CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Politicians continue to preach the importance of global competitiveness if America has hopes of remaining an international force for good.
The words coming from Washington are persuasive; the record of tangible action is not.
Amazingly, not quite half of today's high school students in the United States are taking a language that is not English, and most of them do not progress beyond the introductory level.
Most, by the way, study Spanish although the federal government has recognized the study of Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi as essential to national security and business.
What of our global competitors?
Twenty of the 25 leading industrialized nations begin serious study of the languages in grades K-5, while most American schools do not start the study of foreign language until age 14. In Europe, students are required to study another language for at least nine years.
China and India, two of the world's behemoths, are aggressively challenging the United States on the volatile economic front. Fortunately, the use of English is common in India.
Not so in China. For that reason, more than 300 million Chinese students are learning English and 100,000 of them are studying in America. By comparison, only 50,000 students from this country are booking it in Chinese and fewer than 20,000 are actually studying in China.
Not surprisingly, schools and school districts around the country are rapidly creating Chinese-language programs because they recognize the significance of China's growing economic and cultural importance.
There is a history of federal support for language and cultural programs, but it is painfully inadequate by today's needs and standards. Furthermore, there are about 10,000 foreign teachers working in this country to fill shortages in science, mathematics, foreign languages and special education, because we do not have enough certified American teachers to take these jobs.