Are there ways for towns to get water without being on a river? How?
  • What happens when the water dries up or goes away?
  • What happens when the water becomes polluted?
  • What life forms depend on the river?

Any one of these questions could form a unit of study that can both be global in comparisons and historical in looking at the past, present and future of our rivers. The scope and breadth is huge, and, as such, does not fit easily into a children’s book, which is where I began my original search. Instead, use the local feature as your text and have the students create their own river books to demonstrate the depth of their understanding in an authentic way that honors their sense of place as well as their learning.

Kelly Clark is the state lead for Global Competence at the Kentucky Department of Education. Kelly enjoys supporting all Kentucky students in being prepared for a globally interconnected and inquiry based world. @KyDeptofEd @KellyAClark

Kelly Clark, KY Leads

Kelly Clark is the Global Competence Lead at the Kentucky Department of Education.

Preparing to Study in the USA: How American Football Inspired IIE’s Newest Book

Guest Blog by Dr. Allan E. Bookman

The idea to write IIE’s newest book with Stacie Berdan—Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know—grew out of a football game. I was visiting with a group of international students attending The Ohio State University. A few weeks before, they were fortunate enough to be recognized by the university president and invited to watch a football game in his sky box.

While greatly honored by the invitation, none were sure what to make of it. An American friend tried to help out by explaining that seeing the game from a sky box was much better than going to a tailgate party. Because they did not know what a tailgate party was either, they asked me to explain. I said the next time they went to a football game look at all the cooking and partying that goes on in the parking lot and the people gathered around the open back doors of their station wagons. Since we do not have too many station wagons anymore, and I was not sure what you called the back side of an SUV, I was not sure what I said did much good.

The group had just two more questions. One revolved around why the players stopped playing so often. The other was why did the Ministry of Higher Education allow schools to spend so much time and resources on athletic games.

Stacie Berdan, it turned out, often had similar conversations. We discovered that there was an awful lot about American higher education that did not translate well into other cultures. This book is our effort to gather in one volume some of the most confusing things about our system as well as the culture surrounding it, and then try to explain it from the viewpoint of someone encountering it for the first time.

We welcome your feedback and suggestions about how we did and also other concepts and practices that it would be helpful to explain.

A few days after I left Ohio, one of the students got in touch to thank me for the explanations, and then to ask one more question. Everyone loved the marching band that performed at half time. What the student wanted to know is what happened to all the soldiers when the game was over? To whose army did they belong and was there a military base near the campus that housed them?

If you’re interested buying a copy of Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know, go through either IIE for the paperback (US$4.99 for one copy, steep discounts for 20 or more) or Amazon for the eBook (US$2.99).

@iiegoodman @iieglobal #internationalstudents #generationstudyabroad

Dr. Allan E. Bookman, president of the Institute of International Education, is a leading voice on the critical need for more international exchange to promote commercial, diplomatic, scientific and cultural understanding around the globe to create a more peaceful and prosperous world for all. @iiegoodman


Making Language Immersion Fun, Camp-style

While there is no disputing the many benefits of learning a second language, the U.S. education system, as a whole, is woefully inadequate in giving our children the foundation they need to become proficient. Not enough schools begin language lessons early enough, and the vast majority of language programs in U.S. schools are not immersive. If parents are serious about helping their children become proficient, they must make language study, including immersion, part of their child’s overall education.

My husband and I recognized this need in our daughters, Connie and Betty, who, although having taken Spanish since kindergarten, were still shy about speaking the language in public. So we traveled with them throughout Central and South America over the course of three years (stories I’ve shared on this blog and in other publications). This opened their eyes to the immense value of mastering another language and inspired in them the desire to actually become proficient. But not everyone can travel internationally nor are most families capable of speaking Spanish to each other when they’re on the road. In other words, travel alone may not be immersive enough; but if proficiency is the goal, then immersion is the path by which to get there.

That’s why for several years we have enrolled Connie and Betty in El Lago del Bosque at Concordia Language Villages (CLV) in Bemidji, Minnesota, for two weeks. CLV provides immersive cultural and language learning in 15 languages to adults and children alike, but the real focus is 7-18 year olds. CLV maintains three separate campuses in Minnesota, with the main one being in Bemidji, where it houses campers in “villages” – camp-like environments dedicated to each of the 15 different languages and cultures. Food, music, games, sports and currency are those of the focus culture, and the villages even include typical housing and décor. Courses run from long weekend sessions during the scIMG_4235 (2)hool year to one-, two- and four-week sessions during the summer. “Villagers” are encouraged to take a “no English”pledge.

The villages are wonderful microcosms of specific cultures, and my husband Mike and I were convinced it was the next best step to proficiency for our daughters. But they were not initially pleased, primarily because they had gotten used to all the excitement and appeal of international vacations. In addition to being stuck in the middle of the woods, camp was “work” because they’d be speaking Spanish and “studying” every day!

Mike and I held firm because we not only wanted Spanish immersion in a safe, fun environment, we wanted them to experience sleep-away camp and manage the emotional and physical challenges that come with it.

So Connie and Betty packed their stuff, and we drove them out to Minnesota from Connecticut, stopping to visit major cities and sites along the way. As we arrived at the 800-acre site, we saw “Welcome!” signs in many languages.

When we aIMG_4233rrived at El Lago del Bosque, the greeters only spoke Spanish. Fortunately, Connie and Betty got right with the program, showed their “passports”, checked themselves into “Casa Santo Domingo,” made name necklaces choosing a fun name, exchanged U.S. dollars for pesos, signed up for activities, and were “tested” for just a few minutes for placement in the daily “tertulias” – mini-conversation classes that took place every  day. They turned in all their obligatory “English” paraphernalia – books, games and all digital devices (they could only communicate by written letter, unless in an emergency) – and bid us “adios”. This process only took an hour or so.

