Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Stop with English?

Ryan Ballengee at Waggle Room has passed along Beth Ann Baldry's Golfweek report on a new condition for LPGA membership: "beginning in 2009, all players who have been on tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills."

Well, not all players. As Baldry puts it, "The tour will rely on its communication staff to help identify players who need to be evaluated. International players who already demonstrate English proficiency will not be approached."

And the English skills to be evaluated?

Betsy Clark, LPGA vice president of professional development, said the players will be evaluated by a core team on communication skills such as conversation, survival (i.e. “I’m going to the store.”) and “golfspeak.” Players must be able to conduct interviews and give acceptance speeches without the help of a translator.

LPGA members are encouraged to use the support systems already in place such as the Kolon-LPGA Cross-Cultural Professional Development Program and the Rosetta Stone online language program. In addition to helping players grasp the language, the Kolon program also helps bridge cultural differences and focuses on the LPGA’s Five Points of Celebrity: Appearance, Relevance, Approachability, Joy/Passion and Performance.

And the penalty for failing such a test?

Failure would result in a suspended membership.

“Hopefully what we’re talking about is something that will not happen,” said Libba Galloway, the tour’s deputy commissioner, of possible suspensions. “If it does, we wouldn’t just say, ‘Come back next year.’ What we would do is work with them on where they fell short, provide them the resources they need, the tutoring . . . and when we feel like they need to be evaluated again, we would evaluate.”

Galloway said the policy takes effect immediately, but the “measurement time will be at the end of 2009.”

I only have time to make a couple of observations today, but feel free to chime in. I hope the LPGA has explored how the JLPGA, KLPGA, and especially the LET handle related language issues. If mainly monolingual countries like Japan and Korea don't require this kind of proficiency of their international players, I wonder why a multilingual nation like the U.S. needs such a policy. Does the LET have an "official language"? Or do European education systems already do a better job of educating multilingual speakers than here, so every LET winner would be capable of passing an LPGA-style interview exam in any country that hosts an LET event?

Apparently the LPGA policy is being implemented in the name of "the sponsors."

Kate Peters, executive director of the LPGA State Farm Classic, supported the news. “This is an American tour. It is important for sponsors to be able to interact with players and have a positive experience.”

Perhaps tournament directors and the LPGA could do a better job in seeking out a more diverse array of immigrant and citizen sponsors and pro-am participants (some of whom may actually be fluent in Spanish, Korean, Japanese, etc.).

“This should be a priority in their professional development just the way working on their short game is a priority,” Galloway said. “We just wanted to be clear about our expectations.”

That makes a lot of sense to me. But hey, why stop with English? Why not require all LPGA members to be able to hold a casual conversation and give a short speech in the main language of any nation that hosts an LPGA event? (Hey, maybe there's a reason Michelle Wie is studying Japanese at Stanford!) Put that policy in place and I guarantee we'd see the end of skipping college golf. Perhaps the LPGA could help fundraise for American colleges and universities' modern language departments. (Lord knows, my colleagues could use the support!)

“The bottom line is, we don’t have a job if we don’t entertain,” Lunke said. “In my mind, that’s as big a part of the job as shooting under par.”

But entertain whom? If the goal is to entertain fans around the world, particularly those who may attend a tournament, join in a pro-am, or commit their companies to LPGA sponsorship, then the LPGA's next step is clear.

[Update 1 (2:25 pm): Brent Kelley has a much more considered and thoughtful response than my tongue-in-cheek one. But he does raise similar issues as I do.]

[Update 2 (4:27 pm): And here are Golf Girl's pointed questions. Bob Harig doesn't like the policy.]

[Update 3 (10:33 pm): Brian Hewitt ain't too enthusiastic about the new policy, neither, Huck Finn reported.]

[Update 4 (10:39 pm): Ah, and Jason Wulterkens, in the best Swiftian tradition, offers Commissioner Bivens a few modest proposals.]

[Update 5 (10:44 pm): Meanwhile, Geoff Shackelford pulls no punches (or punchlines). And the ever-polite and balanced Hound Dog argues that the LPGA is barking up the wrong tree.]

[Update 6 (11:34 pm): Michael Walker and Michael Ventre don't like it one bit. Hat tip to willyc and Dennis at the Seoul Sisters.com thread on the new policy.]

[Update 7 (8/27/08, 2:06 am): Rick Tosches is actually pretty funny this time. But this story has officially gone beyond the golfosphere. The new policy is getting even harsher reviews from Eugene Cho, Dewey Hammond, Shaw Moore, John Ochwat, L. Russell Allen.... I give up. Even just googling/blogsearching "LPGA" gives you pages of hits. These were just some of the more interesting ones. See today's post for my own post-spit-take reaction.]


Anonymous said...

Con - those other tours are also free to put language requirements on their players.

The LPGA is a US based tour that has expanded to a small handful of other countries - but they never spend more than 2 weeks in any one country other than the US - not even Mexico or Canada.

I'm pretty sure that the Korean golf machine will just add English classes to their program to take some pressure off their players. Most Japanese kids already take English in school because English is still (for the time being) the international language of business.

