Inside Higher Ed: “Larry Summers is wrong about language”

Back in January, writing in the New York Times, former Harvard President and Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers asserted that “English’s emergence as the global language…make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile.” A variety of voices wholeheartedly disagreed, arguing that learning a foreign language makes an English speaker more globally competent and thus more attractive to employers; improves cognitive ability; and generally makes life a lot more interesting.

Michael Geisler, vice president for language schools, schools abroad, and graduate programs at Middlebury College, recently added his voice to the growing list of Summers-dissenters in his aptly titled article for Inside Higher Ed, “Larry Summers Is Wrong About Language.”

Calling Summers’ assertions “a misguided policy of linguistic ignorance,” Geisler wrote:

“What we Americans need is a national discussion about a strategic language reserve, a stable cadre of speakers of the world’s 10 or 20 most important languages: what it means, how we can deliver it, and how it can be produced in a sustainable and cost-effective way.

“…What we can ill afford, however, is another era of  ‘know-nothing’ linguistic isolationism. The costs for that, in terms of America’s international relations, prestige, and ability to access information would be very high indeed, particularly as new poles of economic growth emerge around the world and the relative power of the United States declines.”