Camden (NJ): Multilingualism has value

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Jun 3 15:23:18 UTC 2006

>>From the South Jersey Courier-Post

Multilingualism has value

The U.S. Senate recently approved a symbolic proposal to declare English
as the official language of the United States. The measure doesn't end
multilingual educational programs or use of other languages on government
publications or ballots. The message appears to be that Americans should
be English speakers. As obvious a point as that is, Americans also should
work to speak languages such as Spanish, Chinese, Farsi and the various
others used by our trading partners and enemies.

Language diversity is a strength, not a sign that immigrants are undoing
the thread that binds us together. If Americans aren't exposed early on to
a foreign language, they should strive to at least become conversant in
another language. The popular reality program, The Amazing Race, routinely
exposes how Americans' lack of foreign language knowledge can handicap
them. Teams racing around the world often stumble if they cannot find a
native who speaks English in the country they're visiting. But from Africa
to Asia, there are always people who speak our language.

Only about one-third of seventh- to 12th-graders in this nation study a
foreign language, and approximately 9 percent of students enroll in a
foreign language in college, according to a recent report from the
Washington-based Committee for Economic Development, a business-led policy
group. In the latest Amazing Race, the team that won the $1 million prize
-- a team that included Collingswood native B.J. Averell -- caught up with
a pair of strong competitors in Japan because Averell's teammate could
speak the language. That helped them finish first.

In January, President Bush proposed a foreign-language initiative to
broaden the number of college students graduating with proficiency in a
foreign language. Bush is pushing the initiative to enhance the nation's
security by having a pool of people from which to draw intelligence
officers. Bush is on the right path.

Senate Republicans are going in the opposite direction, ignoring how our
world has become smaller and its people more interdependent. To maintain
our strength politically and economically, Americans need to know more
about other cultures and languages.

Published: May 30. 2006 3:10AM

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