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Wisconsin Educators, Business Look To Future Of Language

Summit Participants Hope To Boost Global Business

Man looks at folder with documents titled Wisconsin Language Summit Program
Marylee Williams/WPR

Better language education could help Wisconsin’s global business competitiveness in the future. That’s the idea that brought education and business leaders to the University Wisconsin-Madison on Friday.

The Wisconsin Language Summit was part of the two-year initiative that wants to figure out how languages can help business in the state. The Wisconsin Language Roadmap Initiative is funded from a U.S. Department of Defense grant.

At the event, groups cited a need for a highly skilled multilingual workforce in the state to help with conducting business.

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Mark Tyler, president of OEM Fabricators, Inc. and a UW System regent, said that compared to a decade ago, about half of his customers are now multinational companies.

“We’re going to have to find these solutions, if we don’t find solutions to a higher level of language competency and cultural competency, we’ll become less competitive,” he said. “I mean it’s that simple.”

The state doesn’t require foreign language study to graduate from high school, but the state Department of Public Instruction encourages school districts to require students to take foreign language courses. Educators at the summit discussed how programs like dual language immersion can help workforce needs.

Claudine Clark teaches French at Madison East High School. She discussed her school’s facilitated language study program at the summit, saying language education tends to get overlooked compared to things like reading or math.

“I really think that the state needs to take a look at language as a part of this global world that we live in and prioritize it as something that can and should be given to students with wide access,” Clark said.

The Wisconsin Language Roadmap Initiative hopes to create a specific plan by 2019.

Dianna Murphy co-chaired the Wisconsin Language Summit, and said language is critical in the global economy.

“Wisconsin has traditionally been a leader in language education, but we are — today we risk falling behind,” she said. “Other states are investing substantially in language education for their students.”

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