Education: The Language Merchants

If a U.S. citizen happens to have been born of immigrant parents, chances are he can season his speech with the salt-and-pepper words of a foreign language—although his children probably cannot. Otherwise, the odds are that he regards linguistic skill as one of the arcane arts. If he attended college, it is likely that his conviction was merely deepened; he may have won passing marks in French or German, but he probably cannot boast of it in either language.

For 80 years a firm of language merchants has sold monolingual Americans what most U.S. high schools and colleges do not give—the conversational...

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