What is a critical language?
The U.S. Government has designated all Flagship-supported languages as “critical languages” because the national need for trained speakers in those languages exceeds the number of bilingual speakers available. These languages are also critical for U.S. national security and economic competitiveness. The perception that these languages are too complex and difficult to learn for most English-speakers has resulted in too few critical language speakers. Flagship programs are intended to change that perception. Although these languages can be more challenging and take longer to learn, they are not harder. The Language Flagship has proven that Flagship languages can be learned by English-speakers to the professional level within four to five years.
How do I choose a Flagship language to study?
Which countries or cultures fascinate you? One way to choose your Flagship language is to think about the foreign places and people you find interesting. Current Flagship students selected their particular languages for various reasons.
Following is some information about each Flagship language to help you in selecting your Flagship language:
Arabic is the official language of over 20 countries and it has well nearly 300 million native speakers. These speakers are largely concentrated in North Africa and the Middle East, but there are minority groups of native speakers throughout the world. It is an official language of the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and the African Union. There is a demand for Arabic linguists in the government, consular services, international NGOs, media and business.
Chinese (Mandarin) is spoken by over one billion people around the world, roughly ninety percent of those are in Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and in the Southeast Asian countries. About 70 percent of Chinese people speak Mandarin. The long-term strategic importance of U.S.-China cooperation ensures that this language will remain critical for business and government for the foreseeable future, and career opportunities for Chinese linguists can be found in almost any field.
Hindi and Urdu are are spoken by around 250 million people as a first language, and over 200 million people as a second language. While Hindi and Urdu may be considered separate languages, they are also considered varieties of the same language. Hindi and Urdu came from the same root language, and share the same grammar and much basic vocabulary. Following the partition of India in 1947, Urdu became the national language of Pakistan and Hindi the official language of India. Both of these nations are important as global nuclear powers, strategic allies, and as growing trade partners.
Korean is spoken by more than 75 million people living on the Korean peninsula. Korean is the official language of both South Korea and North Korea. Outside of the Korean peninsula, there are about two million people in China who speak Korean as their first language, another two million in the U.S., 700,000 in Japan, and 500,000 in the Russian regions of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Although relatively small, Korea’s influence on the rest of the world is likely to grow because of its dynamic economy and strong relationship with China.
Persian is an important language of the Middle East and Central Asia. It is known as Farsi in Iran, Dari in Afghanistan and Tajik in Tajikistan. It has about 62 million native speakers, ranking it among the world’s 20 most widely spoken first languages; another 50 million or more speak it as a second language. The critical need for this language stems from the region’s strategic importance and the challenge of improving U.S.-Iranian relations. Some jobs available to Americans who study Farsi include the government sector, journalism, and political analysis (“think tanks”).
Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Principe. With over 200 million speakers, Portuguese is the 3rd most spoken language in the western hemisphere, and the most spoken language in the southern hemisphere. Characterized by large and well-developed agricultural, manufacturing, and service sectors, Brazil's economy is larger than all other South American countries, and Brazil is rapidly expanding its presence in world markets. an important language of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Russian is is spoken not only in Russia, but all over Central Asia and in many parts of Eastern Europe. Russian is the eighth most widely spoken native language, with over 150 million first-language speakers. About 110 million people speak it as a second language. There are commercial opportunities emerging from the expanding Russian economy, including U.S. firms doing business in Russia, as well as the newly established Russian firms doing business in the U.S. All this has created an expansion of job opportunities for those who possess Russian language skills. Other career opportunities exist in government agencies, such as the State Department, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense.
Swahili is a language that linguistically unites between 30 and 50 million people in 10 East African countries. It is the official language of Kenya and Tanzania, and serves as the first language of roughly five million people. As the lingua franca (a common language used by speakers of different languages) for much of East Africa, Swahili holds strategic importance for engagement across Africa.
Turkish is spoken by over 70 million people as a native language, and 15 million more speak this language globally – making it one of the globe’s 15 most widely spoken first languages. Turkey is connected, geographically and culturally, to Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, making the Turkish language advantageous to anyone interested in the international business or politics of those regions. Likewise, for students pursuing careers in business or government service, opportunities will only continue to increase as Turkey continues to develop as a global economic power.