Tennessee Foreign Language Institute: 30 Years of Building Bridges

International trade and investment and building bridges through communication are among the elements of economic success in the age of globalization. Tennessee has long embraced that reality to the benefit of our businesses and workers many of whom can thank the forward looking engagement of our private and public sector leaders in bringing home the world’s commercial opportunities. Governor Bill Haslam offered this testimony to the importance of global markets and connections in a 2014 commentary [Link]:

Tennessee has also invested for the long term in a broader international footprint to ensure our state is firmly entrenched in the new, global economy. Our state now has offices courting foreign direct investment in Japan, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada. We also have offices seeking export opportunities for Tennessee companies in Mexico, China, Japan and the EU.

This investment demonstrates Tennessee’s commitment to competing globally for business and jobs, which is not something most states can claim. Our efforts are paying off with some of the highest-profile companies in the world choosing to call Tennessee home.

Although the English language is not the most widely spoken language in the world — it is number three behind Mandarin and Spanish — it is commonly considered to be the language of business and among the most influential. However, as economic patterns and trends shift in an ever changing landscape it is increasingly important for Americans to acquire foreign language skills to remain relevant. In Tennessee much of that is being met by the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute. The TFLI also meets needs for English language skills for employees of foreign-owned, Tennesse-based businesses and others, and more.

Today we salute the work of the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute and we’re pleased to share for your consideration a recent essay by TFLI’s Executive Director Dr. Janice Snow Rodriguez on the occasion of the Institute’s 30th anniversary.

Patrick W. Ryan
President, Tennessee World Affairs Council

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Note: The World Affairs Council regularly shares commentary about people and fellow organizations that foster the goal of bringing the world to our community.

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Tennessee Foreign Language Institute celebrates 30th anniversary
Janice Snow Rodriguez

Janice-Snow-Rodriguez
Dr. Janice Snow Rodriguez

134,500. That’s the number of Tennesseans who received their paycheck from a company founded outside of the United States last year.

Thirty years ago, the Tennessee state government began seeking ways to attract foreign investment. They knew foreign direct investment would stimulate the state’s economy and stabilize it for years to come.

They also knew, once a company decided to move to the United States, there needed to be something — many things — to encourage them to choose Tennessee as their home. It was with this in mind the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute was created in 1986.

The Tennessee Foreign Language Institute (TFLI) was created by the Tennessee General Assembly for the purpose of coordinating and providing foreign language skills needed by state government, doing research into the most effective methods of foreign language instruction, and improving the language skills and teaching methods of foreign language instructors.

Legislation proposed by Rep. Steve Cobb and Sen. Douglas Henry proposed a state government agency like no other in the nation. No one was sure if TFLI would endure or what impact it might have on our state, but a 1987 news column noted, “even if it doesn’t work, it was cause for excitement, because it was a try.”

Thirty years later, Tennessee sees 6 percent of its private sector workforce employed by foreign-owned companies. The Tennessee Foreign Language Institute has expanded its mission to accommodate the growth of international business throughout the state.

In addition to providing foreign language instruction for companies such as Nissan, Meiko USA, Dollar General, and Bridgestone, TFLI also provides English classes for corporate employees relocating the United States.

The agency introduced interpretation and translation services in 1999 and now provides these services regularly to businesses like CAT Financial, St. Thomas Health, TN Department of Human Services and Jack Daniels.

Hundreds of instructors have received training to teach English both in the United States and abroad through the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) certification program.

The Institute is committed to professionalizing the field of interpretation through the TN State Court Interpreter Certification Program, a program TFLI researched and developed in collaboration with TN the Administrative Offices of the Court.

Several TFLI programs have served as models for programs in other states. The Institute regularly receives inquiries on how to replicate its ESL to Go program, making English classes accessible for refugees via a mobile classroom, and its Taxi Pro Hospitality Program, a joint effort with the Nashville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Metro Transportation Licensing Commission to train Nashville taxi drivers in support of Tennessee’s tourism industry.

With programs like these it is no wonder Tennessee exemplifies southern hospitality and Nashville is consistently voted the friendliest city in the US.

We want to keep that image of Tennessee in the national headlines. We are a diverse state with deeply-held values of respect and kindness.

As the world seems to shrink, the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute is a shining example of a globally-minded Tennessee and our expertise in creating a vibrant, welcoming climate for international businesses and cultures.

Dr. Janice Snow Rodriguez is the Executive Director of Tennessee Foreign Language Institute. Learn more at www.tfli.org .

This article was published by “The Tennessean” on July 24, 2016 and is published here with permission of the author.


The Tennessee World Affairs Council is a nonprofit (501c3), nonpartisan educational charity based in Nashville that works to build understanding of global issues in our communities. Learn more about the Council and find how you can join, donate and volunteer at: www.TNWAC.org  — Join / Donate / Volunteer

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