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A CONGRESSIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

By Joan Ross,2014-07-04 08:48
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A CONGRESSIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON LANGUAGE AND CULTURE. JANUARY 26, 2011. GOOD MORNING. THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR PROFESSIONAL INTEREST IN LANGUAGE LEARNING AND ...

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    A Congressional Perspective on Language and Culture

    January 26, 2011

Good Morning.

    Thank you all for your professional interest in language learning and asking me to share some thoughts with you.

    1200 years ago, Emperor Charlemagne said, “When you learn a new language, you gain a new soul.” Since then, countless millions who have learned another language have experienced that great feeling of gaining a new soul.

    In 1964, I had the pleasure of learning another language in preparing for the Peace Corps in Columbia, South America. I learned that language learning can be its own greatest reward for me it opened up a whole new world

    of friendships, food, music art, literature and history and politics.

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I’d like to begin by reciting a Spanish poem by Pedro

    Barcena:

LA PAZ

    La paz no está en los lagos solitarios, ni en los tupidos bosques,

    donde los vientos guardan sus secretos. No está tampoco

    (aunque haya quien lo diga)

    entre las tumbas.

La paz no está en los muertos.

    Ni en las montañas coronadas de nieve, ni en los profundos mares.

    Ni entre la multitude ni en el desierto. Por la simple razón de que la paz no existe: hay que crearla dentro.

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    If you speak Spanish and understand what I just recited, you probably felt elation for recognizing the sounds and words, for being able to feel the impact of the deliberately short yet powerful words.

    But if you don’t speak Spanish well enough to comprehend this poem, then your feelings were very different uncomprehending, perhaps bewilderment and frustration.

    Sadly, Americans are well known around the globe for their inability to speak other languages. Fewer than 50% of our high school students study a second language. In comparison, 2 billion people are learning English today, all around the world.

    The result is that the United States will have millions and millions of Americans who can’t communicate in languages other than English . Last night, the President spoke of the need for our Nation to be prepared for the

    st21 Century. He talked about a global economy, he mentioned of our Nation’s role in business, diplomacy

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    and the role of the military. None of these things can be accomplished to our benefit without foreign language skills.

    By the way, here’s what the poem says, in an English version:

PEACE

Peace is not in the solitary lakes,

    nor in the thick forests,

    where the winds guard their secrets.

    It is also not (though some will say so) among the tombs. Peace is not in the dead.

    Nor in the mountains crowned with snow

    nor in the deep oceans.

    Nor in the crowd

    nor in the desert.

    For the simple reason that peace does not exist: One has to create it within.

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    Now, I can attest from my own experience that foreign language acquisition has no short cuts. It takes time, effort, persistence, and motivation. This morning I’d like

    to offer some suggestions to improve foreign language capacity in the United States:

    ; First

    The DoD can’t and shouldn’t, go it alone. There

    should be close cooperation between the

    Department of Education, the State Department, and

    the universities and schools, so that we can build a

    reliable pipeline of linguistically prepared

    candidates coming into our military and intelligence

    work force.

    ; Second

    For the schools: Start early, stay long. We need to

    start language learning in kindergarten, and

    continue to provide opportunities for language

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    studies through secondary and college education. Make more languages available to higher levels in the schools, and make language learning compulsory and rigorous.

; Third

    The most efficient way to learn a language is immersion. We should create greater capacity here and abroad for immersion studies.

; Fourth

    We should employ the appropriate use of

    technology for language learning and for deploying language expertise. Including, simulation, interpretation via telephony, handheld translators, voice generation, semantic search engines, all should be explored to aid our language mission.

; Fifth

    Build language and cultural capacity by strategically leveraging existing foreign language expertise:

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    network language teachers, heritage communities,

    DLI-alumni, Peace Corp returnees. Make it a

    national priority. This is Sputnik II. It’s not an

    option.

    ; Sixth

    Incentivize. Make language ability a prized

    commodity. Because this is not only a national

    defense issue, but also a social and economic issue.

    It has everything to do with the United States (as the

    President said) being a strong nation in this new,

    globalized world, and its citizens continuing to enjoy

    a high standard of living in a democracy.

    So how do we get from here to there? For starters, I applaud Dr. Stanley for convening this Language and Culture Summit. He and I have discussed this issue several times and I know he is personally committed to getting it right.

I offer 4 suggestions for DOD:

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    ; One

    Create a permanent “Language and Culture Czar” on the Joint Chief of Staffs to direct foreign language efforts within the Services and in tandem with OSD efforts. The position should be a flag or general officer, ideally an FAO or a similarly qualified civilian who has foreign language fluency in at least two languages. This person would drive policymaking and policy implementation within each service, and in joint environments. I would go one step further and suggest that anyone administering foreign

    language programs in DoD should be required to speak at least one foreign language.

    ; Two

    Match foreign language abilities with language billets and provide bonus pay. I recognize this is a heavy lift but, in my opinion, it is the direction DoD should be heading to leverage its investment in foreign language training at DLI and other places.

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    ; Three

    Shift the emphasis from passive language skills

    reading and listening to active communication

    skills speaking and writing, and translation and interpretation which encompass the cultural context of language learning.

    (Active communication skills are absolutely critical

    stfor our 21 century national security professionals to conduct their jobs. And, just because you can speak a foreign language doesn’t mean you can translate and interpret, which requires a specialized skill set. We know how to do this technical teaching, it just so happens that it is only taught at one graduate school in the United States, which happens to be in my district!)

    ; Four

    Increase the number of Foreign Area Officers based on the recommendations of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Report that says FAOs are model officers of the future because they have language ability,

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    advanced degrees, and experience in joint

    operations. With military end strength of 3 million,

    we have only 1,400 billets for FAOs. Moreover, 23%

    of FAOs are filling non-FAO coded billets. Not only

    do we need more FAOs but we need them to be

    assigned to the right jobs!

    And we need continuing education for FAOs. The

    Joint Foreign Area Officer Skill Sustainment Pilot

    Program, based in my district at the Naval

    Postgraduate School, provides FAOs with advanced

    education and language skill in cooperation with DLI.

    But is it only a pilot program that must be made

    permanent in 2012. I urge each of you here in this

    room to make this program a priority.

    I want to end my remarks by telling you about another program, coincidently located in my district that provides a similar type of cross cultural education. It is the Center for Stabilization and Reconstruction Studies at NPS. The short courses offered by the Center are attended by our

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