Multilingual recruits at a premium; but, U.S. is a living lab for how we learn
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many Americans don’t learn a second or a third language from birth, let alone a language that the CIA or U.S. Foreign Service might want. The situation has forced U.S. government agencies to learn how to cultivate the most talented second-language speakers from among college students with little to no other-language expertise.
But experts who help select and train raw talent also see an opportunity in the mass of recruits who start out speaking only English. That’s because the U.S. represents a living laboratory for observing how adult brains change over time as they struggle to adapt to the new grammar and vocabulary of a second language.
“In U.S. education, we don’t develop early bilinguals,” said Catherine Doughty, a language expert at the University of Maryland. “We’re dealing with monolinguals or people who have only studied foreign language, so that they don’t really have any proficiency.”