Conference Report: 2017 Language Advocacy Day

Language Advocacy Day 2017


JNCL-NCLIS welcomed 128 language advocates to Washington, DC on February 16th, making 2017 the largest gathering of language advocates in Washington, DC in the event’s history. Attendees hailed from 35 states and the District of Columbia, and attended over 160 meetings with their Congressional delegations, Congressional Committees, and Executive Branch agencies. Collectively, these efforts resulted in the largest footprint on Capitol Hill in JNCL-NCLIS history!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

On Thursday, February 16, language advocates convened at the conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, for a networking breakfast and morning programming. After welcoming remarks from JNCL-NCLIS President Keith Cothrun of the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) and Platinum Sponsors Qatar Foundation International (QFI) and Brigham Young University (BYU), language advocates heard from our featured speakers Marty Abbott of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and Dan Davidson of American Councils for International Education. As Commissioners appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ (AAAS) Commission on Language Learning, Ms. Abbott and Dr. Davidson shared the key findings and recommendations of the Commission’s final report, entitled America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education in the 21st Century.

In the second morning session, language advocates benefitted from a panel presentation themed Making the Case for Language. Panelists included Jared Linck, Associate Research Scientist from the University of Maryland’s Center for the Advanced Study of Language (CASL); Sonia Zamorsky, Director of Digital Globalization for Marriott; Terry Wiley, President and CEO of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL); and Gail McGinn, CEO of McGinn Consulting, LLC and former Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness in the Department of Defense. Panelists spoke to benefits of language for education and cognition, business and economic growth, social and community well-being and advancement, and national security.

Finally, before breaking into meeting delegations and departing the hotel for their off-site meetings, attendees participated in an Advocacy Day Preparation seminar which highlighted this year’s legislative “asks”, or requests made by attendees during their Congressional meetings:

Senate “Asks”
  • Cosponsor the Native American Languages Preservation Act
  • Support for NCLIS Appropriations Priorities
  • For a staff member to attend the roll-out of AAAS Commission on Language Learning’s Final Report
House “Asks”
  • Cosponsor the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act
  • Support for NCLIS Appropriations Priorities
  • For a staff member to attend the roll-out of AAAS Commission on Language Learning’s Final Report

After Thursday afternoon’s advocacy meetings, language advocates reconvened at the Hyatt Regency for a relaxing reception in the hotel’s 11th floor Thornton Room. During the reception, JNCL-NCLIS awarded the Rush D. Holt Award for Language Service to the Nation to Representative Don Young, Congressman for All Alaska. Mr. Young was accompanied by his wife, Anne Young, and senior colleagues from his Washington, DC office. He shared a moving tribute about his personal relationship with world languages, and about the importance of language capacity in our diplomatic and military communities as tools for fostering understanding, mitigating tension, and resolving conflict.

Friday, February 17, 2017

After a networking breakfast, Friday morning’s session began as it does every year–with state delegation meeting reports. Language advocates divided into their state groups to brainstorm observations and lessons learned, meeting highlights, and action items. Each group appointed a team leader to share these and other insights with the other attendees of Language Advocacy Day. We were pleased to note no negative feedback from this year’s meetings, setting yet another record for the event in 2017.

2017 Language Advocacy Day concluded with the annual Delegate Assembly, the business meeting of organizational delegates to JNCL-NCLIS. Executive Director Bill Rivers presented the first Annual Report to delegates, a comprehensive overview of JNCL-NCLIS activities throughout 2016. You can read the full report below.

As JNCL-NCLIS membership continues to grow, so too does Language Advocacy Day and the footprint we have on Capitol Hill. The groundwork laid at this year’s Language Advocacy Day will fuel our collective advocacy work throughout 2017, as JNCL-NCLIS follows up on each Congressional meeting, the AAAS Commission on Language Learning releases its final report, and the ACTFL launches its Lead with Languages campaign. These and numerous other initiatives over the past few years have culminated in a widely-held sentiment in Congress that languages not only matter, they are essential.

The JNCL-NCLIS Board of Directors and staff express their gratitude to those who attended Language Advocacy Day for their activity and commitment. In addition, JNCL-NCLIS thanks this year’s volunteers who provided crucial assistance and support during the event. Finally, we are grateful to all Language Advocacy Sponsors, listed below. The event was a huge success and the efforts of all participants shared an equal role in that success.

