Back when George Bush was president (which wasn’t too long ago), he and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced plans to boost foreign-language study in the US as a way to combat terrorism and promote “freedom and democracy.” Bush and Rice (who was once the Provost of Stanford University and has a degree in Russian studies) argued that because Americans dislike learning foreign languages, a critical shortage has developed within the diplomatic and intelligence communities, putting Americans further at risk after 9/11. Failure to be receptive to other languages and cultures has also, they argued, increased the perception of Americans as “culturally insensitive” and has led to a decline in the U.S. image around the world. One of the program’s aim was to increase the number of students learning languages from kindergarten as well as enhance the opportunities for undergraduates and graduates.
The plan to increase the study of foreign languages is a great one but how much has really been accomplished? Whether a Republican or Democratic president advocates improvement in this field makes no difference. The fact is, however, that not much seems to be happening to make the goal a reality. Yes, the government initiated a program called “Startalk” to teach languages like Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, and Chinese but these programs are still very limited for students and are offered generally for brief periods over the summer and at limited places. When are we going to get serious about learning languages?!