Friday, February 27, 2009

Another Way to Put Language Skills to Work for Good: National Language Service Corps

Government linguist.
What does that term mean to you? Well, in a meeting I recently attended, that phrase set off quite a controversy. Combining the terms "government" and "languages" can be contentious.

Language educators strive to teach a language so that students can gain greater insights and respect for the peoples who speak that language and their cultures. Spanish community service learning is certainly an example of that. We want our students to work in the community in culturally-appropriate ways and to exit the community with a more informed view on immigration issues.

On the other hand, it's no secret that sometimes the US government looks at language skills as an "arm" in their military and political strategies.

That conflict of interests is hard to reconcile.

And that's what makes the National Language Service Corps so interesting. No spying. No military work. Instead, members of the corps would help in situations like these:

"A hurricane strikes an area of the US with a large foreign-language speaking poulation. A potential health crisis arises in a US city with a large community of Chinese speakers. A tsunami relief effort in teh Pacific Rim needs help communicating with refugees" (The Language Educator, February 2009, p. 38).

This seems to be a logical extension of the work students do in a Spanish community service learning course.

Spanish, though, is not among the languages that the NLSC is looking for because one of their criteria was "Languages which have ver small numbers of speakers and learners in teh US."

It's also interesting to note that these are not the same languages identified by the government as "critical languages."

Instead, the National Language Service Corps wants speakers of:
  • Hausa
  • Hindi
  • Indonesian
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Marshallese
  • Russian
  • Somali
  • Swahili
  • Thai
  • Vietnamese

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