Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Does Cutting Language Classes Foster Narrow Minds?

A recent article in The New York Times described budget-cutting measures at a number of colleges that involved elminiating the teaching of certain languages, including cutting entire majors. Such measures primarily affect European languages, in particular German and French.

While a move away from traditionally euro-centric college curricula is laudable, such a broadening of horizons beyond Europe should be accomplished by extending, not contracting, the number of subjects offered. Given the economic and political power now wielded by some Asian countries, students should certainly be encouraged to study Mandarin or Japanese. But cutting German and French classes is unlikely to push students to become fluent in Mandarin instead. Rather, they will probably switch to another European language, such as Spanish, to fulfill their language requirement.

If that requirement still exists, that is. Part of this latest round of trimming expenses at colleges includes eliminating the need to learn a language altogether. Everyone else speaks English anyway, the argument goes, so why bother teaching American students another language?

Here's why: Language study is more than the acquisition of linguistic competence. It not only includes units about the culture(s) connected to the language in question, but also teaches students that -- and how -- the world can be expressed -- and by extension looked at -- in a different way. Growing up entirely monolingual, without ever delving into another language -- even to the limited extent offered by the American educational system -- only fosters even more of the "the rest of the world better behave our way, or else" mindset already way too prevalent in the U.S.

Ignorance is not bliss -- particularly when it comes to knowing other languages and cultures!

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