Why should American military officers learn foreign languages? For that matter, why should Foreign Service Officers or any other representatives of the American government?
And whilst the context of the article is military, considering the situation in Afghanistan and Jordan, the comments Reach makes are relevant to language learning in general, not just in volatile situations.
Acknowledging that advances in technology and translation software mean that people can ‘talk’ to one another without being able to speak the language, Reach makes the following statement –
I still believe learning human languages the old fashioned way is important. Why? This is the crux: foreign language ability is not just about converting information from one format to another. It’s about human relationships.
He talks of language as ‘a way of building relationships, of winning trust.‘ Couldn’t agree more. How many times have I been met with a beaming smile and extra special attention because I spoke in Spanish, French, Catalan, or even when I attempted to speak German in Switzerland? I see it as a mark of respect to attempt to communicate in someone’s language, even if it is a job to get your mouth around the sounds and intonation. I’ve mentioned before that some of my favourite and most rewarding teaching experiences have been when pupils have led, sharing their experiences and language with joy and pride – and been amused by my efforts!
As Nelson Mandela said –
Reach concludes –
Language is extremely hard. We need as many language solutions as we can get, and technology certainly can and should help fill the gap. But no matter how good the technology gets, no matter how prevalent English becomes, old-fashioned speaking of a foreign language still matters.
Certainly with him there.
What do you think?