Transitions Abroad Magazine May / June 2006 Vol. XXIX, NO.6
Issue Focus: Language Immersion Worldwide
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From The Editor
As this issue was headed to press Congress was considering a major overhaul of immigration policy. It’s a political tug-of-war, with many Americans strongly on one side or the other, and lost in between are the many desperate illegal and legal immigrants it will affect. For international travelers who take time to get to know the local people in the places we visit, there’s an indelible human face on this crisis.
With an estimated 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.—79 percent of them coming from Mexico and the rest of Latin America, according to the Pew Hispanic Center—and a national economy that depends on them for its labor force, there are no simple answers. But in light of the U.S. standing in the world and Europe’s troubled immigration policy, it is worth considering the comments of Fareed Zakaria, a naturalized U.S. citizen himself, in his Newsweek column, “To Become an American.”
“Beyond the purely economic issue...there is the much deeper one that defines America—to itself, to its immigrants and to the world,” he writes.
One way we travelers can contribute positively to the situation is to keep in mind the poverty that forces many immigrants to risk so much in leaving their families and homes in search of a better life. With Transitions Abroad’s regional focus on Latin America in this issue, I am thinking even more specifically of this area of the world. A Transitions Abroad and Planeta.com reader survey identified South America as the top travel destination for our readers. When we visit the communities of this region and of our neighbor Central America we have the chance to give back to the people by supporting their locally owned and operated tourism infrastructure, whether accommodations, transportation, eateries, or tours. Many of the articles in this issue’s Immersion Travel section (pages 22-37) are excellent models.
We can also show our Latino amigos—and friends we visit worldwide—respect by attempting to learn their language. Thankfully, language-learning is much easier than many of us remember from high school. There are a myriad of exciting new ways to learn and use languages, as well as proliferating technologies that allow novice and advanced bi- and multi-linguists to practice their skills in more flexible ways.
This issue’s language-learning resource section (page 40) includes reviews of mass-market courses, online materials, educational software, and language-learning aids. For anyone with an MP3 player, such as the ubiquitous iPod, the new possibilities for second language acquisition are many and growing. With their ability to condense data into small and easily transferable files, MP3s provide a new application for publishers to digitize language-learning textbooks and audio cassettes and CDs.
At the simple end of the spectrum students can listen to MP3 files while reading the corresponding material from the class textbook, but at the other end are increasingly interactive ideas. A March 2006 Associated Press article on Georgia College & State University’s iPod Initiative highlighted government professor Hank Edmondson’s use of iPods to supplement his course lectures. He makes Language Learning programs available for download to the iPods of students in a 3-week study-abroad program he leads. During a visit to the Prado, he used his iPod’s voice recorder to make a 20-minute lecture on the museum’s artwork for his students, so that they could use their time exploring the museum rather than listening to him talk.
The use of new technology for language learning is of critical national importance. For the U.S. to remain competitive in the global economy and in world affairs we must embrace whatever new methods help us expand our knowledge of countries, cultures, and languages—especially those less commonly taught.
Of course, no matter how advanced and stimulating language-learning technology becomes, nothing beats the impact of immersion travel abroad. Through conversations with host-nationals—ideally in the context of a homestay—we not only increase our language skills rapidly, we also forge friendships and gain knowledge and understanding of the local culture.