A widening gap in school foreign language programs could make it harder for companies to compete in an increasingly diverse population and global business environment. These days, “we speak the privileged language of the world,” says Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). “What if that changed? What if the whole Internet were in Chinese? Just think of it.”

So firms and students alike are turning to new programs, mostly online, to help meet training needs. Even firms doing business only in the U.S. are finding it helpful to be well versed in their consumers’ diverse cultures and languages.

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