Critical languages are those less commonly taught languages in which the demand for proficient speakers exceeds supply. The Department of Defense wants personnel who speak a second language to improve ground operations; intelligence agencies need officers who can speak rarely taught languages; international businesses are concerned about competition with countries who have an endless supply of technically skilled workers who speak English fluently. Yet the American educational system does little to expose its future workers, businessmen, scientists, soldiers and diplomats to foreign languages when their brains are best able to learn them — starting in elementary school and continuing throughout the rest of the educational cycle. This is especially true of all world languages besides a few that are most commonly taught in schools, namely, Spanish, French, and to some extent, German.
The National Security Education Program (NSEP) emphasizes the study of some 70 languages that are rarely, if ever, taught in U.S. educational institutions. These languages are listed below.
NSEP awards David L. Boren Scholarships for the study of Less Commonly Taught Languages to outstanding U.S. undergraduates through a competitive national merit-based process.
The Language Flagship program awards grants to U.S. colleges and universities for the development of language programs that are designed to help individuals achieve high levels of proficiency in critical languages including Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili,Turkish, and Urdu.
A good source for finding out where these critical languages are taught is The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition that maintains a database of institutions that offer instruction in the Less Commonly Taught Languages.