As a Language Services executive, I consider myself fortunate to be a part of this integral industry. Over the course of my tenure in language services, I have personally witnessed the evolution of the “buyer” of language services.
Twenty years ago, the buyer of language services couldn’t differentiate the value that a professional language services company/provider (LSC/P) could offer compared to a bilingual employee. In the buyer’s point of view, the bilingual employee could deliver the same “value” as an LSC/P. Only after some hard lessons, would the client understand their mistake, and appreciate the value that a partnership with an LSC/P could bring to their organization. This anecdote isn’t unique, as I’m sure anyone in my position has experienced this exact scenario many times over.
However, as I speak with colleagues around the world, I realize how far behind the US is, when it comes to the maturity of the language services industry. Laws pertaining to language access in other countries are more up-to-date and better formulated than laws in the United States. These laws have helped establish, and drive language-related industries into the mainstream. In the US, these laws have also helped drive industry, but not into the mainstream as it has in other countries. We are still considered a relatively unknown industry.
Although the US language services market is still growing at a much faster rate compared to language services industries elsewhere in the world, I don’t believe that the US market has truly matured yet. Why do I write that? Because maturity is inversely proportional to growth. The more mature an industry is, the slower it’s rate of growth. So, what does it take for an industry to reach maturity? Part of it has to do with legislation. New legislation needs to be passed that directly affects language services. There are very few laws in place. Twenty years ago, language services were lumped together in a catch-all category that included baby shoe bronzing. That’s right! We had the same Service Industry Code as baby shoe bronzing.
While language services professionals have been recognized as a proper profession, our industry still has a long way to go. We simply need to turn to California and the legislative battle we, as an industry, are fighting simply because the policy makers aren’t educated about our industry.
This brings me to the reasons for this post. As an industry, the language services industry has been woefully underrepresented when it comes to policy making and legislation. In 2018, an opportunity arose for me to join the Board of Directors of JNCL-NCLIS. JNCL-NCLIS is the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies. In short, this organization was founded to represent language educators on Capitol Hill to help pass legislation and establish funding for language education initiatives around the country. It is the Association of Associations of language educators. Naturally, this organization also has private sector organizations such as LSC’s, publishers, and language tech companies. The focus and successful work of JNCL-NCLIS has always been on impacting language education policy.
Since the Language Services Industry did not have any representation on Capitol Hill, I thought this organization would be a natural fit, as the participation of the language services industry completes the ecosystem of the “Language Enterprise”. In my first 2 years on the board, many laws were passed benefitting language education, and many language services industry issues were also brought up for discussion.
Fast forward two years, and now the Association of Language Companies has decided to sponsor representation on the Hill. This is a great move!
This brings me to the next logical evolution of our industry. As the ALC will focus on language services industry issues that are of specific importance to language service companies and providers, it is my hope that this will allow for coordination aimed at creating longitudinal growth for the national language ecosystem. JNCL-NCLIS will continue to focus on legislative advocacy for equitable well-articulated PK-16 language education. A coordinated approach between JNCL and the ALC will ultimately lead to a full representation of the needs of the entire language enterprise. As a member of the language services community, I recognize the value that language educators have in creating a talent pipeline in our industry. And I am happy to be offering my time to support and grow these initiatives.
So, as members of JNCL-NCLIS traverse the halls of Capitol Hill to promote education related agendas, it would be prudent to also discuss issues affecting the language services industry. Sort of like an addendum to a meeting.
And I think it would also be prudent for the ALC to support language education as an addendum to their meetings on the Hill.
The way Capitol Hill works, ALC representatives will be talking to staffers on the Hill that deal with industry and employment issues. Whereas, JNCL representatives will be speaking with staffers that deal with education-related issues. However, both staffers will eventually report to the same policy maker. Therefore, it is important to divide and conquer. There is great value in synchronizing our voices in support of every part of the language ecosystem.
This creates an opportunity for JNCL-NCLIS and the ALC to coordinate, where necessary, to ensure messaging is consistent on Capitol Hill.
I think this would be an effective method to help establish legislation that will help language services as well as continued strengthening of language education. Thereby bringing our industry closer to maturity.