The Power of English Learning

May 29, 2013
Under Secretary Sonenshine Engages With Students at the Obolon Center in Ukraine

Throughout my travels as an Under Secretary, I have been constantly reminded of the magnetism of English language learning.

From Ethiopia to Istanbul, from Lahore to Tokyo, the young people I have met who study English have been eager to demonstrate their skills. High school students in Ukraine sang songs to me in English. College students in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, asked me to read their English essays.  In the Dominican Republic, young people proudly showed their handiness at playing "Trace Effects," our online English-learning videogame. And in these upturned faces, I also saw growing self-belief and excitement about new possibilities ahead. 

There's even more to English language training than helping foreigners develop linguistic skills, build confidence, and open new futures.  It works as a multiplier effect, with direct benefits for Americans at home.  By supporting the efforts of young people abroad to access new information and participate in the global economy, we empower generations of global partners with great potential. They are more likely to pursue peace, trade, and business links than destructive conflict. They are also more likely to engage in cross-cultural dialogue and moderation, and have favorable views of the United States.

Why not, therefore, expand our efforts to teach English? With more than five billion mobile phone users around the world, we recognize an opportunity to engage more English learners through that device sitting regularly in their hands. We also know that our more than 800 American Spaces receive more than 16 million visits per year, offering strategic forums to reach out to critical audiences everywhere.

This month, we are working with public-private partners to launch two exciting initiatives to support English language learning. 

One is the American English Digital Initiative, a three-month pilot project that will introduce aspiring students around the world to language software provided by Rosetta Stone, Inc., and Simon & Schuster's Pimsleur Language Learning.  Visitors to our American Spaces in Benin, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Georgia, India, Japan, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, and Vietnam, will have full access to the software program. And they will have the opportunity to learn English on-site, at home, or through a mobile device.

Another initiative is the American English (AE) Mobile App, which will allow learners to practice English at home or "on the go," to expand their academic and professional potential. Developed with support from English Education Alliance (E2A) partners, biNu and Worldreader, it consolidates all the State Department's existing, mobile English language learning content. That includes e-books, audio books, music, quizzes, and the "Trace Word Soup" vocabulary game.  

We have already seen high use of the app in countries such as Nigeria, India, Ethiopia, Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ghana, South Africa, and Egypt. And the "Trace Word Soup" game, which has been available on AE since October 2012, has been played more than 3.5 million times by more than 1.1 million unique users.

With so many people around the world hungering for English language training, we have a great opportunity to build bridges of understanding for people everywhere -- and to hear more often the proud sound of people speaking English for the first time.

About the Author: Tara D. Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

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