The Biv and the LPGA are looking out for the media that they depend on so much for public opinion. If they can't get a decent interview from a foreign player, it just looks bad and the tour doesn't get the pub it needs.

My guess is that the non-English speaking girls could probably buckle down and learn enough English in 6 months to pass a proficiency test, but they have 2 years. This is no big deal - and the women of the LPGA, for the most part, seem to understand that they have to do more than just play golf - which is more than most male athletes can say.

spyder said...

LPGA’s Five Points of Celebrity: Appearance, Relevance, Approachability, Joy/Passion and Performance.
Aaaahhh celebrity is the factor; because no one wants anyone to be a real human being, just another item on the latest second-by-second update. When politicians are judged by the same criteria as hollyweird celebrities we know we are in trouble as a nation. This edict from the LPGA is just another nail in that coffin that holds the severely damaged skeleton of the former USA. As Roger Hodge puts it in this months issue of Harpers:

"The 2000s--perhaps we should call them the Naughts, since they will be remembered chiefly for their wants--were a decade in which the American Republic finally succumbed to a kind of autoimmune disorder, in which the social and political systems normally responsible for maintaining the healthy functioning of the body politic have instead turned against it with particular savagery, as if our very Constitution were an invasive foreign organism. The causes of the disorder are obscure. ... As with other diseases, this one masks itself with opportunistic infections, hides under assumed names, and thus has often escaped accurate diagnosis. The humdrum corruption of political machinery, the passivity of screen-addled citizens, ignorant pedagogues, job-gobbling immigrants, malevolent divines, greedy corporate grandees, the timidity of bourgeois journalists, the sinister conniving of neoconservative and liberal intellectuals, and homosexuals living in holy matrimony have all been adduced as causes of the national decline. Proximity cannot be denied, yet none of these putative causes appears to be sufficient to the magnitude of the disorder. What can be said with some certainty, however, is that we are now exiles in a strange land; America is no longer America."

The LPGA seems to be suffering horribly from this virus.

spyder said...

The LPGA is a US based tour that has expanded to a small handful of other countries

So what??? Are you suggesting that there is some sort of English only expectation for citizens of the US? Lay it out there. But do keep in mind, that in order for English to be spoken in this land, hundreds of thousands of indigenous first peoples had to exterminated along with thousands of their languages. These languages contained vital and necessary information about species and relationships, and without them we are in grave danger of losing our capacity to survive on this continent. That apparently is not a concern of the LPFA either; just the folks at National Geographic, several universities, and of course the Indigenous Language Institute--donate today.

The Constructivist said...

I was talking a few days ago with a colleague from Taiwan whom I'm mentoring and she told me the following story. Whenever she raised issues of multilingualism with her students, most of whom grew up in ours or a neighboring county in western NY, the first, panicked, response she'd most often get would be a horrified, "You don't expect me to learn another language, do you?" She would quickly reassure them that multilingualism does not mean universal fluency (which, even with the die-off rate this past century for languages, remains humanly impossible), but rather a respect for multiple languages and their traditions. Pat Courts, an emeritus colleague, argued in Multicultural Literacies that the ability to code-switch as appropriate for different contexts is a more realistic and achievable goal for all. I'm excited about a two-way immersion project the Dunkirk Schools will be piloting in English and Spanish with onechan's kindergarten class next year, as very little of the near-decade of Spanish I took between junior high and college has stuck with me.

I share these stories to suggest that I really would support the LPGA's policy if it were broadened and if all players were put on the hot seat the way non-native speakers are being. Being able to get by in 2 or more languages is the norm the world over. In reality, it's the monolingual English speakers who need the carrot and stick to venture outside our little world. If we're not willing to legislate it for ourselves, why not leave learning English to economic forces and individual choices like we do with almost everything else?

spyder said...

Yes indeed. The reason i mentioned the ILL project, is due to my connection with tribal leadership in Northwest academia who are expanding indigenous language curricula in high schools and universities. We, they, and others, are of course encouraging tribal members(particularly the youth) to become active participants, but we are also reaching out to the Anglo-Euro descendent citizens to learn some native tongues of this land (and hopefully some critically important habitat knowledge about increasing the diversity of native species).

The Constructivist said...

Yeah, we're hoping that if imoto and onechan grow up with both Spanish and English, they'll be more likely to keep at it with Japanese. From the parents in this area we've talked to, once their kids hit the school system, they don't want to speak Japanese until maybe late in high school when study abroad becomes a serious option. We can't afford to take family trips to Japan every year--hell, we can't even afford cable tv--and any leaves I take on grants would be without pay until my next sabbatical opportunity comes up late next decade. So unless we move wihin the States to a city with a larger proportion of Japanese speakers than can be found in western NY or just move to Japan, Spanish is our big hope to keep Japanese alive in our kids.

Bill Chapman said...

Golf speaks for itself! Let golfers speak the language of their choice, whether Korean, Japanese, Spanish or Esperanto.

Don't oppress them. It's the sport that counts.