Two weeks later they called to tell us they were on the bus to the airport and absolutely loved their time at El Lago del Bosque! They made new friends, played sports, ate interesting food, danced and sang, watched the World Cup with their Argentine counselors (almost all CLV staff are native speakers from many different countries), and enjoyed International Day where the 15 villages got together to share their cultures through music, dance, food and sports. But best of all, they felt as though their Spanish had jumped to a whole new level.

Mike and I were glad that it worked out and were cautiously optimistic about their returning next summer. We had agreed that although we mandated their going to CLV the first summer, any additional participation would be up to them. We were smart enough not to ask them about returning right away.

As they returned to school as high school freshmen in the fall, they both realized how much Spanish they had learned. This noticeable improvement in skill level combined with the practical experience of communicating with other kids and counselors in a fun, engaging atmosphere sealed the deal. They started talking about which session to attend the next year, trying to coordinate going with a new friend they made at camp. We discussed the pros and cons of adding another language or attending the four-week high school session, which can count for credit for one full year of language learning.

After a few years at the Villages, our daughters each skipped a year in Spanish — not because they took the 4-week high school credit (they didn’t) — because they had become comfortable speaking Spanish in an immersion setting — being active language learners, which educators say is the best way to learn a language. The lessons they learned in school clicked much faster. They applied what had been learning in class to eating, singing, playing sports, making friends. In other words, they learned to communicate on a daily basis. Although our daughters attended for the first time as 14 year olds, I wish we had known about Concordia when they were younger. I would have felt comfortable sending them to a one- or two-week session every summer, possibly in multiple languages. In fact, we met a few young adults who had spent six or seven summers there, studying languages they were not learning in school, yet were fluent enough to study abroad in the target language when they went to college. This could be a terrific option for parents who don’t have language learning K-12.

In fact, I’d recommend parents consider sending their children as early as 7 or 8 – as long as the child is comfortable attending sleep-away camp – every year for as much exposure to cultural and language immersion as possible. The cost is on par with that of other sleep-away camps, and there are many, many scholarships available. But there isn’t another place like Concordia Language Villages; it’s very special and can help our children not only reach proficiency in a second or third language, but also inspire them to become responsible world citizens. Tucked away in the northern woods of Minnesota, it is a real gem unlike any other place in the U.S.

If you’re still looking for summer activities for your children, check out CLV. Your child will have a learning experience unlike any other.


My latest book, “Preparing to Study in the USA” is Available Now!

Why are sports so important in U.S. college culture? Am I allowed to express my own opinions, even if I disagree with the professor? These are some of the most common questions international students ask when they arrive at an American university or college. The United States offers a rich and dynamic higher education system that attracts more international students than any other country in the world. U.S. colleges and universities also actively seek international students to facilitate cultural exchange among students and internationalize their campuses. But the variety offered by the country’s more than 4,000+ colleges and universities can also be a source of confusion.

To help students understand and succeed in the U.S. education system, I’ve teamed up with Allan Goodman, President of the Institute of International Education (IIE), to write our third student guide, Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know.

This new book – available in paperback now and as an e-book in May – offers practical advice and cultural insight to students, including how to:

  • Understand the Value of a U.S. Education: Critical thinking and a liberal education can give international students a competitive edge in the global job market.
  • Identify Resources for International Students: A variety of resources are available for international students seeking or enrolled in U.S. higher education that offer students a wealth of information to ease their integration and immersion, including the U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA network of advising centers around the world and on-campus resources such as the Registrar’s office, student advisers and health services.
  • Choose the Right School: Public versus private, urban versus rural, small versus large are just a few of the factors explained and important to consider in finding a good fit among the more than 4,000 institutions.
  • Calculate Costs: Tuition, room and board, textbooks, financial aid and scholarships are some of the biggest factors that are involved in calculating the difference between a university’s published price and the net (or actual) cost.
  • Get Involved in Campus Activities Beyond Academics: Taking advantage of the rich array of clubs, sports, interest groups and diverse student population can help students explore new passions and become a more well-rounded and attractive candidate for future employers.
  • Navigate Campus Life: U.S.-style dorms and dining halls, Greek life, sports and fandom, and a robust party scene found on most campuses may be overwhelming to students who have little direct experience with U.S. lifestyle and culture; therefore, a little explanation and interpretation from fellow students and advisers will go a long way.
  • Stay Safe Far From Home: Being prepared, staying informed and understanding the local laws are critical for dealing with the inherent risks in traveling and living abroad.
  • Get Work Experience in the U.S. After Graduation: Taking advantage of the opportunity for Optional Practical Training (OPT) is one possibility explained for students on an F-1 visa to remain in country after graduation to get valuable work experience in their disciplines.

In 15 short chapters, Preparing to Study in the USA addresses the most critical issues facing international students as identified by U.S. international student advisers, accompanied by three Frequently Asked Questions at the end of each chapter. FAQs include:

  • How can I find out if a school I am thinking of attending is accredited?
  • What if my TOEFL scores do not meet requirements?
  • How do I choose my major?
  • If I want to be a professional, why do I need a liberal arts education?
  • How do I get an adviser?
  • What is academic freedom?
  • Why are sports so important in U.S. culture?
  • Why shouldn’t I live with students from my home country?
  • What do campuses do to help students deal with stress?

Print copies of Preparing to Study in the USA are available from IIE Publications for $4.95 USD, with a steep discount for bulk copies for schools to give out to students (20 copies for $20.00 USD). E-books go on sale for $2.99 in May at IIE Books.