Thursday, June 9th 2016
“If we are looking for an approach that will advance every one of our foreign policy goals, streamline our Public Diplomacy programs, and get the most bang for our buck, we need to take a fresh look at English teaching.” Megan Tetrick, a Public Diplomacy officer who was a 2014-2015 Katherine W. Davis Public Diplomacy Fellow under the auspices of the Council of American Ambassadors, summed up the value of English Teaching programs in American Public Diplomacy. Her article, “The Untapped Potential of English Teaching,” appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Ambassadors Review.
It is praiseworthy for two reasons. First, it represents the kind of professional writing – aimed to encourage professional discussion and debate – seldom produced in the Foreign Service. Second, it takes a traditional activity – English teaching – and shows how it can help attain U.S. goals.
This brief gist necessarily omits the statistics, examples and case studies that fill out her thesis, but here are main points:
- Public Diplomacy (PD) at the State Department shows signs of going through a serious rethink. The push to be more strategic in our programming has taken off.
- Public Diplomacy officers can rattle off the Integrated Country Strategy goals with the best of them. More rigorous program planning and evaluation may be coming to a cloud platform near you soon . . . . Social media regulations are in the Foreign Affairs Manual. EducationUSA and American Spaces have slick branding, unified looks, and centralized websites. These new strategies and tools are great, and in many cases, long overdue.
- Our PD currency, our “soft power,” lies in the United States’ attractiveness to outsiders. To make our Public Diplomacy more effective and explain its value, we need to start with what attracts people to the United States.
- That attraction, according to Dr. Joseph Nye, can come from three sources: culture, political values, or foreign policy. A big part of our job in Public Diplomacy is explaining the latter two, especially when they aren’t popular. But, in the last few decades, as global opinion has shifted in response to world events, foreign policy and political values have not been the most constant sources of our attractive power. Our culture has.
- Our movies, music, education, and innovation have remained immensely attractive. And the ticket to getting the most out of those things is another piece of our culture: the English language.
- If we are looking for an approach that will advance every one of our foreign policy goals, streamline our Public Diplomacy programs, and get the most bang for our buck, we need to take a fresh look at English teaching.
- Average Kazakhstanis don’t ask me for more musical performances or better content on our Facebook page. They want to practice their English to improve their chances of securing a better job in the future. Promoting English learning is a welcome policy in many countries, and one that is not tainted by misperceptions of US military operations, conspiracy theories, or myriad sources of misinformation about US actions and motivations.
- Second, let’s consider how English teaching can help us meet our goals and target key audiences. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) focuses on four key priorities for the State Department. English teaching can be adapted and targeted to address each one. . . . Inclusive Economic Growth . . . . Promoting Open, Resilient, and Democratic Societies . . . . Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) . . . . Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change . . .
- The State Department already has existing resources for teaching English. The English Access Microscholarship Program is one such model that has taken us to hard-to-reach small towns and villages. E-teacher and other distance learning programs coordinated by Regional English Language Officers bring us directly to teachers and have multiplier effects. English Language Fellows and Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) offer longer-term support to schools and universities. Devoting more resources to these programs would expand our reach in an area where people want it.
- We need a bold program to unify State Department English teaching programs under one umbrella and give the British Council some worthy competition. As we have done with EducationUSA and American Corners, we need to create a cohesive concept and brand, rather than have dozens of different programs and names for the same thing.
- Teaching English is not only a means to achieve our goals, but should be a priority in and of itself. We have all the pieces to create a powerful, well-respected brand for teaching English. We just need to put them together.