L'université d'Albany dans l'État de New York doit faire face à des coupes budgétaires importantes : "The university announced this fall that it would stop letting new students major in French, Italian, Russian and the classics. […] After a generation of expansion, academic officials are being forced to lop entire majors. More often than not, foreign languages European ones in particular are on the chopping block."

Les langues vivantes sont dans le collimateur pour plusieurs raisons : "Some languages may seem less vital in a world increasingly dominated by English. Web sites and new technologies offer instant translations. The small, interactive classes typical of foreign language instruction are costly for universities."

Mais il y a là comme un paradoxe : "Many schools are eliminating language degrees and graduate programs just as they begin to embrace an international mission: opening campuses abroad, recruiting students from overseas and talking about graduating citizens of the world. The University at Albany’s motto is “The World Within Reach”."

Les enseignants de langue tentent de s'organiser autour de certaines associations qui jouent là pleinement leur rôle : "Bob Peckham, a professor of French at the University of Tennessee at Martin whose own program came under threat, has made it his mission to fight the retrenchments nationwide. As chairman of the Commission on Advocacy of the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF), he monitors cutback proposals and provides research that helps campuses tailor their protests."

Selon la Modern Language Association (MLA), il n'y a en fait jamais eu autant d'étudiants inscrits en cours de langue mais l'intérêt se déplace* : "One reason is a surge of interest in languages like Arabic and Spanish, which is thriving on campus in response to the nation’s growing Latino population. China’s rising importance has prompted more college programs in Mandarin, and the Chinese government has been generous in financing them."

Richard N. Haass, qui préside le Council on Foreign Relations, enfonce le clou : "If we’re going to remain economically competitive and provide the skill and manpower for government, I think we need more Americans to learn Chinese or Hindi or Farsi or Portuguese or Korean or Arabic. In an ideal world, that wouldn’t mean fewer people would know Spanish, French, German and Italian. But in a real world, it might." Mais pour Rosemary G. Feal de la MLA, il ne faut pas céder à la mode : "We pick targets of opportunity as the geopolitical circumstances change, and we don’t create a steady infrastructure so that language learning at a deep level is possible.”

"She said the program cuts also revealed an “Anglocentric perspective” that fluency in English was enough to understand the world."  L'anglais suffirait ? Certains étudiants ne le croient pas : "Jessica Stapf, a freshman, arrived on campus planning to pursue a double major in French and political science, followed by a master’s in French, the only language in which the university offered advanced degrees. She hopes to land a job someday with the United Nations in Africa, where French is widely spoken."

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Source : The New York Times, 03/12/10

(* Voir le rapport que la MLA publie cette semaine)