US langs in language study

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Mar 17 13:33:07 UTC 2006

from the Oregon State Daily Barometer.

U.S. lags in language

Barometer Staff Report
March 16, 2006

If you ask an OSU student what foreign languages he is taking, what does
he usually respond with? According to OSUs schedule of classes, there are
four section of first year French, four sections of first year Japanese
and 10 sections of first year Spanish, but only one section of first year
Arabic and Chinese. This is unfortunate since, according to, many
foreign policy experts say the United States is in trouble because it does
not have enough speakers of what have come to be called critical
languages, namely Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Farsi, Hindi and
others spoken in countries vital to U.S. interests.

Though instruction in classical languages like French and Italian is
important, foreign language classes need to be evenly distributed so that
students have equal access to all languages. Spanish is the most popular
choice for students because of the growing number of Spanish speakers in
the U.S., however, as our global economy expands, students will need
knowledge of other languages. Students going into international business
may find it hard to get a job without knowledge of Eastern languages such
as Chinese. Students going into the military and government jobs would
greatly benefit from access to Arabic classes. Perhaps if students were
given more access to lesser known languages such as Arabic and Hindi,
there would not be so much negative stigma attached to these foreign
cultures. Understanding a persons language translates to greater
understanding of their culture and their points of view. Language bridges
the gap between cultures and brings people closer together.

It is not just colleges that are at fault for lacking in foreign
languages. Though many elementary schools now offer Spanish, no
concessions are being made to teach other languages. Languages are easiest
to learn when one is young. We say that children cannot handle the burden
of being proficient in multiple languages, however children in foreign
countries are often proficient in two or more languages before they reach
high school. On Jan. 5, President Bush proposed the National Security
Language Initiative, a $114 million effort to close the gap. Deficits in
foreign language learning and teaching negatively affect our national
security, diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence communities and
cultural understanding, stated a U.S. Department of State fact sheet on
the initiative.

Though the nation is starting to awaken to the problem of foreign language
in our schools, work still must be done. As a student, you hold a great
deal of power. By simply choosing a lesser recognized language, you can
open doors to new cultures, new job opportunities and new perspectives.
Take a chance on a new culture. You may be surprised at what you learn.

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