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COMMUNITY COMMENTARY:Languages have lasting effects

July 19, 2006|By Carol Tensen

Regarding letter writer Patricia M. Griffin's Mailbag letter, "Adding Chinese makes no sense," July 12: As someone who took an Asian language in high school, I wanted to share my experience.

In the '60s, I took Japanese in my junior and senior years through a program funded by the Ford Foundation. After graduation, I continued studying Japanese at the University of Washington to fulfill my undergraduate language requirement. In my early 20s, I got a job teaching English in Kobe, Japan, which I did for three years.

I can't vouch anyone for anyone else's experience, but I can say, without hesitation, that the program had a lasting impact on my life. Even though I seldom use the scant Japanese that I remember, I deal with language acquisition issues daily as I teach elementary school in Glendale. In hindsight, the long-term benefit of all this has been my immense appreciation for the complexity of learning a language.

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Burbank Unified is wise to consider Chinese (I assume they are referring to Mandarin) as a possible school subject. As China becomes more and more prominent in the world market, learning Mandarin will become necessary for us to compete globally.

Last year, I read that more people in Japan are choosing to study Mandarin than English. Imagine this in a country where teaching English is a major industry in itself.

Could we foresee a time when English could soon cease to be the universal language?

I can appreciate Griffin's concerns about the high school exit exam. But for the most part, the students who struggle with this exam are not ones taking challenging language classes. I also agree that Latin should be reintroduced. I think we're both lucky to have had that exposure. As for the financial aspect, I think that education should get a much bigger slice of the pie than it gets.

Why are Americans so resistant to learning other languages? My in-laws from the Netherlands speak English proficiently. My Canadian in-laws can all communicate in French; some of them are fluent in Parisian French. Anything we can do to communicate globally can only help us.

I am frequently embarrassed by our insular attitudes about culture and language. We are a great country, but we belittle ourselves when we refuse to come out of our linguistic shell.

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