Episode 88 – Inviting you to reflect with Amanda Seewald, JNCL Executive Director

Episode 88 Its About Language, Amanda Seewald guest
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 88 - Inviting you to reflect with Amanda Seewald, JNCL Executive Director

“Language is directly is a part of your identity. Our country is built on people who all came from different places with different languages and different cultures and different experiences. For far too long in our educational system that has not been recognized as an asset.”

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Find your voice.

It’s the first step I have in my language pathway: Find your voice. Enter the conversation. Name your superpower.

How did YOU find your voice to bring YOUR personal impact in the world? Or are you still searching for your authentic voice, for where you belong in the conversation, for what your unique superpower is (and yes, you have one)?

Language, the unique human miracle, is the exact tool given to you to do all these things: speak up, belong, make an impact.

Amanda Seewald found out this truth as a young person. Check out her powerful initial conversation with me in Episode 10. That conversation will encourage you, since Amanda had not set out in life knowing the impact language was having on her identity. And in her generosity of spirit, when Amanda realized the gift language was to her, she wanted it for everyone she knew – and for everyone she didn’t know, for society and the world as a whole.

Her faithful dedication has led her down pathways of creativity and service, and to a culminating moment we celebrate in this reflection: her appointment as Executive Director of JNCL-NCLIS, the national advocacy organization for language education.

JNCL-NCLIS is the voice par excellence to Congress and governmental agencies who make laws and fund programs developed specifically to support the myriad ways language impacts our lives.

Indeed, just to check out the JNCL-NCLIS website’s “Language at the Intersection” initiative and video conversations with those engaged in language across the full spectrum of our human activity in society is to realize more fully the essential, central role of language in all our lives.

Please DO check out the JNCL roles and contributions to your well-being and mine. And join us by advocating and/or donating as an individual – or if you are part of an education organization or business, by becoming a JNCL member. All the information you need is on the site.

Amanda is taking on leadership responsibilities. Let’s thank her for her dedication and inisght into the role of language in our lives by joining her in advocacy. JNCL can help you to know where your advocacy time is especially well-spent. It may be in your home, school, community, groups, or even nationally.

Learn more about Amanda in her biography. That post also contains resources and links Amanda has suggested for us.

Learn more about advocacy and its power by listening to Amanda as a member of my panel on advocacy, Episode 62.

Share your voice. Join the conversation. Use your superpower.

Enjoy the podcast.

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Inviting you to reflect with Amanda Seewald, JNCL Executive Director

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Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.


Episode 10

Episode 62

Amanda Seewald Bio


0:00:01.4 Amanda Seewald: Language is human, we are human, and it is essential in order for us to do work, live, and do anything with other humans.

0:00:10.7 Norah Jones: We all come together to make a difference. That’s a statement that struck me so powerfully in this episode, Reflection with Amanda Seewald. Amanda Seewald was appointed Executive Director of the Joint National Committee for Languages, the National Council for Languages and International Studies, which always referred to by its acronym, JNCL-NCLIS. I’m a member of that board, and I know that the importance of this organization in helping folks to be able to speak to legislators at the national level, and to be empowered to speak in their own families, communities, schools, businesses, places of gathering of all kinds, advocacy for what language can do for both systems in this country of the United States and beyond, and what advocacy can do for individuals and their contributions to society. Become familiar with this organization if you are not already familiar with it. Find its website on my own, fluency.consulting. Go directly to it at languagepolicy.org. During this conversation, you will hear reference to the Language Advocacy Days. For 2023, the Language Advocacy Days are February 8, 9, and 10.

0:01:49.8 Norah Jones: And Language Advocacy Days, as one of the events of JNCL-NCLIS, is virtual now. Virtual in order to allow access to those in Congress who are considering, or should be considering, specific bills and proposals that can support language learning, cultural learning, international studies, and language as a tool for work and life. The virtual nature of the Language Advocacy Days means that all get to participate. Students, teachers, community members, those that are engaged in specific language organizations and those that are not. The opportunity to bring your voice in front of congressional members is extraordinarily powerful and there’s lots of specific training that allow you to do that with joy and ease. Take a look on the website, languagepolicy.org, or go through my website, fluency.consulting, to discover more about this specific event. One of the things that Amanda talks about is that JNCL-NCLIS is making sure that this event is one of many opportunities for learning and growing and understanding how our voice is important, how it’s critical in order to be able to express how we bring our own talents, our own skills and knowledge to bear to benefit the whole of society. You’ll hear references to various bills like World LEAP.

