Starting this month, the Hawai‘i Language Roadmap Initiative will be implemented to promote a multi-lingual workforce in the state.
“What we found is that there is actually so much language in this state that is just not valued. It’s just not recognized as resources,” Dina Yoshimi, program manager for the initiative said in a phone interview. “And so what we wrote in the Roadmap basically is that we just need to value the resources that we have and value the opportunities to build them.”
The initiative is federally funded and is in partnership with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and the Language Flagship, which is under the National Security Education Program in the United States’ Department of Defense.
“We need to accept the fact that it’s time to be able to talk to the rest of the world as skilled workers,” Yoshimi said.
The Hawai‘i Language Roadmap is a planning and policy document that contains initiatives that “identify what needs to be done to move the state towards multi-lingualism, so that the state will be able to see the benefits of being multi-lingual, especially in the workforce,” according to Yoshimi, who is also an associate professor in the department of East Asian languages & literatures.
“Our goal is a highly educated, multi-lingual population that’s globally competitive,” Robert Bley-Vroman, dean for the College of Languages, Linguistics and Literatures said.
The initiatives have to do with topics such as education, workplace, training, legislation and infrastructure.
“One of the initiatives is a data portal where we actually try to collect the data regarding which kinds of jobs use language in the state and then looking at what kind of language resources do we already have available in this state,” Yoshimi said. “And trying to make a match and see where we’re missing.”
Over multiple phases, the initiative will be implemented across the state.
According to the Roadmap, raising public awareness about the initiative is one of its first tasks. This will include a public service announcement campaign, a poster series promoting multilingualism and Multilingual Career Day activities engaging the employers of the state.
“The goal of the Roadmap of the policy and planning document is to look currently, short, medium and long term And long term is 15 to 20 years now,” Yoshimi said. “So that’s long enough for you to be able to think the trajectory of economic and educational needs.”
There will be one overarching council that will help coordinate the activity on the implementation.
According to the Roadmap, the council’s task would be to “continue the collaboration to implement the proposed initiatives, identify funding sources, solidify political and community support and move our agenda forward.”
“Right now we’re in the process of looking for which partnerships, based on the people who came on Monday night and the kinds of conversations we had, which partnerships look ready to go,” Yoshimi said, referring to the initiative’s launch on Sept. 16.
Each initiative will also have a working group.
“The existing working groups and developing new working groups and recognizing the structure of implementation will depend on the building of partnerships with different infrastructures,” Yoshimi said.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
In 2002, the NSEP started an initiative to create opportunities across the country for higher proficiency in key strategic languages. According to Yoshimi, in 2007, it moved to include a whole statewide initiative for the broader population.
According to Bley-Vroman, the idea was that language capacity is central to national security.
“I mean national security, broadly understood in the sense that we need strong economies, a healthy society, as well as language capacity for specific defense needs,” Bley-Vroman said. “And the feel is, within the National Security Education Program, the NSEP, is that the United States is disadvantaged internationally. … (We are at a) disadvantage internationally because we don’t have the capacity of highly proficient speakers in crucial languages that we ought to have.”
In 2007, Oregon, Ohio and Texas launched their own language roadmaps and examined the language needs within each state. Roadmaps were launched in Utah in 2009 and in Rhode Island in 2011.
“Each one was a university partnering with the Language Flagship,” Yoshimi said.
Bley-Vroman became aware of the language roadmap process in 2010 when he had attended a conference sponsored by the Language Flagship. At the conference he met with people who had worked on the roadmap in Texas and learned “what a possibility it was for changing the way people thought about language in the state.”
Work on Hawai‘i’s roadmap began in 2012.
THE LAUNCH AND THE STUDENT AMBASSADORS
On Sept. 16, a launch was held for the initiative at the Halau O Haumea, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies.
“One thing that’s really fantastic about the roadmap launch is that we had over 100 people and it was all by invitation,” Yoshimi said. “But the 100 people included significant representation from business, from state agencies, from community organizations, as well as educational institutions. … Here in Hawaiʻi we’ve found that people are very receptive to this.”
Nine student ambassadors were present at the launch as the face of the future, according to Yoshimi.
“A student ambassador in the case of the launch is the face of the future workforce of Hawaiʻi,” Yoshimi said. “These are students who have already made the investment in developing their language skills to a job-ready place so that when they go out they can use that language in their job.”
Mathew Tanaka, a graduate student studying Hawaiian, was one of the student ambassadors at the event.
“Basically the student ambassadors, for that particular event on the launch, were to be like someone that important people who were there could actually speak to, to talk about how language applies to the different industries that we’re in, respectively,” Tanaka said.
He believes it was important for those who attended to be able to talk to different students.
“It was an opportunity for them to see what examples of what the product of the initiative would be like,” Tanaka said. “So that maybe it would inspire some of them and show how important this language was too.”
Melissa Cotrone, a graduate from UH Manoa with an MA in French literature and language, said her involvement in the initiative as a student ambassador was to present to the business community the face of the next generation of interpreters and people who use a second language in business. She believed it was crucial for students to be involved.
“I think it was not only important but crucial to be involved as a student,” Cotrone said. “Students today need to realize that the demand in businesses for people with second and third language skills is growing faster than ever. As we move to an ever more increasing global economy, students who don’t become proficient in a second language are going to find themselves in a problematic position in the job market.”
Anna Sachs, a graduate student studying Spanish and another student ambassador, appreciates the push for language in Hawaiʻi.
“To learn another language, or more than one language even, because it just provides so many more opportunities socially, intellectually and also in the job market,” Sachs said. “I think it’s becoming increasingly important for employers and employees to see the value of knowing other languages.”
Tatiana Chauvet, a student ambassador and graduate student studying French, said that being bilingual has opened opportunities for her.
“We should have more languages in Hawai‘i that would benefit everyone,” Chauvet said.