Thinking Rhetorically about Language Learning

Here is a post that got lost in the end-of-semester rush in my Firefox’s ScribeFire plugin.

Boy, it’s fun to find something you thought you had lost, especially on a computer.

I never really finished it, so it trails off at the end, but I think that I get the point across.

USA Today posted this story about Mandarin immersion, a topic close to my heart since my daughter is in one of these programs. The lead quote? From an educator in Chicago… “‘Chinese isn’t the new French–it’s the new English.'” More on the “world is flat” rhetoric in a minute, but here is a slice of the article:

As China booms, so does Mandarin in U.S. schools – USATODAY.com

The number of elementary and secondary school students studying Chinese could be as much as 10 times higher than it was seven years ago, says Marty Abbott, spokeswoman for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

When the council surveyed K-12 enrollment in foreign language classes in 2000, there were about 5,000 students of Chinese, Abbott says. The council is collecting data for another survey, but Abbott says early figures suggest the number of students now studying Chinese has “got to be somewhere around 30,000 to 50,000.”

As I’ve written before, I feel that we need to move beyond the argument that language learning — especially “critical” languages that are being taught for business and defense purposes — is simply utilitarian. There are other benefits, besides having a business edge.

For instance, I would like my daughter to understand how a country that affects our own — economically, politically, culturally, and in other ways I can’t even imagine right now — works, from the insides of the language to the way it is perceived in the world. Enjoying another language, another literacy, another rhetoric, has benefits far beyond just having a job. It offers a global perspective that will help her become a better person, a better citizen, not just someone who can cash in on a second language in a future career…

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