Foreign Language Education vs. Freedom of Speech in the U.S. Schools

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by Tiberiu Dianu 


Foreign language education is of crucial importance for U.S. diplomatic, military, and professional staff in the country and abroad. This activity is designed to promote American values ​​and U.S. interests both in the world and across the country for foreign citizens and residents.

Primarily, foreign language courses are provided in the U.S. for governmental and private students by a network of governmental and non-governmental education agencies, including the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages ​​(ACTFL) .

The FSI, established in 1947, belongs to the State Department. It has four schools, including the School of Language Studies (SLS), which offers annual training in over 70 languages ​​and proficiency testing in over 100 languages for over 170,000 employees of the department, as well as other government departments, including military.

On the other hand, ACTFL is an individual membership organization of more than 12,500 foreign language educators and administrators from elementary through graduate education, as well as in government and industry.

This association extends its rules and instructions to the US private language school network.

Both agencies have their own certification systems for language testers.

The ACTFL uses an Obama-era 2009 Testing Procedures and Protocol Manual, incompatible with freedom of speech. Thus, Appendix A of the Manual provides specific instructions on topics to be avoided during language exam tests.

Initially, the so-called legal basis for obstructing the free exchange of ideas between the examinees and the testing team (consisting of tester and examiner) was deemed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It states that in the course of hiring, prospective employee may not be asked their age, sex, race, color, religion or national origin. Subsequently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has enlarged the prohibition to include: sexual preference, marital status, health, and political view point.

This legislation, it is claimed, is meant to protect the candidate’s personal rights and privacy.

Later on, ACTFL itself added other subjects that are “highly sensitive or controversial in nature” including “some of the following”: abortion, gun control, racism, immigration laws, corporal or capital punishment, homosexuality, religion, war, political opinions, “etc.” (that is, the sky is the limit)! Thus, retrograde and unelected bureaucrats have come to arbitrarily extend the category of “controversial topics.”

Even when candidates or examinees have been volunteering to discuss such “highly controversial” topics, testers have been instructed to avoid said discussions in order not to make the candidate uneasy or lest the direction of the discussion be misinterpreted by the candidate.

More recently, in 2019, on the eve of entering the presidential campaign in 2020, new in-house instructions required that “any topic that may cause discomfort to the speaker or to the interviewer should be avoided at all times.” Instructions are applicable to “culturally sensitive topics on both sides” (candidates and testers) within the ACTFL and FSI systems. These topics include, but are not limited to, sex, politics, migration, religion, terrorism, drug legalization, the right to bear arms, kneeling during the National Anthem, or denigrating stereotypes.

On the other hand, among “topics to pursue” there have been included hate speech, environment, pollution, global warming, and globalism – all mantra subjects for liberals.

Until recently, the FSI had a slightly more balanced approach of administrating testing subjects, although overall, there has been also a noticeable drop in its academic standards. For instance, prior to 2015, examinees had to make a relatively formal mini-presentation on topics about America and its values. After 2015, as a result of students’ pressure, FSI adopted “more flexibility” (in translation: has lowered its standards) for mini-presentation, turning these into a more informal and less linguistically structured “explanation.”

A positive element, however, was the widening of the list of subjects in several areas, including political, military and diplomacy issues (including security).

As an experienced certified tester and examiner, I have had the opportunity to cope with these problems over time. But the dynamics on the ground show that language students (diplomats, military and other professionals) have been migrating constantly in the testing process (according to their own interests) from one system to the other (from FSI to ACTFL and vice versa). This trend has made the anti-Trump #Resist ACTFL instructions extend to the FSI. Here, given the well-known anti-Trump culture within the State Department itself, they have been adopted and expanded almost naturally.

The immediate effect was that many of the test subjects (especially those related to politics, military, and security) from both the FSI and private schools remain unused, being blacklisted.

“The Miseducation along the Hill” of our diplomats, military personnel, and other professionals is a time bomb for the Trump administration. It is one of the countless cases where anti-Trump unelected bureaucrats, guided by the principles of the #Resist movement, are sabotaging the administration’s policy from within to the last degree.

It is therefore imperative that both secretary of education Betsy DeVos and especially secretary of state Mike Pompeo (between two of his diplomatic visits abroad) take decisive steps to eliminate such anti-constitutional practices, against freedom of expression, within governmental and non-governmental agencies. Otherwise, they will irreversibly mold the discourse about the American values ​​of our diplomatic, military, and specialized personnel both abroad and in the country in their relations with foreigners.


TIBERIU DIANU has published several books and a host of articles on law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC and can be followed on MEDIUM.

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    It’s about time for the responsible top management to do something about these unconstitutional practices, and do it fast!


    Testers are instructed to avoid certain so-called controversial topics during testing. The author stresses on eliminating these anti-constitutional practices from the programs of the government and non-government agencies. These intrusive practices are a blunt attack to the fiber of freedom of speech.

  3. DANIELA says

    There are tests and tester certifications in over 70 foreign languages. What can go wrong? Political correctness, of course.

  4. DANIELA says

    This is a very interesting article that presents a special way of teaching foreign languages. U.S. diplomats deserve top-notch instruction, given their important responsibilities abroad. The FSI and a few other agencies are in charge of this special training, and special textbooks are used.

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