0:03:30.7 Norah Jones: You’ll hear references to organizations within Congress that are helping to bring about an awareness of how language works to the legislators themselves, including the important America’s Language Caucus. There’s so much that’s here for you also to become engaged in, learn about it, engage in it, and come join us at JNCL-NCLIS. You can attend the Language Advocacy Days, depending on your situation, become a member, donate. As you listen to Amanda Seewald, please recognize that she is reflecting the commitment and the energy that all of those engaged in the language enterprise and understanding its power are trying to bring to bear. And by making a change in the way that our systems, particular in this case in government, treat language, treat language learners, treat the power of language will make all the difference in all of our lives. So enjoy this podcast episode with Amanda Seewald.


0:04:45.1 Norah Jones: Well, hello, Amanda Seewald.

0:04:45.2 Amanda Seewald: Hello, Norah. It’s wonderful to be here with you.

0:04:47.4 Norah Jones: I’m delighted to see and hear you again. And first and foremost, congratulations on your appointment as the new executive director of JNCL-NCLIS, the national world language advocacy group. Congratulations.

0:05:05.5 Amanda Seewald: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be able to continue my work with this incredible organization that I’ve been a part of for so many years. And it’s a new role, but it’s the same work. It’s the same work that we’ve all been doing for so long and that I believe is collectively essential to our cause and actually to education as a whole.

0:05:23.1 Norah Jones: Well, we certainly want to tap on that collectiveness, collectivity, I probably shouldn’t say that kind of word here. But let’s take a look at what are the other roles that you have indeed played with JNCL during the years that you have been present in and working with the organization?

0:05:42.4 Amanda Seewald: Well, almost 15 years ago, I came to LAD, to Language Advocacy Days. It was my first experience with JNCL-NCLIS and that was as a representative for FLENJ, the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey. And I came there with a couple of other colleagues from that organization. They were showing me the experience of advocating with our leaders in Congress.

0:06:03.2 Amanda Seewald: It blew my mind. It was incredible. And I had the opportunity to meet so many people in our field who I still be honored to work with. And I also had the chance to meet Dave Edwards then, who was our founding executive director. And he picked up on the fact that I really loved this, that I loved advocacy and that I had a way… That I had a willingness and an interest in using my voice in this way. And he taught me a lot and he mentored me and he offered me opportunities to come back and learn more about the organization. And that’s what I did. And then I got more involved. I was really excited when I was asked to serve on the board. And I did that for a long time and in different roles. At one point I was secretary of the board, other points I was just on the board. I always probably being a voice of challenge in some cases because that’s, I guess, part of who I am.

0:06:55.3 Amanda Seewald: But always because I believe that this organization is about us together. It is not about any one thing or about any one entity or one person or one organization. It is about the way that we all come together to make a difference. And that’s always been a very important focus. One of the greatest things that I was thrilled to see happen was when the organization decided to have small business members. And that was what allowed me to then not represent FLENCH or any other organization at that point, but to become an organizational member myself for Maracas, for my program. Maracas is my business and it’s a small business that I built myself. And that to be able to join a part of this beautiful collaborative national effort as a small business made a difference to me and to be able to represent myself and my company that way on the board at JNCL was really a gift.

0:07:49.0 Norah Jones: As a small business myself, having Fluency Consulting being a member of JNCL, I can relate to the opening that provided for me as well. And as we continue to take a look at what the past has brought here up to your present, there’s two areas I would love for you to provide more insight. First, why the dedication to advocacy for language? And second, why collaboration?

0:08:21.5 Amanda Seewald: I think that the reason for the need to advocate for language, language education and for multilingualism is that it is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a society.

0:08:33.1 Amanda Seewald: That is the lack of a recognition that language is directly is a part of your identity and that our country is built on people who all came from different places with different languages and different cultures and different experiences and for far too long in our educational system that has not been recognized as an asset. And so we know as language educators, we’ve always known because we stepped out of our own boxes to make sure that languages were part of our lives all the time and that we wanted to be bilingual, multilingual and be able to speak to people, know people, understand people and understand the world better by being those leaders, those educators. But the rest of our field, quite honestly, the rest of education and the rest of our nation really has never looked at bilingualism and multilingualism as the asset that it truly is to the way that we function in a community, the way that we function in a state, the way that we even function in a company or in an organization and especially the way that we function in education and certainly as a nation. And I think that the advocacy we do to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language is essential beyond what I think people would usually think it’s for.

0:09:57.5 Amanda Seewald: It is not just about making sure that a student can learn English and one other language. It is absolutely that, but it’s also what does that mean to that student’s life? What does that mean to our lives as a whole? The advocacy is for our global understanding. The advocacy is for our domestic understanding and the advocacy is for making sure that we have the right tools as language learning and negotiation of meaning is a problem solving process that grows cognitive skill as well in the area of thinking around problems, of thinking about how to articulate something, how to solve something. All of these things are parts of our educational system that need to be accentuated, that need to be grown and augmented. And I believe that our advocacy is essential to that cause.

