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Column by the Chancellor in Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce Newsletter: February 2014

Message from UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
Chamber Connection Newsletter
Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce

Language programs prepare students for meaningful work here and throughout the world

HICCLast month, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo celebrated the dedication of Hale‘olelo, the beautiful new building for Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language. Haleʻōlelo is testament to the strength and success of Hawaiian language revitalization efforts, which began in the 1980s. The growth of Hawaiian language speakers has strengthened our communities and island culture as a whole. The college and its myriad outreach programs are now internationally recognized as an educational model to other peoples throughout the world struggling to save their indigenous languages.

The importance of students speaking other languages in addition to English cannot be over emphasized. Looking beyond our shores, the world is now an interconnected global arena for business and culture. The Pacific Rim, in general, is a major site of development, from call centers in the Philippines to large-scale smart-phone manufacturing in Korea. To provide our students with access to opportunities and to be able to do business with foreign companies here requires our willingness to at least be familiar with some of other people’s languages and cultures.

An important way to strengthen international business in the islands is to encourage our students to be proficient in a language other than English. A local workforce that could speak secondary languages could help broaden our appeal to those to the east of us (who are mainly Spanish speakers) and to those west of us (Japanese, Mandarin, Tagalog, and Korean). It would also make us a more foreign-friendly destination of choice for tourists from these places.

I’m probably stating the obvious, but knowing another language is also coming to know one’s own while developing an empathy and understanding for a completely different place and set of people. Speaking Japanese, for example, gives our students and faculty the opportunity to have conversations with all kinds of Japanese nationals who pass through the islands – professionals, educators, business professionals – and the ideas they share are often of great professional value to UH Hilo’s teaching, learning, and research activities.

Our Humanities Division has created opportunity-rich educational experiences in language and culture courses. As China’s influence expands on the world stage, students enrolled in UH Hilo’s Chinese Studies program are gaining valuable insight into this emerging superpower. Our Chinese Studies is a multi-disciplinary program with a core focus on language. The program also features a wide range of coursework and research opportunities to provide students with a broad understanding of China’s various dimensions, including culture, society, art, political science and history, in addition to its language.

The program has primarily attracted students enrolled in Chinese language and culture courses, but it also is of interest to students from other disciplines, such as business majors, given China’s economic muscle, and the state’s role in the Pacific region. The Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has established offices in mainland China and Taiwan, while numerous non-profits are being launched to facilitate this area of growth in Hawaiʻi’s economy. That opens the door to a wide range of opportunities for business and non-business majors alike.

Our Filipino Studies program is currently expanding their reach to the public. Unlike other languages, there are many native speakers of Tagalog and Ilocano out in the community, so the program is engaged in a variety of outreach programs to offer students taking the language (Tagalog) with members of the community. The program also includes cultural classes, such as Filipino film.

Giving our students a comprehensive worldview is essential to preparing them to succeed in the 21st century, where more and more aspects of everyday life demand a global perspective. Strengthening our language programs is one of the many ways in which UH Hilo is preparing students for meaningful work here and throughout the world.


Don Straney

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