Hasta la vista, French. Bienvenido, … Farsi?

2006/03/15, www.computernewbie.info:

Sometimes you can actually learn things at meetings. Today our curriculum committee here learned that French and German may be on the way out of US schools, to be replaced by more exotic languages like Farsi, Chinese and Arabic. Sin embargo, el español está seguro.

Much to my surprise (or maybe not), the catalyst for this move comes from the Bush Administration, which seeks to increase the number of US speakers of national- security-related languages, that is, Chinese, Farsi (or Persian — that’s Iran-speak, BTW), Arabic, Korean and Hindi (spoken in northern India and Pakistan), among others. In other words, we want to know what the “Axis of Evil” is saying, to quote a colleague.

It seems that Dubya launched a National Security Language Initiative on Jan. 5, “a plan to further strengthen national security and prosperity in the 21st century through education, especially in developing foreign language skills.” He is asking for $114 million in fiscal year 2007 to fund the program, which is supposed to reach down to the elementary grades and train 2,000 new foreign language teachers by 2009.

Now, from a strategic standpoint, this idea makes some sense. Intelligence and diplomatic agencies need speakers of foreign languages to, well, spy on other countries, monitor their broadcasts, negotiate trade deals, write propaganda, etc. While there are plenty of foreign nationals living in the US who already speak those languages fluently, I guess it’s more reassuring to have US-born citizens in those critical positions than not.

Meanwhile, the demographics of pre-college foreign language learners have been changing gradually over the last 20-30 years. Fewer students want to take and fewer schools offer old standbys like Latin and German. Even interest in la belle langue, French, is waning, while enrollments in Spanish are increasing.

Chinese is gaining in popularity, even without Dubya’s help, because of China’s growing economic and cultural influence. Japanese instruction is growing in areas close to Honda, Toyota and Mazda automobile plants. The College Board Advanced Placement program will offer exams in these languages and cultures in May 2007.
So, let’s suppose you are a school administrator, with a school that offers French, Spanish and German, all fairly common languages in high schools. Suppose you have 200 students who wish to take foreign language classes: 10 want German, 60 want French, and the rest Spanish.

Meanwhile, the feds are dangling money around, and even offer a teacher, for your school to add Farsi or Chinese to the curriculum. Or a rival school opens up two new classes in Arabic. What would you, as this school administrator, do?


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