Saturday, September 19, 2009

'Nuff Said

It is well known that Americans are among the least educated when it comes to foreign languages. According to one statistic, only about a quarter of all US citizens can speak a foreign language proficiently. There are many factors as to why that occurs, of course.

One unfortunate side effect of that low number is that many people actively disdain the study of foreign language. After all, world business is conducted in English, they say—why should I study their language? One of the basic assumptions against the study of foreign language is its impracticality. A small percentage of the population gets the opportunity to travel extensively to another country, so why should anyone else go to the trouble? One blogger in 2004 wrote: “The utility of having American children devoting years mastering a language other than English is rather dubious from any utilitarian standard I can think of.”

The futility of teaching foreign languages is summed up in another quote:

It is impossible to understand, for example, why millions of people in the course of the years must learn two or three foreign languages, only a fraction of which they can make use of later, and hence most of them forget entirely, for of a hundred thousand pupils who learn French for example barely two thousand will have a serious use of this knowledge later, while ninety-eight thousand in the whole further course of their life will not find themselves in a position to make practical use of what they once learned. They have in their youth, therefore, devoted thousands of hours to a subject which later is without value and meaning for them. And the objection that this material belongs to general education is unsound, since it could only be upheld if people retained all through their life what they had learned. So in reality, because of the two thousand people for whom the knowledge of this language is profitable, ninety-eight thousand must be tormented for nothing and made to sacrifice valuable time.

If you’re inclined to agree, you might want to learn the source of the quote, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1923: p. 419-20). You might also reflect on the ultimate outcome of his disdain for the knowledge of languages and cultures other than his own.

‘Nuff said.

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