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Cómo Se Dice...

By Margaret Lyons in News on Nov 18, 2004 9:13PM

Get us this for Christmas. Por favor. Image: www.maps2anywhere.comThe American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages kicks off its conference in the Windy City tomorrow (registration begins today), and over 5,000 language educators and professionals will be descending on our city to make us all say "vosotros" and sing the days of the week. Lunes, martes...

A few teachers got the party started with a "language ambush" yesterday at Water Tower, sneak-attacking passers by with questions in foreign languages and then grading their responses. We got a C+. Ouch.

Out of 240 passersby, 107 didn't respond and 82 answered accurately, but in English, showing comprehension at least. Only 51 -- 21 percent -- came up with the right answer in the right language. To the questions asked in Spanish, 26 percent of the answers were correct; in French, 16 percent; in German, also 16 percent, and in Russian, 10 percent.

According to the teachers administering the quiz—pencils down! I said pencils down!—we need to pick it up in the language department if we want to keep our spot on the world stage. ACTFL's vision statement says that "All Americans should be proficient in at least one language and culture in addition to English," which is a noble goal, but if Norelle from America's Next Top Model is any indication, we're all barely speaking English. (Last night's episode was freaking awesome, by the way.)

We're going to geek out here and complain that the Spanish question was phrased really formally—we're probably not going to be throwing down usted when we're just asking the time.