The language of progress

The state is making encouraging efforts to expand for sign-language options.

Ever wonder how to ask “where is the bathroom?” in Chinese? We’ll, if you’re a student in the Minnesota public school system, you might not have to wonder much longer. Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Chinese Language Initiative has received $250,000 from the state legislature to begin setting up a K-12 Chinese language curriculum. And in about a dozen schools across the metro area, Chinese 101 already is in session.

The importance of the state taking a proactive role in encouraging nontraditional language programs is a welcome and necessary step.

Nearly one billion people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese, the official language of the Chinese government. With China’s role in the world economy surging forward, so too should our efforts to learn this increasingly significant language.

The importance of being able to transcend language barriers cannot be understated in fostering good will, not to mention good trade relations between nations. For too long, the United States has been slow to grasp this reality.

Spoiled by prosperity, and isolated by vast oceans, we’ve adopted a national attitude that anyone who wants to do business with us can learn our language for themselves. Even American citizens who struggle with English as a second language are often treated with contempt. Being monolingual is not seen as a disadvantage, but as a source of pride for far too many Americans.

Even here at the University, the College of Liberal Arts language requirement is often thought of as only that: a requirement that must be filled in order to graduate, instead of giving us the valuable opportunity to engage people of other cultures in their own language.

In today’s global marketplace, the ability to speak another language is more important than ever before. Doors open for those who can communicate in more than just their native tongue.

In China, 200 million students are studying English, while in America only 24,000 are studying Chinese. It’s about time we start putting forth some effort to remedy this, and the state’s initiative is a great way to start.