Why Study an African or Asian Language?
Knowledge of an African or Asian language offers entry into rich and complex cultures that are both fascinating and useful to understand. Moreover, training in one of these languages provides an outstanding dimension into one's job qualifications in virtually any field. Business and government are in need of men and women who are familiar with the languages and cultures of Africa and Asia. More generally, familiarity with an African or Asian language provides an informed perspective on parts of the world that are economically and politically important to all Americans.
In the past, American international experiences were largely with Europe, Canada, and Latin America. That is no longer true. Today the nations and cultures of Africa and Asia have a great influence on our daily lives: American businesses emulate Japanese technology and organization, while American consumers use a host of Japanese products; American firms are exploring for Chinese oil and digging for Chinese coal; the oil spigots in the Middle East and Africa shape living standards in rural and urban America; African and Asian cultures are influencing American religion,art, philosophy, architecture and other aspects of our lives.
These close and expanding interrelationships have prompted Africans and Asians to study English very vigorously. Americans, however, have been slow to reciprocate, and the United States does not now have enough people who can communicate with Africans and Asians in their own languages. American government and American businesses are therefore at a disadvantage, and the American public generally has an inadequate appreciation of the rich cultures that populate 50% of the world's land surface and embrace 70% of the world's population.
A student need not major in a language area, of course, for study of the language to be important and useful. Business, law, and other professional graduate schools are now beginning to offer programs that include, for example, Japanese and Arabic, as our trade and political relations become more closely interconnected. The student who has combined study of one of the languages in the Program of African and Asian Languages (PAAL) with a major in such departments as anthropology, history, economics, political science, or sociology will be a well-prepared and desirable candidate for such graduate programs and for a future career in international business, trade, law or diplomacy. Even in the sciences and engineering fields there are now exchange programs where knowledge of one of the non-Western languages is useful.
Are African and Asian Languages Hard to Learn?
Many sub-Saharan African languages employ the Roman alphabet, but the other major languages of Africa and Asia do not; Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, and Korean each have their own writing systems. Americans tend to exaggerate the difficulties involved in learning a non-Western language that employs a non-alphabetic writing system, or an alphabet other than the Roman alphabet generally used in the West. American students can and do acquire practical competence in these languages within a reasonable time.
African and Asian languages may be initially more time-consuming for Americans to learn than are French, Spanish or Italian, but they are not inherently more difficult. Most Americans find the vocabulary and structure of Western European languages so similar to English that they can be learned rather quickly, even with a minimum of formal instruction. Formal instruction is more important in African and Asian languages, at least until the student acquires a firm grasp of the fundamentals of the language. Also, more time is required to develop a solid mastery of the language, especially where a different writing system is involved.
Do PAAL languages satisfy language requirements?
Any of the languages offered by PAAL can be used to fulfill the language requirement of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (requires proficiency in a foreign language equivalent to two years'/six quarters' college-level study) or of the School of Speech's Department of Radio, Television and Film (equivalent of four quarters of college-level study). PAAL offers courses through the second-year level in the following languages: Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, and Swahili. Both WCAS and RTVF requirements may be satisfied by taking language courses only if they are not done on a P/N (pass/fail) basis. If you do not intend to study a PAAL language for the purpose of satisfying the foreign language proficiency requirement, you are welcome to enroll on a P/N basis with instructor consent.
Is the Program of African & Asian Languages a department?
Strictly speaking, PAAL is not a department, primarily because it does not currently offer majors in its seven language programs.--there are no undergraduate or graduate degrees offered under the aegis of the Program or its individual component languages. Nevertheless, PAAL has been a program, and as such, a whole greater than the sum of its parts, for nearly thirty years. It is the natural home of the non-western languages and literatures-in-the-languages at the University. The Program faculty have much in common as language instructors despite the great differences in the individual languages they teach. They traditionally have worked together to help each other confront the challenges of offering instruction in the non-western languages, particularly in adapting the latest in pedagogical theory and practice to second-language acquistion, and to the computer age and multimedia instructional methods and tools.
What enables PAAL to continue this unity-in-diversity approach to its mission?
Over the years, PAAL has received strong support from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences as an important resource for most of its other member departments and programs, and PAAL has traditionally also served undergrad and grad students from all six colleges and schools for NU undergrads and grads, as well as the professional schools--the School of Law, the School of Medicine, and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
Additionally, PAAL has received continued competitive grant funding, over many years, from the Alumnae of Northwestern University, both for individual faculty or language program projects, and for the Program as a whole, particularly in information technology support. The Jaharis Family Foundation, in the name of long-time PAAL program assistant Bess Kondelis, has also in recent years made significant contributions to the Program for improvement of the quality of working conditions for all the faculty, staff, and students just as Bess did until her recent retirement after many years of service at NU. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through a grant to the University of Michigan with a subcontract to PAAL at NU, has also supported a project in web-based instruction of less-commonly-taught languages, and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation has assisted PAAL's Japanese program with funding on a cooperative project with Purdue University for the design and implementation of computer-aided instruction.