Some scholars declare "we" to be the most telling word in the English language. It reveals a concept of group identity, a foundation block of society. But to a French language speaker, hearing "we" is like it is for us to hear "yes" - "oui." The French person says "nous" to mean "we"; we'd hear that and think "new."
A worthwhile objective for Americans in the 21st century is to become multilingual, at the least bilingual. Not only could we improve communication with others, we could gain valuable insight into people's lives and world view when we learn the languages they speak.
It speaks well of a group of students at North Dakota State University that they're petitioning for more Arabic language studies. As it stands, they can take first-year Arabic through the U.S. Arabic Distance Learning Network, using interactive television to learn from a professor in California, the class being assisted by a native Arabic-speaking teaching assistant living in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Universities should be able to offer many courses in many languages - if only that were possible for each, and affordable. American education should be equipping diplomats with languages, but more than them - business people, agricultural specialists, soldiers, even. Astudent at NDSU who already has done one tour of duty in Iraq in the Army is among those asking for advanced studies in Arabic. The class now is limited to 12 students. More than 100 have signed the petition.
University of Mary professor Scott Sigel told the Tribune last month that his facility in the French language enables him to converse with refugees in a camp in Lebanon. Without that means of communication, he'd stand no chance of making a difference in the lives of teenagers who are recruited by al-Qaida to become extremists.
In a far less dramatic arena, the ability to employ languages is important close to home. The influx of Somalian refugees in Fargo posed a challenge. And several years ago, social services agencies held meetings in Bismarck churches trying to locate speakers of Farsi or Pashto in preparation for the possibility of refugees from the war in Afghanistan being placed here. There weren't many in the church basement who raised their hands.
The proposition that the United States should legislate English as the official language is a political litmus test, not a reasonable measure of how people can be successful in the world. If speaking English is necessary and good, speaking it and Spanish is better; adding Mandarin Chinese to the two is better yet.
The Bobcat Co. possibly could show interest in people able to conduct business in Chinese.
North Dakota is richer for those who can speak German or Norwegian, Mandan or Czech or Ukrainian - the list goes on.
It's not beyond reason that a language camp modeled after the notable one in Minnesota could succeed here. We would benefit greatly.