In sharp contrast to legislative initiatives in the Georgia General Assembly such as those related to English requirements for acquiring a state driver’s license, HB 879, which provides a “Seal of Biliteracy” for high school students who meet the stiff criteria, pretty much sailed through the assembly this year.
The bill characterized by its sponsors as an educational and economic development booster was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 3.
Georgia is one of only 18 states that has approved similar legislation that underscores the importance of learning a foreign language “to succeed in a global economy.”
Today’s students “will need to possess a new set of skills that were not required for the success of prior generations of Americans,” the bill’s promotional materials stated.
“Regional expertise, cross-cultural expertise, cross-cultural competence, and advanced language proficiency are no longer skills reserved only for those who plan of a career overseas – they are skills that will enhance any career field, encourage investment in our state and develop a workforce that is successful in working on diverse international teams to collaborate and solve problems.”
State Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah, who chairs the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, called the bill “a common sense measure” of which he hopes his grandchildren will take advantage.
“When you think of the millions of dollars that international companies are investing in Georgia, it just makes sense,” he told Global Atlanta.
State Rep. Tom Taylor of Dunwoody, the lead sponsor of the bill and also a member of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, explained that it passed so easily with a lone dissenter in the Senate and only a handful of dissenters in the House, because for a recipient to receive the seal he or she must pass rigorous English requirements.
With overseas experience working for several defense companies in Japan, he said that he actively promoted the bill because he had experienced how his mastery of Japanese enabled him to perform in a way that many of his co-employees could not.
Michaela Claus-Nix, program specialist of world languages and work force initiatives at the Georgia Department of Education, praised the bill during a Global Languages Leadership Meeting hosted May 13 by the Center of Urban Language Teaching and Research at Georgia State University, and called it “one of the most vigorous in the country,” requiring a high level of proficiency in both English and a second language.
Georgia’s program also is distinctive, she added, because it is coupled with an International Skills Diploma Seal certifying attainment of intercultural competencies and focuses on international education.
“To receive this diploma,” she said that the students would have to show how they “went out into the world,” either at home or abroad, and provide a capstone presentation of their experience before graduating.
She later told Global Atlanta that it is estimated that perhaps from 5,000 to 10,000 students would earn the designation annually.
Companies actively engaged in international business have stressed the importance of the rigorous standards stressing that a recipient of the seal must be able to conduct business immediately in the second language that they have aquired.
The seal also is to be awarded not just on speaking ability but on “a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading and writing in one or more languages in addition to English.”
As outlined in the bill, the purposes of the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy include 1) to encourage pupils to study foreign languages, 2) to certify attainment of biliteracy, 3) to provide employers with a method to identify people with language and biliteracy skills, 4) to provide universities with a method to recognize and give academic credit to applicants seeking admission and 5) to recognize and promote foreign language instruction in public schools.
Georgia State’s Center for Urban Language Teaching & Research recently released a video of its celebration of World Language Day that took place April 15. To see the video, click here.