Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What You (Really) Need to Speak

Well-known economist Lawrence Summers wrote an article last week in the New York Times about how U.S. higher education is and will be changing in the years to come. The article has a lot of relevant observations. Although he is correct in stating that "undergraduate education changes remarkably little over time," I am not yet convinced that is terrible state of affairs. But technology and the incessant march of history will change some things.

The relevant part of the essay for language teachers was sure to offend some, probably many, perhaps most or even all. I have my own thoughts, fairly easy to guess perhaps, but I would rather hear others' ideas, especially those of readers who are not language teachers. Here is the relevant paragraph from Summers' essay:

English's emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile. While there is no gainsaying the insights that come from mastering a language, it will over time become less essential in doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

What do you think?

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