Monday, November 23, 2015

Language Learning

As I wrote recently in Land of the Free and Home of the Cafe, fear seems to leading many to abandon core values. Fear of the "other" is compounded by ignorance, as employees of Southwest Airlines recently demonstrated.

The airline has cited safety and security, rather than apologize to these customers after initially barring them from a flight. Fortunately, Mahar Khalil had the presence of mind to call 911 when his rights were being violated, and local police responded appropriately. Some passengers continued to give the travelers a hard time, but Khalil and his friend Anas Ayyad prefered to remember those who treated them kindly.

The incident began when passengers overheard them speaking Arabic. It is likely that these passengers did not even know what language they were hearing, but presumed that it was Arabic. This was the sole basis of alerting the gate agents, who then barred these men -- who had already cleared security -- from the flight.

Lack of language learning reinforces xenophobia, while learning languages makes people a bit less paranoid when they hear other languages being spoken. These are among the reasons I am encouraging my own university to reinstate and expand its language requirement a decade after its inexplicable removal. Two quotes on Small World -- the web page I created about the controversy -- suggest additional reasons:
Man's [sic] mind, stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimension.Oliver Wendell Holmes
You can buy whatever you want in English. To sell, however, you need to speak other languages.Overheard

In other words, language learning is great exercise for the mind, and it is good for business. The latter point is echoed in post on the Forbes business blog: Leadership Skills Multiply with Language Skills. Unfortunately, the post could use a bit of editing, but writer Rawn Shah does share a lot of evidence of the value of language learning, while pointing out that much of Europe is way ahead of the United States in this area.
Map: Language expert JakubMarian via Forbes.
The Forbes article includes this map showing that throughout Europe it is common to know more than one language. In an increasingly globalized world (which we always talk about preparing our students for), U.S. college graduates are in competition with people elsewhere. And those people know languages.

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