It seems to me . . . that learning a foreign language is becoming ever more important in our ever-shrinking and globally interconnected world.
Numerous universities and research groups can provide important academic, economic, linguistic, and brain development studies, findings and recommendations, along with lists and reasons why every American should study a foreign language. Studies from Washington State University, Michigan State, Indiana University, Auburn University, the Omniglot Project, etc., are some which I have recently perused. A well-learned foreign language during high school years has also been advantageous for numerous CLHS graduates during their college years, as many are able to test out of beginning language levels to meet requirements more cheaply or more easily add a useful minor to their degree program.
However, I like touting the “cultural bridge building benefit” of learning another language and learning it well. Previous generations of Americans have not always created the best reputation of America and Americans as they have travelled and lived of other parts of the world. Some cultures consider Americans to be rude, arrogant, greedy, overly capitalistic, unfriendly, and even closed-minded concerning non-American lifestyle, attitudes, and behaviors. “Well, that’s not how we do it in America” is degrading and derogatory to foreign ears. Other cultures have even assigned derogatory names for us Americans as they talk about us behind our backs. History readily teaches that America and Americans have not always helped to create a positive reaction in our dealings with our global fellow citizens.
At CLHS I teach six classes and four levels of German as a foreign language each semester. It seems to me that our next generation must be better at “barrier busting” to repair a bruised American reputation and many negative feelings about us in the world.
Here are some of my overarching goals for the students I spend time with:
- Begin to see and experience new meanings and nuance in your “mother” tongue.
- Knowing that proper language etiquette can be as important as the meaning of the words themselves, when communicating to non-Americans.
- Understand the context of the culture as it has evolved because of their history and geography.
- See that cultural messages are also communicated through the cuisine, art, music, sports, and daily life of foreign people.
- Understand that each culture has strengths and weaknesses. No one culture or country does everything “the best” or “the greatest.”
- Attempting to use their language is an important “barrier buster” even if your attempts are less than perfect.
- Visit a foreign culture with an open mind, reserving judgment about what’s right and wrong until much later — after there has been time for serious reflection.
- Experience a foreign culture by meeting the people, walking the streets, shopping in the markets, talking to strangers, eating the foods, and experiencing a wide array of artistic expressions — not from a tour bus, cruise ship and 5-star American hotels.
- Is seems to me that the German American Partnership Program (GAPP) at CLHS affords a tremendous opportunity for our students to bust the barriers of the American reputation. Every year CLHS German students and German students from Lüdenscheid, Germany, have an opportunity to spend a month living, growing, learning, and building friendships together.
GAPP presents students the opportunity to travel to the host country as both an insider and as a tourist — the best of all situations. As guests in Germany we get to participate in typical German family life, visit and participate in school life, and participate in city life: shopping, household chores, routine activities of daily life in Germany. But we also get to participate as tourists, usually visiting Dortmund, Köln and Berlin as part of our GAPP experience. As hosts we get to bust the barriers (stereotypes) that others may have built about us.
Currently (this March and April, 2018) CLHS is hosting 20 German students from our partner school in Zeppelin Gymnasium in Lüdenscheid, Germany. This exchange has continued every year since its inception in 1985, so that we already have several members of the second generation of Cadet GAPP participants. Our guests eat, drink, play, and socialize with the CLHS community during school and outside of school time through a plethora of group sponsored events, as well as the unique individual experiences gained from each host family. As each traveller is unique, so each student’s experience is unique, and so is the patchwork of new exposure to the complexity of American, Hoosier, and CLHS culture.
As Mark Twain said so profoundly, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
And as Rick Steves puts it, “Ideally travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally and politically. Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colors.” [Travel as a Political Act]
It seems to me … that more Americans need to get and use a passport!
Timothy C. LaCroix,
German Teacher and GAPP Director
P.S. And below, please read the letter that we received from the principal in Germany about the partnership.