Steve Leveen is a champion of bilingualism in America. He is the founder of the America the Bilingual project and the host of the America the Bilingual podcast, which he produces in cooperation with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and its Lead with Languages campaign. Leveen created America the Bilingual as an ongoing initiative to bring together Americans who believe that bilingualism can be an instrument of positive social change.
Leveen was named a Fellow of the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI) of Harvard University in 2015 and a Fellow of the Distinguished Career Institute (DCI) at Stanford University in 2016. He used both fellowship years to conduct research for his book on bilingualism, America’s Bilingual Century: How Americans are giving the gift of bilingualism to themselves, their loved ones, and their country (America the Bilingual Press, January 2021).
Developing America’s Bilingual Century
America’s Bilingual Century is Leveen’s third book. It serves as a call to action to Americans to advance to a country where a majority of Americans knows English and another language. Leveen maintains that “English is what unites us; our other languages are what strengthen and define us.” America is already farther toward this goal than most of us realize, Leveen says.
In his book, Leveen explores methods for adults to become bilingual and to raise their children as bilinguals, even if they themselves are not. He also addresses 12 myths about bilingualism that he says Americans are slaying.
His research included interviews with Luis von Ahn, the founder of Duolingo; American Sign Language educators at Gallaudet University; education leaders in North Carolina and Utah who have dramatically expanded the number of dual language schools in their states; members of the Foreign Service, military and other branches of the federal government that support bilingual programs such as STARTALK as part of the country’s national security efforts; the civic activists and political leaders who spearheaded the Seal of Biliteracy programs for states; numerous ACTFL teachers; and members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, who operate a school whose curriculum is in the Cherokee language.
In his research for the 12 language myths in particular, Leveen drew on the works of linguistic scholars Joshua Fishman, John McWhorter, Steven Pinker and Kim Potowski, as well as on the popular works of Gaston Dorren, Tim Ferriss, Steve Kaufmann and Gabriel Wyner.
A midlife monolingual awakening
Leveen himself is not bilingual, even though he grew up in San Diego, California, a short distance from the Mexican border. It was not until midlife that he committed to learning Spanish. He describes himself as an emerging bilingual, and Spanish as his adopted language.
Interspersed with the many stories of successful bilinguals he features in America’s Bilingual Century is his own story, chronicling both the struggles and the rewards of adopting a language later in life.
Earlier professional life
Leveen is the former CEO of Levenger, which he started with his wife, Lori Granger Leveen, in 1987. He created the company with a mission of providing high-quality products for reading, writing and working with ideas—all three of which he subsumed under the concept of pursuing a well-read life. The company's specialty publishing arm that he created, Levenger Press, produced hardcover facsimiles of historical manuscripts from the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Morgan Library & Museum, The New York Public Library, and other cultural institutions.
Leveen's first book, The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, was published in 2005. Among the publications that featured it were The New York Times Book Review, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe and the Miami Herald. The book was named a BookSense pick by the independent bookstores of America, and its author was part of a panel presentation at the 2005 Miami Book Fair International. It was also the basis for a series of workshops Leveen conducted for companies such as Starbucks and Target, and that focused on finding more time to read the books that mattered.
Leveen's second book, Holding Dear: The Value of the Real, was published in 2013 and includes original essays from guest contributors Patti Smith, David McCullough, Ann Patchett, Joseph Finder, David Allen, Kevin Kelly, and Paul Saffo, among others.
Leveen was a longtime board member of the National Book Foundation and, through the Levenger Foundation, supported the National Book Foundation Innovations in Reading initiative. He was also a champion of its newest award category, for translated literature. He serves in an emeritus position for the board of the Conscious Capitalism organization. He is also an advisor to the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, where he helped establish the charity athletic event, Loop for Literacy. Leveen is active in YPO, an international leadership organization that focuses on lifelong learning for CEOs.
Leveen's writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He holds a B.A. in Biology from the University of California, San Diego. His master's and doctoral degrees in sociology are from Cornell University, where his professors included William B. Provine, Robin M. Williams Jr. and Rose K. Goldsen, whom he quotes in America’s Bilingual Century.
The 12 myths about Americans and bilingualism that Leveen debunks in America’s Bilingual Century are: the whole world speaks English; technology will make language learning obsolete; the best time to learn a language is when you’re young; the best way to learn a language is total immersion; the country’s so big, where would Americans use a second language; accents are embarrassing; Americans just aren’t good at languages; other skills are more important; English is going to the dogs; today’s immigrants aren’t learning English; monolingualism is natural; and Americans suck at languages.
- Leveen, Steve (2014-03-21). "America the Bilingually Beautiful". Medium. Retrieved 2016-05-05.
- "Levenger Press Home Page - Levenger". www.levenger.com. Retrieved 2016-05-05.
- "Innovations in Reading Prize". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 22 October 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)