My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK, Friday—Having just returned from Europe such a little while ago, one thing is very fresh in my mind and, though I run the risk of stepping into a controversy which has been going on for a long time in the United States, I feel that I want to say a few words on the subject of the education of young America.

We, of course, looked up to as the leading democracy of the world. People from everywhere want to talk to any American they meet and learn about the way we live, what we think, how our Government functions, what we mean by freedom and democracy.

Unless these people speak English we are usually unable to communicate with them except through an interpreter, and there is nothing less satisfying than a conversation through an interpreter. In the first place, you are never quite sure that the interpreter understands you and since your thought has to go through another mind, you feel very uncertain as to whether it will be transmitted with the exact meaning you wish to express.

Some time ago it became fashionable to eliminate the study of Latin and Greek from our school curricula. They were branded dead languages and not many could see much point in burdening out youngsters with them. It so happened that I learned Latin when I was in school and at the time I was extemely bored by Caesar's Gallic wars. but when I was 15 years old and went to Europe one of my teachers pointed out to me that my Latin would help me to learn a number of European languages-and she was right!

There is a tendencey today to take out of our school curricula the requirement to learn any foregin language. I can only say that if you can talk the language of a country in which you are visiting or doing business, you will enjoy yourself far more and you will be enjoyed by the people with whome you associate to a far greater extent.

Why do we expect that everybody in the world should learn English? Just because we have a vast area of territory in which we can travel without the need of any language except English does not mean that when we travel in other parts of the world the knowledge of one or two other language may not help us to have a more interesting time.

I have been able to converse in French or German with people who could not speak English and whose native tongue I did not know.

Of course, the best and easiest time to learn languages is when you are very small. It is not necessary to have developed powers of reasoning to learn to talk fluently in a foreign language. It is a question of ear, and you learn a foreign language as easily as you learn your own.

E.R.
PNews, EPHP, 18 December 1948