Why study a foreign language in Tennessee?

There are many valid general reasons for Americans to study a foreign language: It adds 1) a core, but often missing element in our cognitive development, 2) a broadening of our cultural and intellectual horizons, 3) a better understanding of our own language, 4) encouragement for our acceptance of people who are different from us, 5) another practical skill in our functional repertory, to name only a few. Life in the Volunteer State provides some compelling and geographically specific reasons for learning the way non-English speaking peoples express themselves.

Tennessee is becoming day-by-day considerably more cosmopolitan, and chances are that you may be dealing with people right next door who are non-English speakers. Over a quarter of a million Tennessee residents reported living in non-English speaking households for the 2000 census; that's one out of every twenty-eight. The rate of growth in our state's foreign-born population is over three and a half times that of the native-born population. Among southeastern states, Tennessee was 2nd in growth of its Hispanic population (31.4%) between 1990 and 1994, and is still 2nd when this growth is extended to the year 2000. Nashville has one of the nation's fastest growing legal immigrant populations (57% from 1990 to 1998). In Memphis alone, the population of Spanish speakers soared from 8000 in 1995 to an estimated 80,000 now. You can meet Tennessee's foreign-born immigrants at school, on the farm, in factories, stores, offices and board rooms. As of 1994, more than half had arrived in the previous fifteen years, and the pace has greatly accelerated since then. INS data show that since 1990 3.7% of all new immigrants coming into the United States gave Tennessee as their intended state of residence; and in 1994 and 1995, our's was in the top half of states preferred. As our unemployment rate dwindles and production demands on Tennessee commerce and industry increase, we will see this rate go up Many other facts about immigration, languages spoken, etc. in Tennessee and its counties can be gleaned from the US census bureau's quick facts.

Even without ocean beaches, Tennessee tourist attractions like Graceland, Beale Street, Opryland, the view of seven states from Lookout Mountain, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park draw hundreds of thousands of non-English speaking tourists to the Volunteer State every year, adding their share to Tennessee's 7.7 billion dollars in annual tourism revenue. Both International visitors and imported goods can enter the US through Tennessee's five US Customs Ports of entry in BLOUNTVILLE, CHATTANOOGA, KNOXVILLE, MEMPHIS, NASHVILLE, the largest number for any interior state. One of these, Memphis has some international commerce distinctions which should be noted by those whose limited view in this area includes only cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. This city, with its own truly international business alliances, such as "La Camara de Comercio Hispana de Memphis", has more than 200 foreign-owned companies, representing over 25 countries, operating in its area. These represent 10% - 15% of all new and expansion investments in the area and employ over 20,000 local residents. Memphis international Airport (including the FedEx Super Hub, a major UPS hub, and an RPS sort facility) is the busiest freight airport in the world. More than 30 international freight forwarders operate in Memphis, which is also served by 6 class-one rail systems, and an excellent interstate highway system which will include the north-south NAFTA highway (I-69) . No wonder Memphis is the sixth largest distribution center in the US.

The business climate too is changing. We often face our foreign clients through electronic desktops, where the information from e-mail, videoconferencing, corporate chatrooms and web sites is ever current; the delivery often instantaneous. In these circumstances, expectations for a quick turn-around are as high as the stakes, less and less time to find a way around using our correspondent's language. Of the estimated 310 million regular internet users in the world, nearly 60% are from outside North America, and only about 50% are English-speaking. Little wonder that there are now more web pages not in English than in there are in English.

These communication issues should be particularly important to commercial viability of Tennessee, for we have developed a growth dependence on international business. To prove this, we have only to take stock of our exports to foreign countries, which were nearly 9.1 billion dollars in 1997, representing a 15.2% increase over the previous year, and which are estimated by some sources to be nearly 11 billion dollars currently. In Memphis, the value of exports grew by 76% between 1993 and 1998. In this same city, during the year 1997, major foreign investments exceeded $180 million creating over 750 new jobs. Tennessee is consistantly in the top tier of states for growth in dollar value of exports. Exports of raw agricultural commodities generally total more than a half a billion dollars annually here. Overall, exports accounted for 6.9 % of Tennessee's GSP in 1998. Between 1999 and 2000 the value of Tennessee exports grew by 22%. In 2001, about 1 of every 15 jobs in Tennessee's private sector was export-dependant. 5436 Tennessee companies were exporting goods. In 2004, Tennessee's exports (to nearly 200 countries) grew to $16,122.900,000, bringing in a whopping $2733 per capita. This figure ranks Tennessee 16th in the nation by dollar value and 7th in yearly growth. Global commerce is so important to the Tennessee business community that we even have our own internet journal, Global Commerce, to study it. Global commerce reaches into every corner of our state, and we take seriously the impact of foreign trade on Tennessee counties

Here are some statistics for Tennessee trade with NAFTA partners:

Top Ten Commodities for Tennessee Trade with Mexico
Tennessee-Canada Trade

Here is a breakdown of export-related jobs by industry:


But exports are only part of Tennessee's "International Development". Perhaps it is because of our favorable right-to-work labor environment, perhaps because of the incentives given for the purchase of machinery and equipment, possibly our five foreign trade zones approved for operation in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville and the Tri-Cities area, or our superb interstate and multilaned highways. For whatever reason, we find ourselves quite capable of attracting much foreign investment and business, which, we are told, creates one in seven Tennessee manufacturing jobs and a quarter of the value of all goods shipped in the state. Tennessee ranks 8th in the nation for the fact that 5.1% of its workforce (all sectors) is employed by foreign companies. It outpaced all but 13 other states in adding jobs from foreign-owned companies between 1980 and 1995. In 2001, majority-owned affiliates of foreign firms accounted for one sixth of all manufacturing employment in Tennessee. This is significntly higher than the national average. Here are some of the over 800 foreign-owned firms in Tennessee. Here are some of the facts about Tennessee's.

No doubt, Tennessee's health in foreign trde and foreign-direct investment are what has made it the one of best job-growing state in the nation. If you are interested in more details of how Tennessee is involved in international business and commerce, you may wish to consult the following links: No doubt about it; the economic health of Tennessee is tied to how well we do in the global market, and on a continued flow of foreign investment. We may also find ourselves effected by the cultures of immigrant Tennesseans who will be our colleagues in the labor market right around the corner. Tennessee must build and support sustained educational experiences in foreign languages and cultures at the very core of its educational programs. Why not begin to ensure our place in the world today by studying a foreign language and culture? After a solid foundation in Tennessee's public or private schools, you can avail yourself of the almost limitless possibilities of foreign language and culture studies offered by Tennessee institutions of higher learning.

Here are many other reasons why all who can should study and learn a foreign language. The facts are undeniable and uncontradictable. All politicians can do is avoid them or say they are not important enough to change course from cutting foreign language programs. Don't let this happen. Read these facts and confront publicly but politely all those considering cuts in foreign language programs with them in as many forums as it takes to turn the tide. Write letters to newspapers and senators, or call in to talk radio shows stating these facts. 2005 is a national "Year of Languages", where the senate and the house have both unanimously voted resolutions to "promote and expand". Tennessee must expand foreign language study opportunities now, or risk losing its advantage in international trade and foreign investment, as well as its ability to communicate with its growing immigrant population

This is all very interesting, but can knowing a foreign language really help me land a job?

Does a bear sleep in the woods?

Try searching for your foreign language in careerbuilder.com, or in Monster.com

Globe-Gate Research
Made in Tennessee to bring you the world.
Robert D. Peckham, Ph.D., director
UT Martin TFLTA page