Advocacy in Action: a Q&A with ACTFL'S Executive Director on Public Awareness Campaigns

October 23, 2017 Victoria White

Advocacy lies at the heart of every society--advocacy for its mission, which typically aims to advance science and knowledge and change the world for the better. However, advocacy and increasing public awareness is no easy feat! I recently spoke with Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Marty Abbott about ACTFL’s public awareness campaign, Lead with Languages, and its mission of advocacy in action.

Q: Where did the idea of starting your public awareness and advocacy campaign, Lead with Languages, come from? What role does this play in advancing your mission?


A: ACTFL launched Lead with Languages in March of this year, in conjunction with the release of two seminal reports by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and New American Economy which point to the urgent need for language skills by American students who will shortly enter the workforce. We know that fewer than one in ten Americans are able to speak a second language, language teacher shortages exist in over 40 states, and yet jobs requiring bilingual skills have more than doubled in recent years. Language and cultural skills are no longer a “nice to have”: They have quickly become the key to opening up so many opportunities.

For these reasons, we saw the need to take a leading role, along with the support of our members and campaign partners, in making language proficiency a national priority by educating parents and students about the many benefits of language education, and advocating alongside them for increased recruitment and stronger programs. To this end, we have developed a hub of valuable resources where we also share news about upcoming opportunities, initiatives, and events as well as celebrate the successes of students and other language advocates in their communities.

Q: You’ve set high fundraising goals for this campaign. Once you decided to initiate this campaign, how did you get started? What did it require from your organization?

A: Our immediate fundraising goal was $1 million, which would allow us to qualify for a matching grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. While an ambitious one, we knew we were not alone in completing the task before us. From the beginning, we have relied on the support of the many dedicated ACTFL educators in our network to spread the word. They have since been joined by a host of corporations and individuals who share our mission and have generously contributed funding or products and services.

Q: How does Lead with Languages support member engagement and attract new members to ACTFL? Are there plans to integrate the campaign with other membership activities?

A: I often say that “advocacy is everybody’s business,” because it’s something that we integrate into everything we do as teachers: As shown in multiple surveys, language educators agree across the board that advocacy is part of their job. Lead with Languages provides our members—and all educators—with support for starting (or continuing!) meaningful conversations about language education in their classrooms and in their communities. Not only are we bringing data and news to their fingertips as it is released, but we are sharing concrete, ready-to-use activities to get students engaged in the movement—beginning with our Language Advocacy Toolkit.

Both current and prospective members benefit from the resources—video testimonials, a bi-weekly podcast, program ideas, and more—that we have curated and appreciate the opportunity to join a national initiative through which they are part of a larger community.

Q: At this point, you’ve reached your $1 million fundraising goal. What is the significance of meeting your goal?

A: Meeting our goal of $1 million and receiving our Mellon Foundation matching grant is an incredibly moving accomplishment, but it is by no means the end of the road: It’s just the beginning of our next phase in this multi-year initiative. We are deeply appreciative of the support we have received thus far, and we will continue to seek partners and to build support. We encourage those who feel strongly about language education to consider making a donation on our site.

Q: What is next for Lead with Languages, and how do those activities tie back to the goals of the campaign and ACTFL?

A: Our campaign goals are simple: To increase enrollment in language programs at all grade levels; to strengthen language programs and their funding; to engage leaders and other stakeholders on the vital role of language education to economic competitiveness and national security; and to build awareness among heritage populations on the benefits of retaining their native language and culture while learning English.

To contribute toward these goals in the months ahead, Lead with Languages will be hosting new digital initiatives, student contests, and live events to raise awareness and to bring even more resources to advocates around the country. We especially look forward to February 2018 which will be named “Lead with Languages Month” and during which we will be asking teachers, parents, students, and others to speak up in support of language education through specific actions. Stay tuned to our social channels @LeadWLanguages for details as we enter the new year.

Marty Abbott - Wiley Branded Headshot.pngAbout Marty Abbott

Marty Abbott is currently the Executive Director for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Her career began in Fairfax County Public Schools (VA) where she was a language teacher, foreign language coordinator, and Director of High School Instruction. She has served on national committees to develop student standards, beginning teacher standards, and performance assessments in foreign languages. She was President of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in 2003 and became its executive director in 2011. She holds her B.A. degree in Spanish with a minor in Latin from the University of Mary Washington and a Master’s Degree in Spanish Linguistics from Georgetown University.  She was appointed to the National Security Education Board by President Obama in 2016.


The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is dedicated to the improvement and expansion of the teaching and learning of all languages at all levels of instruction. ACTFL is an individual membership organization of more than 12,500 language educators and administrators from elementary through graduate education, as well as government and industry.

Since its founding (in 1967), ACTFL has become synonymous with innovation, quality, and reliability in meeting the changing needs of language educators and their students. From the development of Proficiency Guidelines, to its leadership role in the creation of national standards, ACTFL focuses on issues that are critical to the growth of both the profession and the individual teacher.

Image Credit: ACTFL

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