THE TONGUE-TIED AMERICAN: Confronting the Foreign Language Crisis by Paul Simon

THE TONGUE-TIED AMERICAN: Confronting the Foreign Language Crisis

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Granted, foreign languages are neglected in this country, but would turning Americans into multi-lingusts solve the trade deficit and the arms race as Illinois Congressman Paul Simon suggests? He documents the language problem convincingly: fewer than four percent of high school graduates have more than two years' foreign language study; only one-third of our foreign service takes intensive language training before going abroad, etc. In contrast Simon lists foreign language requirements of 76 nations, from Afghanistan's English, French, and German (beginning in elementary school) to Zaire's French. He does cite some successful language programs--in a Maryland high school; Middlebury College; at Berlitz (""total immersion"" training); and elsewhere. But overall, he demonstrates, our language study is inadequate. Where he overstates his case is in reaching for larger issues. ""Maybe, just maybe, we would have avoided that conflict,"" Simon says of Vietnam, had we better understood their language and culture. Taking note of the 1978 trade deficit, he argues against ""simplistic"" protectionism; instead, we should follow the Japanese--who learned our language, studied our culture, saw what would sell here (like CB radios), and exported it (barely easing their own notorious protectionism). Finally, we must communicate with ordinary citizens--""those who yearn for something better""--because the Soviets, Simon says, are more likely to stir up the ""hopeless people"" of developing nations than to launch a nuclear attack. Such simplistic analysis mars an otherwise creditable presentation.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Seabury