Verbal assault on the language barrier; The Tongue-tied American: Confronting the Foreign Language Crisis, by Rep. Paul Simon. New York: Continuum. $12.95

By , Timothy Aeppel is on the Monitor's staff.

When General Motors began marketing its Chevrolet Nova in Spanish-speaking countries, sales were meager. The corporate wizards later realized that "Nova," when spoken as two words in Spanish, means "It doesn't go."

This is one example used by the author to illustrate the decline in American language training, a problem which, he maintains, has contributed to international misunderstandings, trade deficits, and conflicts within US cities. The problem is presented systematically, along with the statistical evidence to back up the anecdotes Simon frequently uses. The basic message: "Cultural isolation is a luxury the United States can no longer afford, but we are nevertheless culturally isolated."

Sprinkled throughout the book are Simon's suggestions for improvements. His entire last chapter is devoted to "steps that should be taken now."

Recommended: Test your grammar 'smarts' with our quiz!

In the preface, the author admits that he is not a language expert and that he is not trying to write for language experts. But college and university administrators, teachers, parents, government officials, and anyone else who is interested in increasing international understa nding should find his ideas useful.

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