Thursday, October 31, 2002

Former Chancellor of UC Berkeley Passes Away

Dr. Chang-Lin Tien, the first Asian-American head of a major US university, has passed away at age 67 after entering hospital due to a stroke. See UC Berkeley's official press release or the Orange County Register article (thanks to YellowWorld.org for the link).

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Foreign Language Study and Immigration

Christian Science Monitor reports on the possible elimination of Georgia public high schools' foreign-language requirement by the Board of Education.

Under pressure to eliminate a dual-track diploma system, the Georgia Board of Education is considering dropping its merit track language requirement and adding a math requirement for vocational students. As testing increases in core academic subjects, languages are an issue on a number of states' agendas. A few months ago, the New Jersey legislature made it easier for high-schoolers to have their foreign-language requirements waived.

Many pundits decry the lack of American interest in studying foreign languages at a time of expanding globalization. I'd like to second their assertion that the study of a foreign language can be a very valuable component of one's personal development, and can form the basis for grassroots cultural exchanges between America and the rest of the world at a time when our country is so greatly misunderstood. However, these same pundits never seem to consider that the very fact of our openness to the world, manifested in mass immigration, far from providing an incentive to study foreign languages to communicate with all our new neighbors, who learn English anyway, instead results in the rational decision by millions of American students to de-emphasize their foreign language studies in favor of areas with a higher return to their time and efforts:

[E]ven devotees like UGA linguist Joe McFall admit it's always been hard for Americans to muster up enthusiasm for the languages of foreign shores. Not only does the whole world seem to speak English, but many consider it part of the American immigrant spirit to want to assimilate into society by suppressing the mother tongue, which is why many second-generation immigrants speak only English.

Sure, blame that "American mainstream" for forcing the children of immigrants to forget their ancestral languages, rather than considering that the lazy children might have chosen the path of forgetfulness themselves. What 2nd-generation American would consider studying his ancestral language a rational economic decision when it would take him years of effort to obtain the same command as an H1B visa holder from his ancestral country, and when he could be using those same years to study accounting, computer programming, or some other skill providing him with a guaranteed future? [1]

In the present environment, there's hardly any advantage to being a multilingual database engineer or sales director from the US when Chinese-speaking database engineers from China and Russian-speaking sales directors from Russia are cheaper and far more plentiful. Whatever costs might be incurred by the fact that such foreign workers are likely to speak less-than-fluent English are more than made up for by the lower paycheck they demand.

As a result, the only decently fluent foreign language speakers America consistently produces, or needs to produce, are European literature majors from universities. Others can be imported, and, local high school principals, knowing it's impossible to cram much language into kids' heads in 4 years of post-puberty education, give up on the idea, while local middle school principals doubt that teaching their students a foreign language would be worth the money. And everyone else is content to muddle by with the amount of Spanglish they need for addressing the clerks at their local grocery store.

[1] Not that I'd consider that any excuse for the pathetically low command of ancestral languages among American-born Asian, especially given the amount of ranting about "Asian pride" and the level of complaints about the racism of mainstream society, but I'll try to stay on topic, seeing as I've written about this extensively in the past.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Amusing Search of the Week

This blog is #28 on Google for the search list of massage parlors in Japan and also #35 for japanese massage san jose sex. Massage, presumably of the variety involving sex, is one of the top keywords by which internet users find this page, appearing in over 15% of the queries leading here. My apologies to all the johns with Asian fetishes that I can't help you with your needs.

Also, I remain the top search on Yahoo for malaysian rave party..

Public Bilingualism Watch - Public Transportation

ChronWatch points out a rather bizarre situation on the L train in San Francisco: a black driver making announcements in an unspecified Chinese dialect, but not in his own English mother tongue, by way of repayment for white racism against blacks and Asians:

I realized that the driver was giving duel announcements in English, but only at main arteries, such as 19th Avenue. As for the other avenues, the intercom announcements were given only in Chinese. I ride the train to the end of the line, but I thought about the people who need to get off earlier and who could use the assistance of a driver speaking in English, especially at night.

Such as, for example, black people, or Chinese speaking another dialect, or any of the other number of immigrant groups who don't use English as a mother tongue but certainly don't use and likely don't speak whatever the driver was speaking, either. Refusing to speak English on public transportation in San Francisco isn't a very effective way of getting back at Evil Whitey anyway, since most of the time, he drives in from the suburbs.

Frankly, some of the Chinese-American passengers on the train looked uncomfortable with the announcements, rather than impressed by them. I know from experience that they are not a people who want to be pandered to.

To be perfectly honest, I'm a bit suspicious of non-Chinese people who want to show off their Chinese skills. Especially if their Chinese isn't that great in the first place. I'm not sure how good this driver's Chinese is (the author of this article doesn't speak Chinese), but hopefully someone with more information can enlighten us.

Public Bilingualism Watch - Voting

The Korean American Voter Allience, a volunteer group composed of Korean-American private citizens, created and distributed an unofficial Korean-language voters guide for the recent elections in Washington's King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, reports the Seattle Times.

Lee said when KAVA met earlier this year, members talked about a new federal requirement to provide foreign-language ballots and voting materials in counties with high numbers of voters who have difficulties with English. Chinese-speaking voters in King County were the only group in Western Washington that qualified under the federal guidelines for special ballots.
"We're Americans, we can't wait to have the government do this for us," said [Cheryl] Lee, [chairwoman of the volunteer Korean American Voter Alliance], who works at Microsoft. "To participate you have to enable people to do it."

Ms. Lee, who understands that if you want good service, serve yourself, instead of asking the government to do it for you and your fellow taxpayers to foot the bill, deserves commendation for her attitude. To those politicians and activists who have in the past have fretted that eliminating the taxpayer-funded provision of government services in multiple languages is tantamount to stripping limited-English speakers of their citizenship, notice what happened here: ordinary men and women stepped in to fill a community need, and in the process brought that community closer together. This unofficial voter's guide was produced entirely through donations and volunteer labor, placing the costs of bilingualism squarely on the shoulders of the community which actually benefitted from it. There's no reason that this model can't work on a larger scale, if given a chance.

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