Friday, June 1, 2007

Arabic spoken here

I just returned from one of two trips I have now had the opportunity to take to the "sook," or market, in Sana'a where I am staying. This open-air market with its shoe-box sized stalls is where Yemenis go to get their spices, their clothing, shoes, kitchen utensils and to maybe grab a bite to eat. In both visits, we were eventually accompanied by a young man who was extremely helpful in guiding us around. Also, both times each of the young men had very strong English skills. They did not expect to get paid, they were not asking for "baksheesh" (money) , and although we were told that they more than likely got some sort of kick back from the owners of the stalls that they took us to, it seemed to me, with their interesting questions and polite conversation, that they were merely looking for an opportunity to practice their English.

Over the last 5 days my resolve to introduce Arabic language study to St. Paul has grown more and more. I have always been extremely proud of the work St. Paul schools has done to make world languages accessible to students. In fact, both of my children study Spanish and I hope they go on to study Chinese, French, German, Japanese or another language as secondary students. The world language teachers I have met in St. Paul are entirely dedicated to their work and quite cognizant of the importance of their work as our world grows together and communication gets easier. While I think St. Paul Public Schools should continue to invest in the languages it has, we should be working to expand the languages we offer and expand the opportunities for our students to access that learning.

Each time I log on to this computer I am convinced more and more that we should be just as serious about Arabic language study as every other language. Consistently, no matter what site I go to:,,,; at least 3 out of 6 headlines are reporting news originating in or happening in Arabic speaking countries. Strategically, the United States is going to have a strong interest in this region for a long time to come. There are as many opportunities here as their are situations to resolve or problems to solve and although I am honored to be here studying what the American Federation of Teachers can do, I know that our work here is going to need to be continued by another generation. In fact, with an investment in language education, our current work could only be improved upon, and the world's relationship with the countries of the Middle East could actually evolve.

Right now we are playing catch up with Chinese languages. Let us use that as a lesson and not let it happen again with another one of the world's strategic languages.

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