Letter of the Week: The benefits of a foreign language

Published: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 6:02 p.m.

Six months in East Africa, an internship with the Clinton Foundation, a new non-profit organization, and a different perspective of the future and our role in it — that’s what my Swahili proficiency has provided me.

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With one foot in the sciences and one in anthropology, I can firmly state that no other skill I acquired at the University of Florida — not the foundations of organic chemistry or even the scientific method — can compare to the fruits of learning a foreign language.

We live in an ever-globalizing world, comprised of constant contact with cultures other than our own. This is evident especially in Gainesville.

Understanding those cultures, and thus each other, is necessary for the development and freedom of all civilizations. This understanding is, more than anything, rooted in language.

To learn a language is to delve into another way of life and see it from the inside out. It is only with this ability to truly see other cultures that we can begin to develop our own. It teaches us empathy, understanding, and, above all, pragmatism.

In a nation as divided as our own, our leaders of tomorrow must be equipped today with these tools of open-mindedness.

The ramifications of gutting African and Asian languages at UF will last far longer than the budget crisis. When UF’s Swahili language instructor Rose Lugano packs up her office at the end of this semester, the female voice of the world’s second-largest continent will no longer be heard in our community.

This is not a matter of credit enrollment or unfeasible salary (both arguments have been nullified by department faculty) but rather a factor of awareness. Those eight foreign voices which are the first to be quieted are truly indispensable, and without them, the Gator Nation will cease to be everywhere.

Kathryn Ranhorn


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