Foreign languages, security and anti-terrorism

The American or even world history may never see such a high-level meeting on foreign language teaching: the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education, a two-day forum designed to invigorate partnerships to strengthen international education, was solemnly held last week at the State Department.

The event was co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and a number of senators and diplomats. President George W. Bush addressed the meeting calling for a national campaign to learn foreign languages.

According to the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI), the federal government will first allocate $114 million (with the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Intelligence all being sponsors) grants for the following three main goals:

To expand the number of Americans mastering critically-needed languages and start teaching them at primary and middle schools;

To increase the number of advanced-level speakers of foreign languages, with an emphasis on critically-needed languages; Send more students abroad to study foreign languages and

To increase the number of foreign language teachers and invite more foreign teachers to America.

To put language and security together may sound queer. However, the president's address might give some clues. This is an important plan that concerns not only education but also our work in national defense, diplomacy and intelligence, the president declared. Pointing at Rumsfield who was at the front row, Bush said the Secretary of Defense "wants his young soldiers who are the front lines of finding these killers to be able to speak their language and be able to listen to the people in the communities in which they live."

"That makes sense, doesn't it," Bush said, "to have a language-proficient military -- to have people that go into the far reaches of this world and be able to communicate in the villages and towns and rural areas and urban centers, to protect the American people." He continued by saying that "We need intelligence officers who, when somebody says something in Arabic or Farsi or Urdu knows what they're talking about. That's what we need. We need diplomats -- when we send them out to help us convince governments that we've got to join together and fight these terrorists who want to destroy life and promote an ideology that is so backwards it's hard to believe. These diplomats need to speak that language."

But Bush also pointed out that these are only short-term strategy. The long-term goal is to protect the country by spreading freedom. "You can't convince people unless you can talk to them." he said.

Of course, Bush didn't forget to mention the role of language in bridging cultures. His logic is: "Arabic TV does not do our country justice. They put out some kind -- sometimes put out propaganda that just isn't right, it isn't fair, and it doesn't give people the impression of what we're about. You bring somebody here to college, it doesn't matter what's on TV, they see firsthand the compassion of the United States of America. They get to see firsthand that we don't discriminate based upon religion. They get to see firsthand the multicultural society in which we live, all united under the fabric of freedom. That's what they get to see."

So the questions might be answered: why so many high-level American officials gathered for language teaching; why Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Farsi, Russian and Urdu are singled out as critically-needed languages; and why the program is named "National Security Language Initiative".

However, Bush may have neglected two facts noticed by all: one is that most of the 9/11 terrorists and London bombers once studied and lived in the West for many years, which seemed didn't help to change their view on America and other western countries; the other is, anti-America sentiment, rather than language barrier, is more caused by preferential policies and double standards the United States has been pushing in the Arabic world.

By People's Daily Online

People's Daily Online ---