Who Needs Foreign Languages?

Leon Panetta, who took over as U.S. Secretary of Defense on July 1, thinks the military needs more language training. According to a piece at the Hispanic Studies Forum:

In a memo last week to senior Pentagon officials, he said that “language, regional and cultural skills are enduring warfighting competencies that are critical to mission readiness in today’s dynamic global environment.” He asked relevant military leaders to “establish and execute policies” to “show we value these skills.” He called for more “cross-cultural training,” and new efforts to “increase and sustain the foreign language proficiency” of military professionals.

Well good luck with that one. Despite the fact that everyone seems to have some vague perception that learning foreign languages are important, our schools (elementary, secondary, or tertiary) are just not teaching foreign languages to American students very well.

Even George Washington University, which says that “a global perspective is essential to GW’s academic mission, and the University has long supported international travel to conduct research, study cultures and languages, [and] promote collaboration with peer institutions,” eliminated the school’s foreign language requirement last year, apparently in an effort to save money.

Panetta, the son of immigrants from Calabria, apparently speaks Italian fluently, though Italian is not exactly a language “critical to mission readiness in today’s dynamic global environment.”

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer