An effort to become more proactive in teaching foreign languages in American schools will lead to a better understanding of other cultures, according to Dr. Muhammad Eissa, who teaches Arabic at the University of Chicago and this summer will oversee the STARTALK teacher training and program review in the western U.S.
"That would of course contribute to appreciating and understanding those people as human beings. It would be difficult to dehumanize them if you know something about them. You will think of them as human beings like you," says Eissa.
The STARTALK program is designed to address a language skills deficiency in government programs. A report from the General Accounting Office in 2007 shows language deficiencies were among the greatest in the Middle East, where people who didn't have the necessary language skills filled 37% of language-designated positions. Dr. Eissa says episodes like 9/11 and earlier Middle East conflicts are perfect examples of America not taking a proactive role when it comes to language skills.
"When they needed people to face a situation like 9/11, or even before, they were just scratching for people to speak the language or to train the forces that are going to be in a different country and have to communicate and have to understand the people they are going to war with," says Eissa.
Both the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence fund the STARTALK program, which includes an Arabic summer camp at BYU. To listen to a longer conversation about the program, download a podcast of yesterday's Midday Metro.