  1. Annual Report

    Executive Director’s Report

    Dear Colleagues,

    On behalf of the nearly 130 member organizations, the Board of Directors, and the staff of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies, it gives me great pleasure to present a comprehensive review of our activities in 2016. From national advocacy to state-level organizing, to high-impact research on the case for languages, to coalition building and continuous improvement to the operations of our organization, 2016 was a landmark year.

    While the political impact on language of Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election has yet to be fully seen, we are working diligently to strengthen the bipartisan support for the Language Enterprise on Capitol Hill, and to build relationships with the new administration. Our membership continues to grow, providing us all with a stronger voice in Washington and nationally. We’ve improved our internal operations, with additional operational efficiencies and better member communications. Now, more than ever, your support and your voice matters, and together we will fight for the Language Enterprise in DC and nationally.

    With Best Wishes,

    William P. Rivers, Ph.D.

    Executive Director

    Congressional and Executive Branch Engagement

    Over the course of 2016, JNCL-NCLIS staff held more than 80 meetings with Congressional offices and with Executive Branch offices that administer the programs we support. In addition to these meetings with JNCL-NCLIS staff, the Language Enterprise was represented in more than 135 meetings on Capitol Hill, at the U.S. Department of Education (USED), the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses during 2016 Language Advocacy Day, held February 25-26.

    These collective efforts to engage policymakers in Washington have garnered recognition for JNCL-NCLIS as an authority on language policy. On two occasions in 2016, JNCL-NCLIS was asked by the USED to take part in high-level planning meetings for initiatives involving language:

    1. USED Summit on Global Competencies. In July of 2016, JNCL-NCLIS took part in a summit on global competencies at USED. JNCL was part of the planning committee for this event, and secured the participation of business leaders for a session on Global Competencies and the Private Sector. The summit was led by the Office of International Affairs and the Office of International and Foreign Language Education (IFLE) and convened  a working group with representatives from across USED and the education community, including JNCL-NCLIS and several of our member organizations–the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), American Councils for International Education, Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), and the California Language Teachers Association (CLTA).

    The summit culminated in the release of the Department’s Framework for Developing Global and Cultural Competencies to Advance Equity, Excellence, and Economic Competitiveness, for which “World and Heritage Languages” is one of four central pillars. The Summit Webcast is available at

    1. USED Symposium on Multiliteracy and Dual Language Learning. In June, JNCL-NCLIS was asked, along with other national education organizations working to expand access to dual language immersion for English Learners, to take part in the planning and execution of a Symposium on Multiliteracy and Dual Language Learning hosted by the USED’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). The symposium took place on September 23 and brought together researchers, state and local education leaders, educators and students, and members of the local business community around the immense benefits of multiliteracy for all students.

    The event also received Education Secretary Dr. John King as a featured speaker, who recognized those states that have adopted a Seal of Biliteracy. JNCL-NCLIS was a core member of the planning committee, and had a lead role in organizing the symposium. JNCL-NCLIS’ role was recognized by the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education, Dr. Libia Gil, with the presentation of a Certificate of Merit to Ms. Maria Pulcini, JNCL-NCLIS Policy Analyst, for her dedication and hard work on the planning committee.

    In addition to engaging the Executive Branch and Congress through regular meetings and participation in these events, JNCL-NCLIS organized a staff briefing in the U.S. House of Representatives on language education and the national interest. The briefing, held on December 6, was sponsored by Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and David Price (D-NC) and featured a panel discussion with Drs. Anita Pandey from the National Association for Bilingual Education, Luke Plonsky from Georgetown University’s Title VI-supported Assessment and Evaluation Language Resource Center, and Trevor Gunn from Medtronic, Inc. and Georgetown University. Panelists explored the question of whether our education system adequately prepares students to succeed in the globalized 21st century.

    Presidential Campaign Engagement

    As 2016 was an election year, JNCL-NCLIS worked diligently to keep language priorities on the radar for each political party, and the candidates vying for nomination from those parties. The process began with a campaign questionnaire in January of 2016 to the then fifteen presidential campaigns requesting commitments to support language priorities in the federal government, particularly in the Departments of Education, State, and Defense. Later, as the campaign season approached the parties’ national conventions and the pool of candidates for each party narrowed, JNCL-NCLIS sent policy statements to the party committees responsible for drafting the official party platforms. The platforms of both parties included statements on language.

    When the campaign narrowed to two candidates, Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, JNCL-NCLIS submitted a transition memo to both candidates’ transition teams requesting coordination and meaningful leadership on language in the next administration. When Mr. Trump won the election on November 8, JNCL-NCLIS worked with the office of Congressman Don Young (R-AK) on a letter to Mr. Pence, then vice president-elect and head of the transition team, underscoring this same request for coordination and leadership on issues related to language, regional expertise, and culture.

