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Language Learning and National Security

Inside Higher Ed – Karl Eikenberry

“When I was a student in Nanjing University in China in the early 1980s, a professor there told me that if I spoke no Chinese at all, I would always be a metaphorical window shopper in his city, admiring the goods on display from a distance on the street. But after investing the time and effort to become proficient at Mandarin and knowledgeable of Chinese custom, I would be invited by the shop owner to come inside and enter the room where his real treasures were kept. I have had many occasions since then to reflect on the wisdom of my professor’s advice and encouragement. As the deputy commander of the UN security force in Panmunjom in Korea, defense attaché to China, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan and the United States ambassador in Kabul, I have found myself at the intersection of cultures and languages — often when the stakes were much higher than a mere trip to the local shop. Yet the lesson has withstood the test of time and experience: a working knowledge of another culture, its language and norms, its history and ideals, is often the difference between a failed and a successful mission.”(more)

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