When Linda Egnatz was teaching advanced placement Spanish language and literature in Illinois, there was one thing on her mind; students need a real reason to want to study these languages. That thought was the beginning of her journey to becoming executive director of the Global Seal of Biliteracy – a qualification designed to make languages anyone speaks a quantifiable tool in terms of employability.
“So many students don’t take languages after a time because they’ve met, let’s say, a university entrance requirement, or they say ‘I’ve enough to get by’ because the curriculum didn’t push any higher. I had students that could do so much more,” Egnatz told The PIE. After beginning to work with the state of Illinois on the state seal of biliteracy; each state has its own autonomy, making requirements different anywhere you go, but as Egnatz pointed out, there’s “just so many gaps” in the state system.
“Looking at participation, we said, what about university students? A more global scale? We need a certificate because they want to get a job and show their language skills – these spaces, all these community-based heritage programs that are in silos that didn’t connect with the schools was really sort of the inspiration.
“So I starting asking people and investors, how we could make this happen. And then finally someone said, ‘well, would you run it?’” Egnatz remembered. In 2018, under her executive directorship, the Global Seal of Biliteracy was founded.
“There isn’t an age restriction, there’s no grade requirement – no extra project or portfolio”
The Global Seal of Biliteracy is open to anybody who wishes to ratify their known languages by working with assessment companies to provide certifications in three levels of language proficiency: functional, working and professional fluency. These certifications are then usable as a tool for employability purposes, university credits and more; even an official serial number with each certificate that can then be advertised on the participant’s LinkedIn profile.
“There isn’t an age restriction, there’s no grade requirement – no extra project or portfolio. It’s purely a demonstrator of language – and it became that easy to create a universal merit credential – it doesn’t matter where you work, the criteria is consistent.”
After launching with the American ACTFL language proficiency scale in 2018, the Global Seal expanded to allow the European CEFR scale on the certifications in 2020. While this is what, according to Egnatz, is the granular measure to make sure it can be recognised in a more professional environment and educational environment, the idea to use the three-tier fluency scale came from a place of need for equality.
“In different careers often, for example, waiters and receptionists can know the basics of five or six languages. But for the most part, they aren’t going to be able to hold some kind of in-depth conversation about physics, for example. What we have to communicate that well, whatever level you have is great, and useful and purposeful,” Egnatz explained.
Part of the Global Seal’s aim is to “fix the things” that were problematic about the state seals, including that they became only an award and something not usable by students, without uniformity.
“There are five states where they provide university credit automatically to those high school students that take [the state seal], but they don’t recognise it in another state and that’s an issue because it depends on where they come from; hence the need for something overarching.
The second problem the Global Seal tackles, Egnatz said, is that pull from universities for articulation of the qualification itself. The serial number that gives identification of the certificate allows admissions staff to be able to clearly see the level of language from each student; allowing for better use of those languages in that educational and practical sense during the admissions process.
“Universities are now saying well, who can we go after? In a 2020 report on the state schools we had over 100,000 student measuring at B1 or above (in a second language) and where were they going? That’s what we’re trying to fix,” Egnatz added.
When it comes to the Global Seal’s work outside of high schools, it is growing every day. A successful project Egnatz recounted tells of helping cross border students in partnership with the Mexican department of education, allowing them to certify both their Spanish and English to show they are linguistically capable either side of the border.
“The students weren’t old enough to be on their own – they have been raised as English speakers and spoke Spanish at home – they were in limbo, and we wanted to help them be identified in that linguistic respect.
“I think that’s where we began to see we need to be as centred on the student as possible – and if we think of that piece of paper as a powerful tool, growth will come with it,” Egnatz said. In terms of growth, the Global Seal of Biliteracy is now working with more and more institutions in South America – including some in Brazil.
“We now work with some public universities in Taiwan and Japan”
“We now work with some public universities in Taiwan and Japan, as well as institutions in Italy and Costa Rica,” added Egnatz.
The company has seen explosive growth since its inception in 2018, claiming over 3,000% growth between 2018 and 2020 – and last year was over 1,000% despite a tough pandemic.
“This last month [April] was three times bigger than our last biggest month – so it’s incredibly difficult to quantify as we continue,” she said. She also remarked that there has been a lot of growth in the adult and employer market because they are “looking for ways to identify their own bilingualism”.
Despite many people doing the Global Seal qualification through their school, university or even their employer, the company also sees people approach them independently.
The individual will apply to the Global Seal and let them know the languages they’d like to test for, and then they connect them with a testing company – wherein some layers of security are put in to weed out any “faked stories”.
“Individuals can pick which companies fit for testing and we verify it, because if it’s going to be a working credentials, we have to treat it seriously,” she added.
In terms of what’s next for the Global Seal, Egnatz is simply ready to keep working, and is encouraged greatly by the current growth.
“I’m just blown away by where we are, but also just really aware of everything we still have to do.
“Essentially, when you provide someone with some sort of external way to validate a skill or to learn it that they then see it as useful and meaningful economically, then they’re willing to go do amazing things in your language classroom,” Egnatz concluded.