    2017 Policy Activities

    JNCL-NCLIS engages with policymakers in these ways to ensure that the policy priorities of the language enterprise are recognized and understood within the context of the national interest. With this goal in mind, our activity on Capitol Hill and with the Executive Branch in 2016 had three major foci:

    1. Funding. JNCL-NCLIS monitors appropriations for 13 federal programs that provide funding to the language enterprise. In 2016, several of our programs were under threat of underfunding, or of funding cuts, in the fiscal year 2017 budget:

    Title VI/Fulbright-Hays of HEA. In the FY17 budget request, the Obama administration proposed a cut of $4.893 million, or 69% below FY16 levels, to the Fulbright-Hays, or overseas component, of the program. JNCL-NCLIS worked closely with its member organizations, and other organizations such as the National Humanities Alliance and the Coalition for International Education, to build support in Congress for level-funding of the program and to circulate a letter to House and Senate appropriators requesting level-funding. We will continue to fight any cuts proposed to Title VI/Fulbright-Hays by the new administration or by Congress in the 115th session.

    Title IV, Part A of ESSA. In the nation’s new K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), grant monies to State and local education agencies for curriculum development were authorized in Title IV, Part A under a program called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program. This program was authorized at $1.65 billion; President Obama’s FY17 budget requested only $500 million. JNCL-NCLIS advocated for this program as part of a broad coalition of education organizations, as world languages are included in the well-rounded education activities funded by the program. With the transition to the new administration and the passage of a continuing resolution of FY16 funding levels through April of 2017, the implementation of ESSA and, therefore, of funding of Title IV Part A has been delayed. We continue to raise the issue with the Congress as a member of the coalition of organizations advocating for full funding.

    Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC). The DLIFLC budget was cut by nearly 25% from 2013 to 2015, while the DLIFLC mission – the number of students trained there as well as the proficiency goals for DLIFLC graduates – increased. While the specific reasons for this remain unclear, JNCL-NCLIS and others, including our member SCOLA, worked throughout 2016 to raise this as a priority with the House Armed Services Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

    2. Legislation. Working with the bipartisan support of cosponsoring offices Rep. Price (D-NC), Young (R-AK), Crowley (D-NY), and Lance (R-NJ), JNCL-NCLIS and its member organizations introduced legislation in the 114th Congress entitled the World Language Advancement Act. The bill would establish a competitive grant program in USED for language programming in elementary and secondary schools. The legislation was first introduced as an amendment to ESSA, and later as a standalone bill when the Congress passed ESSA through a closed-door conference reconciliation of the Senate and House versions of the bill. JNCL-NCLIS will continue to work with its member organizations and with the 115th Congress toward establishing a federally-supported K-12 language program.

    3. Language Industry. In 2016, JNCL-NCLIS has been working with the National Federation of Independent Businesses on a comprehensive strategy to address three interlocking issues in the Department of Labor that negatively impact the language industry. In addition, we’ve raised these issues with the Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees in the Congress.

    Information on earnings by language professionals, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and based on monthly data collected by the Occupation and Employment Statistics (OES) Program of the Bureau of the Census. Our initial analyses of the raw data and survey methodology give strong indications that the Bureau of the Census 1) significantly undercounts translators and interpreters, in that the OES only surveys employers with W-2 employees (as opposed to freelancers, who constitute the vast majority of practicing translators and interpreters); 2) excludes US Government employees (Federal linguists earn more than $70,000 per year on average); and 3) does not  differentiate by geographic location, language, education level, certification, or specialization.

    Prevailing wage rates for translators and interpreters, based on the foregoing data and determined by the Wage and Hour Division of the US Department of Labor. As a result of the infelicities noted in the OES methodology, the prevailing wage rates appear to be much lower than the typical compensation provided to interpreters and translators in the US. This depresses the earnings of translators and interpreters on many Federal contracts, as well as the profits of the companies holding those contracts;

    Enforcement of prevailing wages under the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA), which can be invoked by Federal agencies, in principle to ensure a minimum level of compensation for employees under Federal contracts for professional services. The concern with the SCA is that the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is not equitably enforcing the SCA through its audits, thereby allowing less-diligent contractors to pay their translators and interpreters less than the minimum, and to underbid companies which do adhere to the SCA.

