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January 3, 2011 / The Promiscuous Reader

The Spanish Inquisition

In the midst of the Catholic Church sex scandal, or rather in the midst of all the news of the Catholic Church sex scandal, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times became one of my favorite op-ed writers.  Her columns on the subject were witty and incisive without descending to the point of attack that leaves the writer looking less-than-qualified (I reserve that right all to myself).  Since then, I haven’t read with any regularity the Op-Ed section of the times, preferring, I suppose,  just to make up my own opinions, but lately I’ve stumbled across someone who I’ve decided is my go to columnist for 2011:  Nicholas D. Kristof.

Recently, I read a piece of his that’s right up my alley titled “Primero Hay Que Aprender Español. Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen.” Basically, the article is about the importance of Spanish as a foreign language here in the United States.  He makes a solid case for teaching Spanish:  the proximity of so many speakers, the importance of the region in terms of trade and tourism and the fact that the Spanish-speaking population of the US is growing exponentially.  What really gives the article teeth, however, is that he speaks Chinese and raised his kids bilingually Chinese.  He doesn’t really have a big stake in the Spanish teaching racket.

Well, little did I know when I read this a few days ago that the question of whether my school should include Chinese instruction in its language program (and thereby replacing one of the other offerings) would be raised in the first hour of the first day back in session of the new year.    This “Spanish Inquisition” (will we?  won’t we?)  has come up before during my tenure and, based on the history of the program (first French, then Japanese, currently Spanish) appears to be part of an institutional pattern and when examined on a national level  (Russian, Japanese, Arabic) the building, dismantling and consequent rebuilding of language programs anew is quite trendy. I suggest, that we choose one, hone the system used to teach it, implement it nationally and move forward from there, lest we continue to be the butt of Kristof’s joke at the beginning of his piece:  the monolingual American.


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