Professional Development

5 Ways to Advocate for Language Learning

Alissa Rutkowski 5 minutes


Here at Wayside we are passionate about advocating for language learning and for language teachers. We are excited to share this guest post from the Joint National Committee on Languages about five easy ways you can become a language advocate. We’d love to hear from you in the comments: how do you advocate for languages?

Why should you advocate for languages? By speaking up for languages, experts like you have a chance to share your unique story with policymakers. Showing up and taking a stand on issues that are important to you and your community matter. As the saying goes, “if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.” Advocacy work can sometimes feel like overwhelming, uncharted territory. Focusing on these 5 tips will help create the foundation for a positive advocacy experience.

Get involved in your state, regional, and national associations

The first step to successful advocacy is remembering that you are not alone. There is strength in numbers, and connecting with language associations is an easy way to find common ground partners in your community and beyond. To get started, the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) membership directory provides access to current member associations and their homepages.

In addition to finding language and education associations, reaching out to organizations outside of the direct community is instrumental in increasing the effectiveness of your advocacy work. The relevance of language education does not end in the classroom. Diversifying allies and perspectives for the same root cause enhances your advocacy platform and allows you to reach legislators in new ways.

A great way to spread the word about your program and advocacy goals is to attend different conferences and events both within and outside of your community. This year, JNCL’s Language Advocacy Day brought together professionals from 42 states to share successes with each other and with legislators during 200 meetings on Capitol Hill. Does your state or regional association hold annual conferences? Or a lobby day at the state capital?

Create advocacy goals

You know you’re advocating for languages and language education, but what exactly should you ask for? Knowing what to ask for, and creating advocacy goals at the state level, breaks down the larger issue at hand into manageable, trackable pieces. The American Council for Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has an advocacy resource page specifically for state goals with additional guides available for download. ACTFL’s current recommended goals to make language education a statewide priority are listed as follows:

  1. Proclamation from an elected official in support of language education
  2. Arrange for a meeting with state legislative or congressional representatives
  3. Advocate for state supervisor for languages
  4. Lobby state legislature/board to support National Board Certification with stipends or licensure renewal
  5. Encourage statewide promotion of early language learning
  6. Develop PK-16 agreements to establish policies for secondary to postsecondary transition
  7. Develop a Teacher of the Year Program
  8. Work to educate candidates running for office regarding the importance of language education
  9. Work to legislate a high school language graduation requirement
  10. Develop a biliteracy seal program for the high school diploma

What are some of your goals at the local and state level? What key messages best serve your vision? Document your progress and share your successes.

Stay updated on policy news

Effectively communicating your advocacy goals begins with being informed on policy news. Through resources like NewsBrief, it’s easy to have timely access to breaking news, advocacy action alerts, and community updates. Featured stories covering education, policy, and industry keep you in the loop on updates across the Language Enterprise. With just a click of a button, weekly advocacy action alerts allow you to express your support for legislation such as the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, and the Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching Act. If you have an announcement to share with the community, be sure to contact JNCL to be featured in the next NewsBrief.

Handouts help out

Having a reference to guide you through interactions with legislators will increase your confidence and help keep everyone on the same page. “It’s actually because of my work with JNCL that I started to do this,” explains Tom Beeman, Advocacy Chair for California Language Teachers’ Association. “I remember last year Bill (former JNCL executive director Dr. William Rivers) said that we need to do more advocacy at the state and local level and that’s what inspired me to bring the idea of advocacy field work to CLTA.” Creating your own field guide, or using the Language Advocacy Day Program and Advocacy Guide, will focus your meeting agenda and help you navigate the entire process from start to finish. Visit JNCL’s Issues page in order to view the current legislative agenda and corresponding Legislative Leave Behind Sheet. This will provide you with talking points on key legislation to use during your meeting and act as a leave behind reference for the Member of Congress or their staff. As a member benefit, JNCL is eager to design research-based one-pages, white papers, and briefs to aid language advocacy work at all levels.

Show off your program

Inviting legislators to witness language education in action not only allows you to create a personal connection with their office, but also adds power to your personal story. As a constituent, your voice speaks volumes to the needs and wants of the community. Let your program or classroom be apart of “seeing is believing” and not fall into “out of sight, out of mind.”

Inviting legislators and key-players outside of the language community is as simple as doing just that: invite them! Work with your principal to compose a letter telling them about your language program and the importance it holds in your community. Be sure to send it along to each of their offices. Consult JNCL’s Bring Congress to your Classroom for ideas on getting your students involved and keeping congress interested.

In 1972, the Joint National Committee for Languages began as an informal coalition of eight national language teaching associations, and now has grown to over 100 members, including national, regional, and state organizations. JNCL is an entirely member-funded nonprofit education policy association, and it represents more than 300,000 professionals under its three-tiered governance. The most widely known JNCL activity is its annual fly-in and policy summit, Language Advocacy Day typically hosted in Washington, DC in early February.