Glastonbury Public Schools World Language

Critical Languages

Critical Languages in Our Schools

What are Critical Languages?

The notion of the "critical languages" is one of supply and demand. Any language for which more trained speakers are needed than are available may be considered critical. The reason for the inadequate numbers of speakers is often the difficulty of a language for the learning population. In addition, the national need for a critical language usually involves political, cultural, or economic factors. Definition from the University of Maryland.

What Critical Languages are currently offered in Glastonbury?

In Glastonbury, students may begin the study of Russian in grade 7 and the study of Mandarin Chinese in grade 8.

Will other Critical Languages be offered in the future?

The Glastonbury World Language Department is always seeking opportunities to expand its Critical Languages Program.

When did Glastonbury Public Schools start teaching Critical Languages?

Glastonbury's dedication to Critical Languages started with the Russian Program and was founded shortly after the Sputnik satellite was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. The 2008-2009 school year marked our 50th anniversary teaching Russian in Glastonbury.

What resources are available in Glastonbury to support the study of Critical Languages?

The Glastonbury World Language Department continues to support the study of all languages with cutting edge technology including fully digital language labs, distance learning classrooms, and the use of our website.

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The Importance of Critical Languages

On October 5, 1957 the Soviet Union launched a small satellite into orbit around the earth. As it became clearer to scientists, diplomats, and politicians that the United States had missed an important development in Soviet space technology, political reverberations began to affect every sector of American education. Following the launching of Sputnik came a period of intense scrutiny and planning in the fields of science, technology, mathematics, and world language education. Sputnik was the shot heard ‘round the world – a wake-up call for American educators who had been complacent in the defense and technological edge that they thought the United States had gained after World War II. How could the Soviets have launched a satellite and the United Sates intelligence research community didn't know this was going on?

In a strongly-worded editorial in the November 26, 1957 New York Times, the newspaper asserted: “News that American scientists and engineers are less than adequately informed about current progress in Soviet science and technology must be regarded as disturbing. Americans have known for some time that the Soviet Union maintained a comprehensive service for obtaining, translating, and disseminating to Soviet personnel the published reports of firing researchers, including particularly our own. But obviously we have not been paying that kind of attention, and some disconcerting accounts have already appeared of the price we have paid in research duplication and lost time.” Quite simply, our fault lay not in our technological capacity nor in our mathematical or scientific reasoning, but in the inability of Americans to communicate effectively in other languages. 

In the last forty years there have been countless examples of total misses, near misses, or at a minimum, nationally embarrassing situations in which Americans have found themselves both at home or abroad. From the launching of an advance satellite technology, to the public embarrassment of a President whose “warmth in his heart for the Polish people” was translated at his first public speech in Poland as “lust for the people,” Americans have struggled with the concept of the usefulness of knowing another language and knowing about another culture. Lulled temporarily into a sense of complacency as English grew in popularity around the world, American businessmen of the 1970s and 1980s still did not sense the deep need for being able to communicate in the language of the customer. What the New York Times said in 1957 is still true: “We cannot pay adequate attention to what our chief competitor is doing if only an infinitesimal fraction of our people know the language.”

-Taken from "The Case for Foreign Languages: The Glastonbury Language Program", by Christine Brown, Former Assistant Superintendent, Glastonbury Public Schools