Monday, January 09, 2006

Not Much for Civilians

BUT THE PRESIDENT’S NEW LANGUAGE INITIATIVE IS A SMALL START IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.


From John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Review comes this story and this one on President Bush’s announcement of $114 million in new funds for strategic-language training:

Confronting a dire shortage of U.S. foreign language speakers, the Bush administration on Thursday announced a plan to boost teaching of "critical" languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi.

State Department officials said the National Security Language Initiative was aimed at getting children involved in learning foreign languages from kindergarten and at funding more programs through university-level and beyond.

"Our goal is in essence to ramp up the mastery of these critical languages, not solely for national security reasons but also in terms of America's standing in the world," said Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron.

At first I was dismayed to read that only half the funds would go to public schools through the Education Department, with the other half heading toward the Pentagon and national intelligence establishment—in other words, toward teaching adults for whom learning foreign languages is already time-consuming and distracting, rather than a natural part of the day.

In addition, the ABC News story says the Pentagon has already earmarked $750 million over the five fiscal years starting in 2007 for language training. Assuming the Pentagon spends that money steadily, that means there's about $178.5 million in language-training funds for the 1,427,000 U.S. citizens under arms in 2007, or $125.08 per soldier. The president’s $114 million, on the other hand, has to be spread among tens of millions of U.S. schoolchildren.

But as I kept reading, the Times story’s details became more encouraging: It appears that the president’s funding, while small, is headed to the right places:

The money would:

--go to primary and secondary schools through grants that support foreign language programs.

--help pay for ''feeder'' programs to train students at all levels.

--pay for 300 foreigners to come to the U.S. to teach understudied languages in the 2006-2007 school year.

--pay to send 100 U.S. teachers overseas to study those languages.

--provide scholarships for up to 3,000 high school students to study abroad by summer 2009.

A solid start for the massive expansion of U.S. language training that will be needed in the upcoming multipolar world. Now all that’s needed is more dollars—and since U.S. budget deficits are partly funded by China’s and Saudi Arabia’s ongoing purchases of U.S. debt, those countries are actually paying us to get better at talking to them and listening to them.

1 comment:

JJ said...

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