A Brief History of the National Foreign Language Center

The National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) was founded in the mid-1980s as a direct result of an unprecedented national interest in improving foreign language and international studies education by President Carter's Commission on Language and International Studies in 1979. It was also, and more immediately, the brainchild of its founding director, Dr. Richard Lambert, a sociologist as well as foreign language and area studies expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Lambert's extensive research and subsequent book entitled Points of Leverage (Social Science Research Council, 1986), which called for a national foreign language center, left a lasting impression on leaders of the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Exxon Education Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, who turned the NFLC into a reality in 1986 through a generous multimillion-dollar start-up grant.


History of the NFLC: Key Events and Projects


  • Dr. Richard Lambert conducts research regarding the nation's foreign language teaching infrastructure and area studies programs
  • 1979 - President Carter establishes the Commission on Language and International Studies, which makes recommendations on attending to the importance of foreign language and international studies, assesses the need for foreign language professionals in the U.S., and recommends legislative policy to enact the Commission's recommendations


  • 1986 - Dr. Richard Lambert publishes Points of Leverage
  • 1986 - The NFLC is established, with Dr. Lambert as its founding director
  • 1987 - The NFLC's Institute of Advanced Studies is set up, made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support scholars conducting empirical research with the potential for directly impacting teaching and learning of foreign languages


  • 1990 - The NFLC helps to found the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL), an organization dedicated to increasing the number of Americans who choose to learn less commonly taught languages as a means of enhancing cross-cultural communication among citizens of the United States
  • 1993 - The NFLC hosts a discussion forum to bring together researchers and policymakers in a search for applied solutions
  • 1993 - Doctors Richard Brecht and Ronald Walton, future directors of the NFLC, publish "National Strategic Planning in the Less Commonly Taught Languages," an article that calls for a shift away from the almost exclusive focus on Western European languages in the nation's schools to a new policy emphasizing the development of substantive capacity in less commonly taught languages
  • 1994 - The NFLC establishes the Mellon Adjunct Fellows program, wherein former Mellon Fellows extend their relationship with the NFLC by working on the NFLC's activities
  • Mid 1990s - The Mellon Adjunct Fellows and the NFLC hold Language Policy Forums
  • 1996 - The Henry Luce Foundation funds the Language Mission Project to re-evaluate the objectives and practices of language teaching and learning at the undergraduate level
  • 1997 - The U.S. Department of Education (USED) funds Evaluation of Exchange, Language, and International Area Studies (EELIAS), a five-year project leading to the development of a web-based data reporting and tracking system for grantees
  • 1999 - The U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) funds the LangSource project, a searchable, annotated bibliographic database of language and culture resources


  • Late 2001 - The U.S. government funds the LangNet program, a state-of-the-art online foreign language learning and maintenance system
  • 2002 - The NFLC completes Recursos para la Enseñanza y el Aprendizaje de las Culturas Hispanas (REACH), a Spanish language and culture project for heritage learners
  • 2004 - The NFLC's Language Access Initiative commences, a program involving projects designed to alleviate the extreme shortage of trained interpreters in the American health care field as well as in federal, state, and local government
  • 2005 - The USED funds the LangSource Expansion, which assists foreign language teachers by expanding the existing database of language learning materials to include resources that are useful, unbiased, accurate, and developmentally appropriate for teaching culture to students in grades K-12
  • 2006 - The NFLC receives a USED grant to develop LangNet learning objects in Chinese for K-12 students
  • 2006 - The NFLC begins initial planning phase for STARTALK program
  • 2007 - The NFLC launches the STARTALK program to increase the number of students learning Arabic and Chinese and to provide professional development opportunities to teachers of Arabic and Chinese
  • 2008 - The STARTALK program continues funding summer programs with the addition of the languages Hindi, Persian, and Urdu
  • 2009 - The NFLC is awarded Analyst Learning Link (ALL), a five-year contract to create advanced learning and assessment materials in dozens of less commonly taught languages.
  • 2011 - The NFLC celebrates its 25th anniversary, sponsoring a one-day symposium entitled Preaching beyond the choir at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, DC.
  • 2013 - The NFLC is awarded a second five-year contract to continue administering STARTALK, with student and teacher programs now in 10 languages.
  • 2015 - Korean is added to the STARTALK portfolio, bringing the total languages taught to 11.
  • 2015 - The NFLC launches its language portal, providing low-cost access to nearly its entire catalog of learning materials (http://portal.nflc.umd.edu/).
  • 2015 - The NFLC is awarded a two-year contract to develop reading and listening comprehension test items for the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT).
  • 2016 - The NFLC hosts a one-day memorial symposium in honor of its founder, Richard Lambert, who passed away the previous summer. The findings of this memorial symposium were presented to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Commission on Language Education.

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