Bush: More languages necessary in curriculums

Michelle Poje

For many students who hope to obtain a degree at Kent State, learning a foreign language such as Spanish, German or French is as common to their education as midterms and two-hour lectures.

But what if students could take a language like Hindi, Arabic or even Farsi?

This is an option that President Bush hopes to make a reality in the coming year for both grade school and college students with the help the National Security Language Initiative.

Launched in early January, the initiative plans to increase the number of Americans learning critical-need languages like Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Farsi and, in turn, strengthen national security and foreign relations. Critical-need languages are considered important in the business world.

According to Bush, he would request $114 million to support new and expanded programs that start as early as kindergarten and go all the way to the workforce. Of that amount, 75 percent will be supplied by the State and Education departments.

Three main goals drive this initiative: The first is to expand the number of Americans mastering critical-need languages by starting at a younger age. The second is to increase the number of advanced-level speakers. The third is to increase the number of foreign language teachers and resources for them.

For some students in Kent, foreign language education starts as early as sixth grade.

Karen Schofield, director of elementary and middle school education for Kent City Schools, said in seventh and eighth grade, students are then required to learn four languages – French, Spanish, German and Latin – by taking two languages each year.

“We want the students to have exposure to all four languages before they reach high school,” Schofield said. “Once they reach high school, it’s up to them to figure out if they want to continue it.”

Brian Baer, associate professor of Russian Translation at Kent State, said he feels the National Security Language Initiative is taking a “great first step” by helping grade schools.

“By starting early, students can grasp the basic structure of the language so that, by the time they reach high school, they will already have a heads up,” Baer said.

However, Gregory Shreve, director of the Institute for Implied Linguistics, said he feels this initiative needs to be developed more. He said his biggest concern is schools finding teachers qualified to teach languages like Chinese and Hindi.

“I’ve been having a hard time trying to find one full-tenure track professor for Chinese,” Shreve said.

According to the National Security Language Initiative, one option is to expand the State Department Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. This program will allow 300 native speakers of critical need languages to come to the U.S. and teach at colleges and universities.

Baer said even if they do find people to teach, they would have to be qualified.

“If you don’t have someone who is highly trained in the language and in teaching the language, they can end up doing more harm then good,” Baer said.

Shreve said he feels bringing students to an advanced level in that language will be a difficult process.

But despite these problems, both Shreve and Baer said they see potential in this initiative.

“We need to teach children that they can’t just live in our English language,” Baer said.Shreve said he hopes the initiative will be revised and perhaps make that goal more obtainable.

“You can build a skyscraper, but you need a skeleton first,” Shreve said. “What I want to know is, how are they building that skeleton?”

Contact public affairs reporter Michelle Poje at [email protected]