Come to think of it, what’s wrong with English language summer camp – Karen Hughes’ most recent brainchild that she talked about with G. Dallas Hillman, a reporter from the Dallas Morning News earlier this month?
I tend to agree with Heather Hulburt’s reaction in Democracy Arsenal to Hughes’ latest off-the-top-of-her-head proposal that "it would actually be a cheap shot to contrast that proposal with the depth of disaster that is our Middle East policy. But I can't resist it.”
It seems to me, however, there’s nothing wrong with helping foreigners learn English and I don’t think Heather would disagree. So why not at summer camp? I was a summer camp junkie: music and drama camps when I was in grade and high school and an intensive six-week French summer program where I learned more French than I had in a year at college. Sure beat staying home. Not all that long ago my son went to Russian language summer camp before he went to Russia’s “Red Belt” for a college semester abroad. The summer camp money was well spent because immersion in another language and culture is known to be the most effective and efficient way to learn a foreign language. Certainly helped him get into graduate school, a paid internship and land his first real job.
Summer camps are not cheap
But believe me, summer camp is usually not cheap – and camps that specialize in teaching academic and performance skills are particularly costly. There are ways around the expense problem – unless, of course, it’s not a problem to begin with because money’s no object. This would be the case only if Karen could persuade W, Cheney and the rest of the cabal to stop embarking upon or supporting exorbitant military adventures abroad and to put a fraction of the money saved into foreign language training – whether summer camps or not - at home and abroad. If this administration too would just ask our own English language teaching specialists – some of whom have retired or morphed into something else – for practical advice, it might be fruitful.
Might help listening to the ESL pros for a change
In a nutshell, if Karen were listening to the pros instead of coming up with off-the-wall ideas when she’s in la-la land, then she would have learned that U.S. Binational Centers not only ran open access libraries and cultural programs but also taught English to thousands of foreigners in places as classy as Barcelona and exotic as Bangkok. For the most part these institutions were not only affordable but they were also self-financing. They were not always easy to manage – but had the U.S. been willing to sign formal cultural agreements with friendly countries as well as unfriendly ones – and include the centers in the negotiating packages, their management would not have been an issue. This is how the British Council has operated for years.
Maybe it would be a good idea to move the Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs out of the Department and into another institution that would do justice to the programs it administers.
What commitment to English language training for foreigners?
But there are other questions that need to be asked about this administration’s 1) commitment to English language training for foreigners (language training for U.S. diplomats is another story equally as scandalous); and 2) W’s interest in Americans talking to foreigners in English anyway. First, I haven’t seen Condi go on a binational center opening spree – that would be “too costly” and besides security, the State Department’s growth industry, would be up in arms.
Second, what’s this about W’s intent to do away with VOA English? If that were to happen, guess Karen’s summer camps would foremost prepare Muslim youth to listen to BBC and Al Jazeera. The BBC recorded its largest ever number of listeners last spring and Al Jazeera is just beginning world wide service in English. Clearly the left and the right hands in this administration don’t touch each other.
Yet the cynic in me asks whether more foreigners with English language proficiency really makes a difference in W & Co’s “War on Terror?” After all, the young men – all British born British citizens – arrested in England last week are fluent in English.
Maybe, Karen, then the real problem is the message.