CMC Vail Valley dean: Knowing more languages best for economy, society | VailDaily.com

CMC Vail Valley dean: Knowing more languages best for economy, society

Kathryn Regjo, Ph.D.

Should we as Americans strive to learn foreign languages, or should those coming to live, work and play here strive to learn English? While opinions on this subject vary, there is a compelling body of evidence to suggest that the answer to the argument is simply "yes."

The case for multiple-language support in a world-renowned resort economy is easy to understand. If you have ever traveled to a non-English-speaking country, then you have probably felt relieved when someone could communicate with you in English. And, if you were trying to buy something, then you probably spent more money. Why? Well, it was easier; you had more of a relationship with the person. Everyone benefited. Relating with others through language, especially in a resort-focused market, is simply good business.

The case for multiple-language support in society is equally compelling. Adults who have grown up monolingual will struggle with foreign-language learning that does not include ties back to their native language. Immersion works best when individuals can advance vocabulary throughout time, but during that time, a language learner's ability to navigate is challenging. Speaking and thoroughly understanding the language allows individuals to advance themselves, their families and the local economy.

To provide a personal example, I can converse in both German and Croatian and can get around in both countries. But if I wanted to buy a house or understand options concerning health care, then my vocabulary is limited, as is my contribution to society. However, given a little support in these areas in my native language, I could contribute. It is a win-win: The country gets more from me, socially and economically, and I continue to advance my language and cultural understanding.

The case for becoming personally bilingual has been heavily researched, and the benefits are profound. As detailed by the World Economic Forum and University of Texas Associate Professor Rebecca Callahan:

"Not only are bilingual young adults more likely to graduate high school and go to college, they are also more likely to get the job when they interview. Even when being bilingual is not a requirement, an interview study of California employers shows that employers prefer to both hire and retain bilinguals. Today, high-powered, Fortune 500 companies hire bilingual and biliterate employees to serve as client liaisons. Research links bilingualism to greater intellectual focus, as well as a delay in the onset of dementia symptoms. Frequent use of multiple languages is also linked to development of greater empathy. Yet, despite research evidence, 4 out of 5 American adults speak only English."

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Colorado Mountain College has long supported the advancement of the English language for its mountain communities. More than 387 individual students enrolled in English as a second language classes at CMC Edwards this past year, according to the CMC Institutional Research Department.

Throughout the past several years, the college has developed curriculum to address the other side of that coin. CMC Vail Valley in Edwards now offers two academic tracks for our native-English-speaking community to increase their Spanish-language proficiency.

It is this last point where both we as a college and as a county have grown to understand the economic and societal impacts of a multilingual culture. CMC was just awarded a grant specifically designed to provide scholarships to those who wish to increase their Spanish proficiency. Starting this fall, federal funds through Eagle County's Community Services Block Grant allocation will allow us to offer 20 full-tuition Spanish-proficiency scholarships to any native English speaker wanting to complete a comprehensive Spanish proficiency certificate. Interested individuals simply need to apply and demonstrate employer support for the time needed to complete the certificate (one to two courses a semester for two years).

There has never been a better time to simply answer "yes" to our national debate. Classes begin this fall, and the opportunity for a free college education is here. Stop by or give us a call at 970-569-2900, and we will help you get started. We look forward to seeing you in class.

Dr. Kathryn Regjo is the vice president and campus dean for Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley in Edwards.