I took French in 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th grades. Then again for two semesters at Northeastern. You’d think I’d be damn near fluent by now. ‘Fraid not. See, it was essentially the same two courses over and over and, well, over. I gained a pretty good lexicon and a fair amount of conjugation skills but I was never able to speak or listen to it too well. I didn’t get my hearing aids until I was 23 and this master’s degree I’m pursuing is the first time I’ve actually sat in a non-IT classroom with my bionic ears. Though I don’t think had I my bionics back in the day, they would have helped. French doesn’t have inflections, so to my ears the words simply run together. I pick out a word here and there like seeing the intermittent flashes of windows as you drive down a rural road. I envy folks that are bilingual.
In the Robbins Library there is a pretty hefty Chinese Literature section, at least I think it’s a literature section, I can’t read the titles.I see Russian and Spanish titles come across the circ desk as well and I think that’s fabulous. While I do believe this is America and people should learn English, I don’ t think that means they should neglect their mother tongue. While there is no official National Language, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are both in English so if you want to be a contributing member of American Society, then English you must know.
That said, I think it should be required to learn at least one other language. Are we Americans so arrogant that we don’t feel it necessary to learn another language? Granted, English has become the de facto global commerce language but it’s lazy for us to ignore the benefits being bilingual brings. Perhaps its changed by now, but when I was in school I didn’t seriously start to study a foreign language until the 7th grade. Though, I took Latin in 6th grade. Latin. Real useful language, that. There’s no need to wait that long to learn a language and I think libraries can help.
I had a group project last semester with a nice lady from China. With her non-native grasp on English and my hearing it made for some pretty awkward conversations. However, one thing that came across crystal clear was her being pleasantly surprised to hear that the Robbins Library has such a large Chinese section. If all libraries hired someone fluent in the foreign language that’s prevalent in the area, for each community has its own diverse population, then they will be more apt to purchase useful books on the language to both cater to the already fluent and to the folks trying to learn. With such a person, patrons would have someone to turn to with questions. More people get jobs and more people frequent the library. It’s a win win..The business of libraries is to make knowledge available, who says that knowledge should be in one language.