0:10:45.7 Norah Jones: Powerfully said, you have directly before this appointment as executive director beginning in January, 2023, been the president of JNCL-NCLIS. And when your tenure unfolded, what are some of the things that you have seen that have brought this need forward into the planning of JNCL and the potential future actions of JNCL?

0:11:15.7 Amanda Seewald: Well, the last two years have been really reconfiguring, reimagining and rebuilding. I mean, the truth is the last two years have been unusual for all of us. And I think transformational for all of us in good and bad ways. For our organization, it has been an opportunity as I’ve seen it as president, it was a challenge and an opportunity to move our board as a whole to a space where we were honoring the expertise of everyone there and helping them see how their engagement in our work could make a difference. And by virtue of that, of doing that, I feel like it also then meant that we needed to look at the way we were engaging our members as a whole and our advocates as a whole. So the work that we’ve done over the last couple of years has been to one, reimagine our Language Advocacy Days in a virtual format that would allow for more access and equity. So we have all 50 states represented. We have teachers who can meet with their legislators during their break time. We have students who’ve been able to join us through an in-class field trip. This is something we never could have even imagined before. And now we had the need to do it and the need created an opportunity.

0:12:25.7 Amanda Seewald: And so it allowed us to create this new space that allowed us to grow, that helped us grow. The other piece of that is for far too long, our organization had been referred to as let me go to JNCL this year, which was just once a year when we had LAD that one time of year. But the reality is that what people were attending was Language Advocacy Days. And it’s a wonderful event. But what I really wanted to see happen and what we as a board and our community needed and was asking for was a way to connect to that advocacy across the year, was a way to build the skills of an advocate across the year and a way to really start to understand the legislative process even better. In order to do that, we created new programming that allowed our advocates to have an interaction with us all of the time. We have legislative updates with our director of government relations regularly. We have had webinars that help bring together these concepts of instruction and advocacy and communication. We’ve also done an entire series of conversations that bring up some issues that maybe we don’t have an opportunity to focus on during LAD, but are all a part of the advocacy for that broader cause of language and multilingualism as an asset in our nation.

0:13:42.3 Amanda Seewald: And to me, those are some of the most important things that we’ve been able to do over the last couple of years is to breathe more collaborative life into the organization to help everyone see that JNCL-NCLIS that unusual organization with the very long acronym that spells out one and sounds out the other of its names, is actually more than the experience in Washington. It is that. And it builds on that across the year to help empower those of us who care about the way that our global focus grows in our educational system through language and through a focus on who we are and who our students are.

0:14:24.9 Norah Jones: What do you see as far as the impact on legislation nationally? Let’s look in the national direction first. What kinds of reactions, possibilities, constraints do you see when you look at the national, congressional and executive branch look at languages and the effects?

0:14:47.3 Amanda Seewald: I think it’s very interesting. I’ve been thrilled to see the year of indigenous languages become such a very prominent piece of what’s going on through the executive branch with Deb Halland in the Department of the Interior and everything that the Biden administration has done around indigenous languages to me speaks to what we care about as an organization and as a field, which is uplifting and amplifying voices and making sure that those languages and those cultures that have been oppressed or that have been treated wrong by this nation are now given the space to sustain and promote and potentially grow in the right way.

0:15:25.5 Amanda Seewald: That is one thing that I want to say that I feel is a very strong positive. Another thing is a concern. Language has never been something that a leader of our country would talk about. I just had the opportunity to go listen to the president of France speak in the United States and to hear him talk for two minutes about the value of multilingualism and the importance of bilingualism. What I loved about that is that that influence actually had an impact. Our executive branch and our president and everyone started to talk about the value of the French for All initiative that the French are putting into our schools and our nation and how it is important to us. But that’s not something we commonly hear in our nation from our leaders, either in Congress nor in the executive branch. That is something that I think we’re starting to see a difference with. We have a bilingual Secretary of State whose language is so strong that he conducts meetings in other languages, in French, for example. We have an indigenous leader of the Department of the Interior and all of these spaces make a difference. We also have our caucus for leadership.

