Advocating for Language Businesses and the Next Generation of Linguistic Talent
By: Laura Brandon (Executive Director)
23 February 2017
While the political turns in Washington D.C. feel anything but routine this year, the U.S. language advocacy group JNCL-NCLIS has stayed on target identifying important U.S. legislation and program funding that will affect our industry in the near future. During this two-day event, regulations and issues were addressed that impact U.S. language businesses as well as the next generation of translators and localizers.
Last week I participated in JNCL’s Language Advocacy Days event in Washington D.C. as a representative of GALA. More than 130 language industry leaders attended the event and collectively took part in 150 meetings with U.S. senators, House representatives, and non-legislative groups that influence language funding and regulations.
As participants, we addressed important topics from foreign language learning and funding, to tax regulations, to contract bidding protocols needed to support reasonable operations for LSCs. On the education agenda, we advocated for language learning, dual language immersion programs, study abroad opportunities for students, and a variety of programs to bring language to students from kindergarten all the way through university.
Across the board, we as constituents aimed to share important messages with our state politicians, pointing to the many benefits of language: business and economic benefits, diplomatic and national security benefits, and cognitive benefits.
For those not familiar with JNCL-NCLIS, it is an organization with a mission to advocate for the U.S. language enterprise at the federal level. The majority of JNCL members come from the language learning space, such as associations of teachers of languages at U.S. state and regional levels. A smaller number of members represent the business of language through associations such as GALA and ATA, corporations such as Rosetta Stone, and LSCs such as Certified Languages International and Cesco.
The format of the two-day event was concise and interesting: we were trained on key messages, we met briefly with our fellow delegates, and then we dispersed to find our representatives’ offices on The Hill for meetings throughout the afternoon. On Day 2, we reunited to report on our experiences and discuss next steps to continue advocacy and contact with our representatives.
I personally had the opportunity to participate in two state-level meetings. For the Washington State meetings, I was with three other professionals. Collectively we represented the breadth of the language enterprise in Washington State. Brenda Gaver, the "2016 Teacher of Year" from The Pacific NW Council for Languages; Lisa Frumkes, Senior Director of Content Development at Rosetta Stone; and Caitilin Walsh, a professional certified translator and Past President of the American Translators Association.
- Senator Patty Murray’s office: This office was receptive to our message about the importance of language education, particularly its relation to Washington state’s export economy (1 in 5 jobs in Washington relate to exported products or services).
- Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s office: This office was receptive to our message about the importance of language education, and particularly its importance to the high-tech sector in Seattle.
I was also part of a larger delegation of nine who met with the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). The key discussion item in this meeting was the hot topic of classification of linguists for taxation of LSCs. As you may know, many United States-based LSCs have had to advocate in states that are trying to classify freelance linguists as employees (and thereby collect revenue on their work through the LSCs). This issue has been particularly noxious since the recession.
Collectively, the delegates at Language Advocacy Days met with representatives from almost every state. Each state delegation reported back on their experiences during Day 2 of the event, and reports were overwhelmingly positive.
While many of the U.S. representatives’ offices admitted to uncertainties in the months to come, in particular budget confirmations, many asked us to keep in touch about particular legislation as it impacts their constituents and the businesses in their districts.
Importantly, we were able to generate significant interest around the Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on Language and their forthcoming recommendations on US language education needs. This publication is the culmination of a two-year initiative supported by a bi-partisan request from members of the House and Senate. It is an important step in legitimizing our industry’s work and will make recommendations on education funding to continue sustainably into the future. Watch for the links to the Academy’s recommendations on February 28.
It’s no secret that our industry still has some ways to go to demonstrate its importance to global learning, global citizenship, and global business. However, the work of JNCL and this annual event is making important strides that we can all be proud of.
For readers based in the U.S., I encourage you to consider supporting JNCL and their work by joining, donating, and/or sending a representative from your company to next year’s event.
And for those of you based outside of the U.S., I encourage you to consider ways that similar messages can be communicated about our industry in your home countries.
Our industry is young, and the advocacy engines are improving to support the ecosystem of our industry – from language instructors to linguists to our companies. We must take the time to pave the way for the years to come – both for our future talent development and for the business conditions that matter.
Laura is GALA's Executive Director. She oversees operations, staffing, and programming for the association of companies in 50+ countries. Laura currently serves on the advisory board of the Localization Certification Program for the University of Washington and previously was member of the ASAE Small Staff Associations Council and Task Force on Small Staff Community.