Of Principalities and Powers ~ “Chinese in Less Than Thirty Days”
Washington, September 6 -
At a joint press conference held in the White House today, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, flanked by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NCAA President Myles Brand, announced a major new initiative to promote language skills.
Secretary Spellings said, “Historically, America’s students have lagged far behind the rest of the world in learning foreign languages. Indeed, our inability to read or comprehend what the rest of the world is saying may be an important factor in why we have so much trouble valuing other people’s viewpoints and cultures.
“Therefore, it gives me great pride to announce that, starting with the 2008 season, all radio and TV coverage of both NFL and NCAA football will be available only in Spanish, French, Russian, or Chinese.”
Secretary Spellings explained that, given the vast viewership of these contests, the passionate involvement of their listeners and viewers, and the staggering repetitiveness of the descriptions and accounts of the games, they present an almost ideal forum for teaching language skills.
“Consider this,” she said. “If you watch fifteen hours of football a week for twenty weeks—and our research shows that is a low figure for the typical fan—how many times will you hear a broadcaster say, ‘He is some kind of player’? According to our statisticians, at least 1,200 repetitions—enough for even the slowest learner to pick up the phrase. Soon, in millions of bars and living rooms all over the United States, one viewer with his eyes glued to the set will be telling another, ‘Él es un tipo de jugador,’ without even thinking about it. At any level.”
She added, “Research shows that 95% of football coverage—excluding the names of players, coaches, and products advertised on the shows—can be mastered with a vocabulary of 400 words or less and fewer than 20 phrases. (‘That tackle saved a touchdown.’ [‘Ce tacle a sauvé un atterrissage.’] ‘The try for extra point is good.’ [‘El intento de el punto suplementario está bien.’] ‘He’s brought down after a one-yard gain.’ [‘Il est déprimé après une augmentation d'une yard.’] ‘So-and-so drops back to pass. Here comes the blitz.’ [‘Он роняет, чтобы пройти. Здесь прибывает блиц.’ Etc.) We expect the normal fan to be football fluent in French, Spanish, Chinese, whatever, in less than thirty days.”
President Brand pointed out that the language benefits conferred by watching football, while seemingly confined to a minor area of life, would actually meet up to 90% of the daily conversational needs of the typical football fan. The real challenge, he said, would be to find a way to extend those benefits to women and to active adults of both genders.
In the question-and-answer session which followed, Commissioner Goodell acknowledged that commercial breaks, which take up approximately 60% of air time during game coverage, will continue to be in English. “But we still think that an hour and a half’s worth of language instruction in a three and a half hour broadcast is a viable educational tool.”
When another reporter asked if using televised games to overcome educational deficiencies was a revolutionary new concept, the Secretary pointed to groundbreaking work by Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Captain Kangaroo.
© Tony Russell, 2007