0:16:41.0 Amanda Seewald: I also want to look at the flip side of this. Our caucus in Congress, we have our Senate caucus and a House caucus by Camarill, our America’s Languages Caucus, is a strong way for us to move forward. We have a lot of changes there. We have a new co-chair, Jimmy Panetta, who will be leading it. But our challenge is to bring on those other voices that we have not yet been able to bring to this new Congress that is coming in, which we know is fraught with a lot of social and cultural challenges that I see directly impacting our way of viewing multilingualism in this nation. We must advocate in a way that makes sure that we pay attention to those challenges. So as to not lose sight of the fact that we must work with everyone in Congress, both sides of the aisle. We must work hard to help people see the different reasons that language education is an essential component to an education in the United States and why. And we also really have to help people understand identity and help them see that that is a function of understanding one’s identity, feeling comfortable with one’s identity and feeling empowered by one’s own identity is a key to our nation’s success.

0:17:58.2 Amanda Seewald: And I believe that no matter who we are speaking with, no matter who the person is on the other side of the table from me, whether their views are different from mine or not, we have to find a way to help people understand that this is the key to our success as a society. And so I see this as a huge challenge. I also see it as an opportunity as we move forward into the 118th Congress to look for these possibilities, to grow our new legislation, World LEAP, the World Language Education Assistance Program, and to grow it into the multimodal experience that will allow schools and districts and students and teachers and certainly everyone as a whole to benefit from the growth of learning that engages problem solving skills, that engages global understanding, and that helps someone value themselves.

0:18:53.1 Norah Jones: Thank you for that articulate response. And while I was going to turn and say, let’s just face outward then from the legislative group into the society as a whole, and I would still appreciate it if you would do that. It’s also sounds as I listen to you that there’s a mental health benefit going on here.

0:19:16.0 Norah Jones: We have a lot of struggles with health and welfare of many individuals in this country. And I believe that language has seen historically to be some kind of an item that’s a nice to have if you’ve got time. But the way that you’ve emphasized identity, the cognitive abilities, strikes me that we could be talking about a change for the benefit of society as a whole through language if the folks in society understood this was one of the most important roles of language. Am I speaking something that makes sense?

0:19:51.2 Amanda Seewald: Yeah, no, I absolutely think so. There are different ways for us to approach language in a school. But what I want to start with is what you were saying about society with regard to mental health. What is more empowering than being able to be proud of oneself and one’s background and one’s culture and language? And I think that that’s where we’ve been backwards for a long time in our schools and in our society. We need to empower our English language learners. Our English language learners, who I prefer to call multilingual learners or bilingual learners, are the ones who have these tools that we are seeking.

0:20:29.7 Amanda Seewald: They come to our country and to our nation and to our schools with the tools to be the problem solvers, to be the negotiators of meaning that we want to have in our classrooms and in our world and in our companies and in our organizations and in our government. And if we can start to refocus our educational system around the way that we amplify that, we augment that, and we assist in that growth rather than making it something that needs to be moved away from, pulling someone out of their first language in order to learn English, that is the problem that I see that happens in our culture and in our educational system. If we are able to empower English language learners, we have a different way of looking at language in this country, period. That is different. Everything is viewed differently. And then those students who are native English speakers also will see the value and the power of language and have the opportunities to learn as well. We need it for everyone. It’s not just for one or the other, and it is not just a one language or the other thing. It’s all languages, and it’s all people.

0:21:42.9 Amanda Seewald: And I think that that’s part of what we need to think about when we look at self and home and community and world.

0:21:52.3 Norah Jones: Thank you, Amanda. When you look at the upcoming year and years ahead, what is it specifically that you are looking to make a difference in, to energize, to have an impact in the direction that you know that languages can do under your leadership and JNCL as executive director? What are some of those dreams and plans?

0:22:18.6 Amanda Seewald: I appreciate the term dreams because I think that this is all about what we do together. I don’t see this role or this organization as ever being able to be something that can be on the back of one person or that can be led by one person. The definition of this organization is that it is a collaborative, collective effort that brings the entire language field together. And it is my dream and my goal to see that happen across our nonprofit organizations that serve teachers, our organizations that serve schools and students, administrators beyond the language field who are in education, certainly our for-profit sector that benefits from multilingual employees, and that can go on and on.

0:23:04.8 Amanda Seewald: And essentially, it is my hope that I can use my voice, use the connections that I love to make with people to help those in different positions strategically around our nation in different areas to see the value of our cause and to help us see these ideas to fruition, to allow for multilingualism to grow as an asset in our country. That’s my hope. That’s my dream. And it is not easy. We know that advocacy is a consistent voice. It’s a consistent echo. And it’s something that needs to continue and not just be one person. It needs to be all of us. It needs to be all of us sharing our perspectives, sharing our experiences, and helping others see the value in that and how it can make a difference for our children.