    4. Other Issue Areas in 2016

    Special Immigrant Visa Program. In May 2016, JNCL-NCLIS Executive Director Bill Rivers co-authored an open letter with 12 other leaders of the international translation/interpretation community on behalf of Afghan and Iraqi host nation linguists who assisted American troops. In the letter, the authors urge members of Congress to support the Special Immigrant Visa program through the authorization of visas for the more than 10,000 backlogged applications and the reform of eligibility criteria that leave thousands of linguists in danger. Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Shaheen (D-NH) led the effort and continue to push it with the new administration and with the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees of the Senate.

    H-1B Visa. The H-1B visa program is of interest to both the educational and industry sides of JNCL-NCLIS membership. The H-1B program is meant for skilled technical workers; H-1B visas are capped at 65,000 per year. For the educational side, SEAs and LEAs were able to claim exemption from the numerical cap of H-1B visas through affiliations with Institutions of Higher Education. Through this affiliation, many school districts were able to source qualified teachers to fill the demand for language programs in the district, especially burgeoning dual language immersion programs.

    In 2006, an administrative change occurred which more narrowly interpreted the definition of “affiliation” to mean shared ownership, language teachers from other countries who would fill the growing demand subject to the numerical cap. JNCL-NCLIS worked with its members the National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NADSFL) and the National Council of State Supervisors for Language (NCSSFL), as well as partners like the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), to raise this issue with the White House and with Congress. All indications are that this effort will require a great deal of patience, as immigration is a heated topic in Washington, particularly under the new administration.

    In addition to the affiliation issue, JNCL-NCLIS has worked with its member the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), as well as partners like the Council of Social Science Associations (COSSA), to add linguistics of all varieties to the current list of STEM subjects. Doing so would exempt degree holders in linguistics from the caps on H-1B visas. This has been an arduous process, but a recent ruling by the Department of Homeland Security states that DHS may consider “related fields” as STEM, without adding to the list of STEM fields per se. We will be meeting in the near future with the White House and DHS to emphasize how vital this exception is to the Language Enterprise.

    State and Local Advocacy

    While JNCL-NCLIS concentrates most of its efforts of policy analysis and recommendations at the national level, the organization also assists its member and partner organizations in local and state advocacy initiatives by providing strategic advice, testimony and letters of support, and data and resources. We also bring organizations with similar goals from among our members and network together to collaborate and leverage collective bandwidth.

    In 2016, JNCL-NCLIS assisted its members in advocacy concerning three major efforts that are happening at the state and local levels across the U.S. — the Seal of Biliteracy, the movement to count computer coding as a foreign language for high school graduation requirements, and the effort to force the language industry to reclassify all of its workers. JNCL-NCLIS can provide advice on organizing a campaign, connections to allies such as State affiliates of the U.S.  Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and can tailor advocacy materials for state campaigns.

    1. Seals of Biliteracy. Over the course of 2016, eight new Seals of Biliteracy were signed into law in Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Kansas, Rhode Island, Arizona, Oregon, and New Jersey. Measures to implement the seal are underway in at least five other states, bringing the total number of states with a seal either implemented or in a development phase to 38. With the first seal passed in 2011, the rapid growth and expansion of the movement across the country represents grassroots support for language learning from families, schools, communities, and policymakers. JNCL-NCLIS has sent letters of support and has testified in support of seal legislation in sixteen states since 2013 and will continue to work with its members to expand the seal to the remaining 12 states that do not yet have one.
    1. Computer Coding and the Foreign Language Requirement. In addition to supporting Seal of Biliteracy efforts, JNCL-NCLIS has also worked with its member organizations at the state level to oppose bills in 2016 that sought to substitute computer science or coding credits in K-12 for language credits. We worked closely with the Michigan World Language Association (MiWLA) to conceptualize a strategy to oppose HB 5463, and with the Florida Foreign Language Association (FFLA) to oppose SB 104 through targeted letters to legislators and a series of opinion pieces in local newspapers.
    1. Employee Classification. JNCL-NCLIS has advised coalitions of its industrial members in California, Michigan, Maryland, Connecticut, New York, and Washington, by providing connections to allied interests, advising on advocacy plans, and developing informational materials. At the national level, we work with the Association of Language Companies to provide educational materials on the proper classification of employees and independent contractors, and to reinforce our duty to treat our workforce fairly and follow state and federal laws. State governments across the US have targeted the language industry with unfair employment audits, requiring freelance translators and interpreters to be reclassified as regular employees, regardless of the nature of the work that is performed. The position of JNCL-NCLIS is that Language Service Companies require flexibility in their labor force, in particular with regard to languages of lesser diffusion and highly-specialized technical fields.

