To the editor:
The Saturday Column of May 14 highlights the importance of language learning for American global competitiveness and asks whether "KU leaders might take the steps necessary to establish the university as a true leader in foreign language education."
KU is already a true leader in foreign language education. KU offers more than 30 different languages. Strategically important languages such as Arabic, Turkish and Uighur have recently been added. (See http://www.ku.edu/~language/ for examples.) KU's outstanding language programs have been designed by specialists in the problems of beginning language study in college. The university has a state-of-the-art language laboratory. Opportunities for study abroad programs from KU have never been more plentiful, varied or interesting than they are now.
Unfortunately, the American educational system has never emphasized the importance of language education. Despite economic incentives, most students choose the language that they think is easiest to learn. Thus enrollments in Spanish grow at U.S. universities - KU is no exception - while the majority of other language programs go perpetually undersubscribed. The EU, China, India, Latin America, and other U.S. economic competitors promote lifelong language learning. Their graduates have competence in three or four languages and understand us far better than we understand them.
Language learning is hard work. But the rewards are great; language skills are applicable to a wide variety of occupations, and language-learning challenges can be overcome. Students should know that outstanding language resources are already available to them at KU - parents, teachers, and guidance counselors should encourage students to take advantage of them.
Marc L. Greenberg,
on behalf of KU foreign language chairs,