State starts up language learning initiative

Effort promotes multilingual workforce

Published  9:57 PM HST Sep 16, 2013
Classroom
HONOLULU -

Many business executives, government leaders and educators believe Hawaii's melting pot of cultures could turn into an important economic driver in the 21st century.

Monday evening, they mapped out how and why a thriving multicultural workplace should be created.

The group gathered at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies to hear about the idea of adding value to businesses by adding languages.

Now work will begin to cultivate that concept in classrooms and workplaces of the future.

Hawaii's native language was on display in Manoa, but many wanted to see even more languages working their way into the workplace.

"What we have is a lot of resources that haven't been developed. Many are multilevel speakers, but they aren't able to do high-level work in management or marketing," said Dina Yoshimi with the Hawaii Language Roadmap Initiative.

Right now, not all public school students are even required to learn a foreign language.


A year-long study, just completed, found the state needs to do more to stress the importance of language skills to students.

"Unless you have more than one language you are going to find yourself unable to participate in the pacific century," said Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie.

Knowing multiple languages can make a potential employee more appealing to businesses.

To prepare students for the workplace, Hawaii's Language Roadmap Initiative calls for a shift from simply learning a wide range of foreign vocabulary words to focusing on a work-ready vocabulary.

"Students want to graduate ready to go to work. What we'd like to offer employers are students that can operate in a capacity to expand their business," said Yoshimi.

The year-long study, which led to the roadmap, found businesses got a 5-14% boost with a multilingual workforce. Business leaders said there is a need for these language skills in more than just Hawaii's vast visitor industry.

"Clearly it is anchoring the visitor industry to have multilingual skills, but many also find it useful in the production of locally-grown products and our growing IT industry and technology base," said Leslie Wilkins with the Maui Economic Development Board.

Right now, even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, many island businesses operate in the global marketplace.

In the future, ramping up language learning could also turn Hawaii's multicultural society into an important export.

"There is a tremendous need across the country for multi-lingual talent. It is changing the face of our country," said Yoshimi.

The start of the state initiative to expand Hawaii's language development will begin with school PSAs in the coming months, along with career day programs. Then, as the legislature begins, there will be a push to change the requirements at school so all students will learn another language.

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