The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor

After a recent e-mailing of the Russian Department newsletter, a response from a student was delivered en masse to everyone on the list.  It read,

“Why would I get this? What in the world made you think that filling up my box with your crap would be a good thing? Too bad we won world war two and the cold war so English is the dominant language.
There’s nowhere you would WANT to go where anyone you would WANT to talk to won’t speak English to you, you don’t NEED to speak another language. We’re the only people with that linguistic privilege and you just wasted it by learning another language anyway. Real bright aren’t we?”

The e-mail sparked several replies in which people declared that ignorance such as this was precisely why they study another language.  Others were deeply offended by such nonchalant statements about war.  Our wonderful language assistant Anastasia Selemeneva pointed out that Russia alone lost 27 million people in World War II, while others of us lost family in concentration camps, ethnic cleansings and battles. And did we really “win” the war? My own grandfather was only 19 when he invaded Omaha Beach and spent a year in German POW camps—he was haunted by the memories for the rest of his life. Is this considered “winning,” the destruction of young men the same age as the complaining student and the rest of us? The real kicker is what probably increased my grandpa’s chances of survival was his knowledge of German and Polish in a time when immigrants were trying to be as American as possible. Even in my childhood I was teased as a “Nazi” for knowing some German. Perhaps the most disturbing revelation to come from this e-mail is that this student’s feelings are hardly unique at Grinnell. Through my four years here I have met students who refuse to take classes in a foreign language because they “don’t need it” or “it’s not required.”  Others have expressed an interest in going to Grinnell-in-London so they won’t encounter a language other than English. So many opportunities appear when you have even the simplest understanding of a second language, and I’ve met plenty of people who don’t speak English with whom I WANTED to spend time and talk.

If we are to avoid further wars and intolerance, we need to make an effort to be open to languages and cultures other than our own. The knowledge of only one language (be it English or otherwise) can only take you so far. If you don’t want to experience other lands, cultures or simply our shared humanity, that’s your choice, but don’t brag about your supposed intelligence to those of us who have taken advantage of Grinnell’s multi-lingual community and amazing language professors and assistants—we’ll be out in the world fulfilling the Grinnellian values of understanding and tolerance.

Peace/Friede/mír/pace/мир/pokój/vrede/paix/rauha/rahu/fred/miro/和平/pax/la paz/peoc’h/平和/eirene/heddwch/amani,

Brooke Weber ’10, Dan Reynolds (German), Hannah Taylor ’12, Paulina Panek ’13, Erika Graham ’10, Jennifer Williams Brown (Music), Jin Feng (Chinese and Japanese), Molly Kennedy ’11, Liyan Chen ’12, Julia Stewart ’10, Eric Tjossem ’12, Alex Peterson ’11, Nelson Goering ’10, Ka Ming Wong ’13, Anastasia Selemeneva (Russian), Anne Weeks ’10, Beth Miller ’10 and Hannah Watson ’10

P.S. The translations of “peace” come from languages known by the signatories of this letter: English, German, Czech, Italian, Russian, Polish, Dutch, French, Finnish, Estonian, Swedish/Norwegian, Romani, Cantonese, Latin, Spanish, Breton, Japanese, Greek, Welsh and Swahili

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *