Bill Rivers and Hans Fenstermacher, lobbyists for the language services industry, think there is something missing from the national push to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education: an emphasis on foreign language.
That’s why they are pairing up to form what they call the first U.S. lobby for the language industry, and pushing to raise awareness on the importance of foreign language in education and the U.S. workforce.
Together, they are lobbying on federal and state-level policy issues surrounding language education, including advocating for more federal funding for language programs and opposing a bill pending in the Michigan state legislature that would allow some students to get around the two-year foreign language requirement to graduate.
Their interests reflect concerns in both the private and public sector about foreign language skills. Washington-based Fenstermacher is the founder and chairman of the Globalization & Localization Association, a trade group representing companies that provide translation and “localization” services — translating language about products based on the region ti where they’re being marketed . Rivers leads the District-based Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, nonprofit organizations that represent linguists, foreign language teachers and institutions pushing to improve language education in K-12 schools and universities.
“We’d like to see the definition of STEM be broader to include the areas that can create infrastructure we need from the language industry perspective,” Fenstermacher said. “When people hear ‘science,’ they think biology, engineering and chemistry. But the language industry is highly technological and scientific today. There’s a great deal of science and technology that underlies an area like ours.”
For example, Rivers said, the technology that supports translation tools such as Google Translate and Babel Fish call for programmers who have both language and technical skills. The kinds of workers the language services industry needs to hire must have a background in both.
“We face a critical language industry talent crisis and we urgently need 21st century skills to keep driving the sector,” Fenstermacher said. “Without the support from policymakers in this country, the language enterprise will fall short.”