    These are all ongoing efforts; more states are considering similar legislation to implement a Seal of Biliteracy and to substitute coding for language, and the language industry continues to face challenges to their operations locally and nationally. The coding bills in Michigan and Florida are still awaiting votes, and new bills to substitute coding for language have been introduced in Virginia and Texas legislatures. In this vein, JNCL-NCLIS has been working with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) to develop advocacy coalitions and strategies that will empower local and state organizations to advance their local advocacy goals.


    APEC Project on Global Competencies and Economic Integration. JNCL-NCLIS received a competitively funded grant from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in late 2015 in order to expand our work on global talent beyond the US and UK. The project included a survey of employers’ demands for linguistic and cultural human capital across the Pacific Rim and will culminate in a report back to APEC with recommendations for improving global talent streams to meet the workforce demand.

    Collectively, JNCL-NCLIS’ leadership on language policy as it relates to the employment sector has been recognized by our inclusion in a project with Oxford University, funded by the U.K. Arts and Humanities Research Council, to advance reforms of the language education system in the U.K. More broadly, it has garnered support from USED’s International Affairs Office and its work on education diplomacy with international organizations like APEC and the Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development (OECD). We are now in negotiations with OECD, APEC, and USED on Phase II of the project. Additionally, American Councils for International Education will host a workshop on project results and recommendations this summer.

    We pursue high-impact projects such as the APEC research in order to better make the case for languages in the US. The APEC project provides high-quality data on the demand for languages in the employment sector in the US and across the Pacific Rim.


    JNCL-NCLIS has a leadership role in the development of national and international standards for the Language Enterprise. Executive Director Dr. Bill Rivers is Chair of ASTM Technical Committee F43 on Language Services, serving in his third term in this elected position. ASTM F43 has more than 150 individual and organizational members, and has developed standards for translation, proficiency-based language instruction, proficiency testing, interpreter testing, interpreting, translation quality, and language service companies.

    Dr. Rivers is also the Chair of the United States Technical Advisory Group to the International Standards Organisation Technical Committee 232 on Training, which develops international standards for private sector education as well as assessment and distance learning for all sectors. JNCL-NCLIS serves as the Secretariat for the United States Technical Advisory Group to the International Standards Organisation Technical Committee 37 on Terminology and other language and content resources; this committee develops international standards such as the 3-digit language codes (ISO-639) as well as standards on translation, terminology, interpreting, and other fields.

    Many JNCL-NCLIS members take part in ASTM F43, ISO TC 232, and ISO TC 37. Standards are vital to transparency and quality in the marketplace, and our active participation ensures that our voices are heard in the standards development process.

    Organizational Updates

    Membership Growth. As of 2017, JNCL-NCLIS collectively represents 130 member organizations, with commitments to join in the new year from several more. The membership encompasses virtually all aspects of the language enterprise, from PK-20 education of world languages to translation, interpreting, and localization. More importantly to our work with the Congress, the geographic representation of our membership includes nearly all 50 states. From 61 members on July 1, 2012 to 130 and counting in 2017, JNCL-NCLIS has more than doubled its membership and therefore its footprint on Capitol Hill.

    Strategic Planning. The Board of Directors of JNCL-NCLIS is developing a strategic plan for 2017-2022. We’ve completed the strategic plan from 2011, which focused on rebuilding JNCL-NCLIS; now, we turn to what kind of organization we want to be in the next five years, and what we want to accomplish.

    Communication. In 2016, JNCL-NCLIS drastically improved its communications, from its email communications to its online presence including website and social media activity. On the website, JNCL-NCLIS now has a comprehensive directory of its organizational members, with background and networking information. We continue to diversify and streamline our content and improve the overall functionality of all aspects of our communications.

  2. Advocacy Materials

    2017 Advocacy Guide

    FY2018 Appropriations Priorities

    H.R. 1239 Bill Text: World Language Advancement and Readiness Act

    H.R. 1239 Dear Colleague Letter [from Reps. Price (D-NC-4), Young (R-AK), Crowley (D-NY-14), and Lance (R-NJ-7)]

    S. 254 Bill Text: Native American Languages Preservation Act

    S. 254 Background Information

  3. Our Sponsors
    Platinum Sponsors

    Additional Sponsors
    National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL)
    National Council of State Supervisors for Language (NCSSFL)
    Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)
    National Committee for Latin and Greek (NCLG)
    MARACAS Spanish Language Programs
    Thank you for your generous support!