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How do you say 'I will learn a new language'?

September 26, 2006|by ADELINE CUMPATA

Can you read those Chinese characters above? In the future, maybe you'll need to.

Native-born Americas are lucky. They speak English, mostly. Increasingly, English is the language of international business and politics.

Gloria Grimsley, director of foreign languages for Washington County Public Schools, called English the current "lingua franca" - a language widely used beyond the population of its native speakers for international communication.

"Having grown up in Europe, I can tell you that pretty much, you can turn to another person on the street and that person will know English," Grimsley says. "In India, there are many, many dialects - the language of classroom instruction is English. And I think if you look at the cultural influence around the world, you see a lot of American influence."

But as more people around the world learn English, there are more reasons for Americans to learn other languages.

Show some respect

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Therefore, can't Americans communicate globally in English?

Well, no.

Personally, I think it shows respect for people in countries that don't converse in English daily. Do you want to make friends and get involved in business in other countries? Then speak their language.

For example, when a Russian comes to America, you would expect that person to speak in English, right? Well, other counties around the world want that same courtesy. When in France, speak French; in Russia, speak Russian; in China, speak Chinese.

Then there are national security issues. Consider learning the native languages of America's future economic and political rivals.

"Ask yourself, 'What language do I need in a global society?'" Grimsley says. "You may very well need Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Farsi. German, also. And Arabic, maybe, for the future."

Local language classes

President Bush has promoted Americans learning foreign languages, according to Bradley Graham, author of "Foreign Language Learning Promoted."

"Bush intends to request $114 million in fiscal 2007 for (foreign language) programs," says Bradley.

Many American students and adults avoid learning a new language, but I have found it only takes about a year or two, depending on how intensely one studies a language.

Languages currently taught in Washington County Public Schools include Latin, Russian, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. But there are more being planned.

This year, Grimsley says, Japanese I and II were offered to Boonsboro High School students. Her proposals for the future include after-school elementary-age Chinese language and culture classes, perhaps offered next school year, and Italian language classes.

Students in middle school and in high school have many chances to expand their "verbal knowledge" - through school, the Internet, resources at the library, student exchange programs, etc.

"We want to expand our language offerings," Grimsley says. "We live in a global society. Whatever people do in their lives."

Try to understand

"Much of the instruction (in President Bush's foreign language programs) is intended to focus not on the traditional European and Latin American languages that Americans tend to study most," Graham says, "but what the U.S. government has identified as languages 'critical' for national security. These include Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi, among others."

Hindi is one of the most common languages of India. Farsi is the most commonly used language of Iran.

Grimsley says she is trying to prepare the Washington County school system to produce more students that will be an asset to the United States.

"Knowing non-traditional languages helps build global partnerships, and it can also increase job opportunities," Grimsley says.

How will learning non-traditional languages help Americans? Graham says American students who have mastered languages will be helping their country.

"(We) aim to involve children in foreign language courses as early as kindergarten while increasing opportunities for college and graduate school instruction," he says. "(Government officials) also would draw more linguists into government service and establish a national corps of language reservists available to the Pentagon, State Department, intelligence community, and other agencies in times of heightened need."

So, knowing non-traditional languages can help our country.

I'm sure you get the picture by now, and the point is: American society is culturally and linguistically diverse, and so are other countries around the world. It would be grand if we could understand each other. I suppose that's the price we, as a nation, have to pay for integration into the global community.

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