Saturday, April 14, 2012

Russ Feingold on the critical need for language learning

Russ Feingold is a Wisconsin icon. If you go around Madison, you can easily find bumper stickers that say "Russ Feingold will always be MY senator". He lost his last election to Ron Johnson (who's making news on his own, despite being generally invisible in the Senate) in the surge that brought Scott Walker to power, and he steadfastly refused to run for governor against Walker.

At any rate, I just finished reading his new book, While America Sleeps: A wake-up call for the post-9/11 era.* In the senate, Feingold worked hard on 'big picture' foreign policy issues, often on issues that the US has largely ignored, like, say, what's going on in Africa. The book reviews post-9/11 politics from his perspective and closes with a lot on what he thinks we need to be doing now. He writes (p. 258-259) about the skills and abilities we need as a nation:
To continue to play a leading role in the world, and to be safe at home, we have to develop these abilities in government, education, and the media.

Perhaps foremost among the abilities we Americans need to cultivate is the knowledge of foreign languages. I know only English and a smattering of French, so I have to admit my own failings in this area. They say that it's very hard to learn a language later in life, but if there's an experiment somewhere to see if someone approaching sixty can still become fluent in some foreign language, sign me up. A failure to learn other languages can be viewed as arrogant, possibly even rude. … But it is more urgent than that. I am convinced that it is actually a threat to our national security … .
Nicely said. He builds a really extended discussion around this and concludes, among other things (p. 261), that:
We simply need more American who are willing to make linguistic diversity an important part of their education and lives.
Yup. And, Senator, we'll be in touch the day we start looking for subjects for that experiment.

*The title plays on Churchill's While England Slept by way of JFK's senior thesis, published as "Why England Slept".


Anonymous said...

Here's the link you want on Johnson:

Anonymous said...

And can adults and older adults learn a second language decently? Yep.

Mr. Verb said...

True enough, Anon2 ... he can certainly become fluent. To Anon1: Nice, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Russ is already bilingual, a native speaker of American English and The Truth.

Mr. Verb said...

And the award for best comment of 2012 goes, yes already in April, to that comment