COLUMBUS - Teaching Arabic, Chinese and Spanish to children as young as preschoolers is part of a blueprint created by business, education and government leaders to boost the state's economy.
Federal officials have put $333,333 behind the pilot program in the hope that Ohio will set a national example of the benefits of having residents interested in other languages and cultures. Oregon and Texas also were selected for the effort, which is backed by the U.S. departments of commerce, defense and labor.
The plan, called the "Ohio Language Roadmap for the 21st Century," lists things the state can do to better compete globally, more warmly welcome foreigners with limited English skills and strengthen state and national security.
"Just think of the possibilities if more people in Ohio spoke another language," said Deborah Scherer, director of international trade for the Ohio Department of Development.
Scherer said Ohio ranks eighth among the states, with $37.8 billion in goods exported in 2006. About 329,000 Ohio jobs are linked to export trade. An additional 180,000 Ohioans work for foreign companies with factories in the state.
The pilot program calls for:
Expanding foreign-language training - from pre-kindergarten to adult-education classes - in Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. Study-abroad opportunities also would grow.
Increasing the number of foreign-language teachers and creating Internet language courses.
Creating a one-stop shop - called the Ohio Language and Culture Service Center - where residents can locate interpretation services, study-abroad opportunities and teacher training. Companies could get help creating foreign Web sites, developing culturally appropriate ad campaigns and testing their products.
Developing a social-networking group called "Language Partnering for Life" that would organize cultural festivals, international events, study groups and trips abroad. The group also would link people, such as foreign business owners and possible investors.
The effort will be led by the Ohio and U.S. departments of education, with help from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
"Most Chinese know we have an East Coast and a West Coast and that Chicago is somewhere in the middle," said Galal Walker, who teaches Chinese at Ohio State University and directs the Chinese Flagship Center at the school. "It's time we taught them about Columbus and Ohio, which has a lot to offer the rest of the world."
The program also will likely strengthen state and national security by improving U.S. relations with other countries and helping new immigrants, said Robert Slater, director of the National Security Education Program in Washington.
The program offers grants and fellowships aimed at boosting the study of languages and regions of the world critical to national security.