0:23:56.3 Norah Jones: Thank you. And I think that’s the best invitation or exhortation for the listeners today.

0:24:02.8 Amanda Seewald: Thank you. Well, I want to invite everyone to come to Language Advocacy Days, February 8th through the 10th. It is virtual again, and it is virtual to allow us to have everyone there. We want people to be involved. You don’t need to be a member of JNCL-NCLIS to come to LAD. And you’ll hear from incredible leaders. You’ll hear from voices outside of our choir who will help us understand the way that language relates to different spaces. You’ll hear about the opportunity that multilingualism provides in all different areas of our lives. And you’ll also get the chance to interface with your members of Congress. It’s something that is very unique. And online, that’s an even more unique and honestly intimate experience than it is sometimes in person. So I invite people to join us for that, to go online and register. I also invite all organizations, companies, and groups that see this, whether you’re parents or you are educational leaders or you are company leaders or you are an organization that works in international work or in community work here in the United States, to join JNCL-NCLIS, to come be a part of this cause that will help us further multilingualism in our nation and make it the positive and important asset that we need in order to solve global issues.

0:25:22.6 Norah Jones: Thank you for that invitation. Certainly having accepted it myself, it really has made a huge difference in my understanding of how language can make a difference in people’s lives that didn’t expect it to do so, especially those in leadership.

0:25:39.5 Norah Jones: Languagepolicy.org is the website to which folks can go for more information about JNCL, for the information about the Language Advocacy Days and for other advocacy opportunities. What would you especially suggest, along with taking a look at and registering for Language Advocacy Days, what other things might people specifically look for when they go to languagepolicy.org as the website for JNCL-NCLIS?

0:26:09.6 Amanda Seewald: Well thank you, Norah, for the opportunity to talk about this because we have a treasure trove of information and advocacy tools and fascinating interviews available on our website. We’ve done some great work this past year. Our theme was language at the intersection. And if you click right to the language at the intersection section of our website, you will find interviews with people who are in all different professions about how language impacts them, how being multilingual or bilingual impacts their work every day. And I encourage you to listen to some of these interviews and also to take a look at the poster that’s available to download there that you can put anywhere where people might see and be able to understand the value of language in different spaces.

0:26:54.4 Amanda Seewald: That’s one thing. The other thing is look at our new advocacy page where you can find the resources you need if you’re facing any challenges in your state or if you’re looking for the resources to help build legislation in your state or looking for other people in other states who are doing things that you may need. We certainly want to provide that for you. And in addition to that, please make sure that you take a look at our board page. We have some incredible leaders. Norah Jones is one of them and we are grateful. And our leaders are people who are experts in their fields, who are ready to answer your questions about advocacy and about language education. So I encourage you to look at that and reach out to these incredible people as well.

0:27:34.0 Norah Jones: Thank you for that invitation, Amanda. And I would like just one more item. When we take a look at the folks that are in the intersections, that poster that you refer to, those conversations that are recorded that you refer to that are very powerful, what are some of the intersections so the folks that are listening can understand that they too potentially are very much in the intersection with language?

0:28:00.4 Amanda Seewald: Sure, language at the intersection of engineering, of healthcare, of climate change, of course education, of linguistics, of anthropology, of science and medical discoveries, of interpreting and translating, of diplomacy, of identity. These are all the different types of things. And of course, of business and international affairs. We certainly think that these are ways, these are pathways for people to understand just what a difference it makes to be multilingual.

0:28:37.4 Norah Jones: In other words, language is human.

0:28:41.8 Amanda Seewald: Yeah. Language is human. We are human. And it is essential in order for us to do work, live and do anything with other humans, for us to speak other languages, to understand other people through language and through culture.

0:28:56.4 Amanda Seewald: Amanda Seewald, thank you. And again, congratulations on your appointment as Executive Director of JNCL-NCLIS. Thank you for all that you have done over the years and what you have served these decades, close to decades here. Thank you for what you’re about to do in your leadership and the collaboration that you call forth from so many people. Appreciate every bit.

0:29:18.2 Amanda Seewald: Thank you, Norah. I look forward to working with JNCL-NCLIS and to continuing my work through Maracas to serve school districts and help programs continue to grow.

0:29:29.2 Norah Jones: Thanks for listening to this episode with Amanda Seewald. Do check out languagepolicy.org and potentially attending that Language Advocacy Days virtually in 2023. However you advocate, do make your voice heard. Do enter the conversation and name that superpower in front of others who need to know how powerful language is in the life of individuals and in the life of society. Look forward to welcoming you to the next episode where my guest will be Celia Zamora, the Director of Professional Learning and Certification for ACTFL. Until then.

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