[lg policy] Foreign language faux pas

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 22 15:20:34 UTC 2010

Foreign language faux pas

  4:17 PM Thu, Jan 21, 2010
Clayton M. McCleskey/Points Staff Writer

There's an interesting piece in today's NY Times about the decline of
foreign language programs in American schools: Thousands of public
schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade,
according to a government-financed survey -- dismal news for a nation
that needs more linguists to conduct its global business and
But another contrary trend has educators and policy makers abuzz: a
rush by schools in all parts of America to offer instruction in
Chinese.  This is disturbing on numerous levels. We should be ramping
up, not cutting back, foreign language programs. And we need to
remember that yes, China is important, but it isn't the only important

The rush to learn Chinese is understandable. But I think we Americans
have a tendency to rush to learn about the thing we are currently most
scared of. After 9/11, colleges raced to offer Arabic. Now everyone is
scared of China, so schools are scrambling to launch Chinese programs.
There was a time when Russian was en vogue. As someone who studied
German, French and Italian and who uses those language skills daily, I
am not shy about my feelings on foreign language: every student in
America should be learning at least one foreign language and should be
required to be proficient.

And while we should focus on the critical language du jour, just
because China is the newest threat, doesn't mean that languages such
as French, Russian or Spanish are now useless. Granted, I don't think
students in Dallas need to be taking intensive Icelandic. But schools
should offer a variety of languages so that we can churn out Americans
able to interact with people from all regions of the world. Learning a
language is just as much about culture as it is grammar and
vocabulary. It's often cited, but true: Europeans usually learn at
least 2 foreign languages. In today's world, a student from Munich who
speaks French, Spanish and Arabic can directly compete with a student
from Dallas for jobs and opportunities. When it comes to language
learning, the Europeans get it. And they are leaving us in the dust.

"Well, that's easy for them, they're close to other countries. They
have more exposure and more of a need to learn the languages," some
retort. Well, Texas is right next to Mexico. And you don't have to try
hard to find opportunities to practice Spanish in Dallas. So, at the
very least, students in Texas should be bilingual. I know school
budgets are tight, but slashing foreign language programs at the very
time globalization is binding the world closer together is not only
short-sighted, it's also just plain stupid.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.
(H. Schiffman, Moderator)

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to
This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list