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We are the world

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Frank Schultz
January 6, 2012

Remember foreign languages? That’s how we used to refer to German, French or Spanish, when we took them in high school.

More recently, schools have taken to teaching Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and other languages, as people have recognized the economic and national-security importance of knowing more than just the languages spoken in Europe.

But they don’t call them “foreign languages” anymore. They call them “world languages.”

I’m sure some doctor of education out there is proud of himself for inventing the new phrase. After all, the word “foreign” is so negative. Foreigners are different. They’re strangers. We don’t want to be scaring our kids with such a word. Or maybe the impetus was the misguided desire not to offend people by calling them “foreigners.” Who knows?

But “world!” Now there’s a friendly word. It’s a small world, after all, according to Disney, and if Disney can say it, it’s got to be downright fuzzy/friendly for kids.

So, “world languages.”

Nice try, but what is English? Chopped liver?

English is not included in educators' conception of “world languages.” Doesn’t English exist in the world? What are we trying to tell our kids? That English came down to us from space aliens?

OK, I’m exaggerating. I’m sure that’s not what the education folks had in mind, but what is a child supposed to think when told she must learn English, and she must also take “a world language?” And why force a parent to wrap his mind around some new phrase when "foreign language" would have worked just as well?

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge advocate for learning other languages, traveling to other lands, learning their histories and eating their foods. (Especially the foods. But I digress.) Foreign languages enrich our lives and expand our horizons. They help us see the world in new ways.

Feel free to respond, but leave the xenophobia at the door. If this gets out of hand – I’m looking at you, haters – I will shut down the comments.



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