14 October 2008 08:45 AM

The Importance of Language (Part 1)

by Dr. Rick

In his recent book The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria writes about the “rise of the rest,” meaning the rise of the many nations and cultures of the world that are modernizing at a great and amazing pace. China and India, of course, are the two we hear about most often (and rightly so), but there are many others. The rise of these cultures does not diminish ours, he contends, but it does require us to rethink just about every aspect of our country. The “rise of the rest” will have an impact on how we live, what we eat, what we drive, how we do business, how we educate our youngsters, and how we see ourselves in the world.


And how we, quite literally, talk to the world.


Our great country, he points out, is bordered on east and west by enormous oceans, and on north and south by friendly neighbors. We’ve been, for all intents and purposes, peacefully isolated from the world for much of our history. It’s not been necessary for us to learn other languages, to know about other cultures. Until now.


English remains broadly and deeply used throughout the world.  It’s the language of the digital world. It’s the language of the diplomatic world. But look more closely, and one recognizes, Zakaria writes, that the greatest media growth is in local languages. This includes television, radio, and the Internet, media used by every nation. This media use grows greatly year by year.


So, why do we Americans have such a difficult time recognizing the value of learning other languages, when countries around the world have “been there, done that?” 


According to a 2006 report from the Committee for Economic Development, only about 9% of college students enroll in a foreign language course. Spanish is the most popular course in secondary and post-secondary schools, but very few students are studying languages crucial to national security, such as Arabic, Chinese, Persian, Russian, Korean, or Hindi.


The “rise of the rest” demands that we become increasingly connected to the rest of the world, not less so. But that’s not the only reason to learn another language. Why is it in our best interests to learn another language?


Later this week, I’ll touch on those benefits…


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