U.S. Needs Educational Programs on Foreign Languages, Cultures

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - At the first meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., 75 years ago, our first president, Harry A. Wheeler, called upon business to study the languages and cultures of foreign countries, especially those of Asia.

"We assume that we can send a salesman to Japan or China or South America on a flying trip as we would send him into Montana or Colorado," he said. "Never was there a greater fallacy.

"The creditable representative of our industries in foreign markets must speak the language, know the customs and live with the people if he expects to enjoy patronage in proportion to that given other nations."

I can't help but wonder how much better off we would be today had Wheeler's sound advice been heeded. There can be no question our massive trade deficit is at least partly due to our ignorance of foreign languages and cultures, which greatly inhibits our ability to market U.S. products and services abroad.

Those Americans who do study foreign languages in high school and college tend to concentrate upon European tongues, such as Spanish, French and German. Very few indeed take the time and trouble to learn Asian languages.

By contrast, Japanese business has long recognized the need to be thoroughly familiar with the English language and the customs and attitudes of the American people.

The Japanese educational system is closely attuned to the demands of Japanese business and sends forth every year fresh cadres of young people who can speak and write English and are thus highly capable of adapting Japanese products to the needs of our marketplace. …