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Foreign sources

This past Sunday morning, just before 8:30, as part of our ongoing struggle to improve our French listening skills, Kathryn and I decided to tune into an internet stream of France Info, a state-owned French news radio station. We had gotten up early and gone to the gym, but at that point we hadn’t heard or read any overnight news.

A few moments later I paused in disbelief as I heard the horrible news about the nightclub shooting in Orlando.

I was shocked, but as if on cue, one of my good friends sent me a message about the same news. We started chatting back and forth, and I confirmed what I heard in French about the location and number of fatalities is what he heard in English. He then hinted there might be an ideological motive to the crime, but that nothing had been confirmed.

That last part confused me as much as the initial news shocked me. I replied,

> French radio is saying it was Islamic terrorism.

Three days later, I’m still amazed — if not necessarily surprised — that a government-run radio station in another country felt free enough to state a fact that our own government and our supposedly free mainstream media still treat as debatable.

If you’re wondering if I have a point to make, I do. My closest friends and family have already heard me say this many times, but for the benefit of everyone else, here it is:

If you’re not getting at least some of your news from a reputable foreign source in a language other than English, you’re probably not well informed.

I know most of my friends have had at least a little training in at least one major world language other than English. Some of you are enviably fluent in more than one. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, I’d like to issue a challenge to all of you:

At some point this week, spend at least 15 minutes reading one or more front page articles from the website of a major foreign newspaper written in a language other than English.

If you need to, blow the dust off your dictionary and use it. If you’re rusty, you might use the whole 15 minutes reading a single paragraph, looking up most of the words. That’s cool. On the other hand, if you have solid skills in several languages, consider brushing up on the one that’s weakest.

It’s important both that the source be from outside the U.S. and that the language not be English. Much of the foreign language media inside the U.S. is controlled by the same corporations that control the mainstream English-language media, and much of the English-language reporting outside the U.S. is either regurgitation of U.S. wire stories or straight-up propaganda.

If you accept my challenge, I’d love you to come back to the blog and share a comment about what you read and what you learned.

If nothing else comes of this, you may discover there’s a difference between what the world thinks of the U.S. and what our mainstream media tells us the world thinks of the U.S. They’re counting on you not to bother to check.

If you’re genuinely English-only — I know a few of you are — pick a major world language and spend the 15 minutes on a web site devoted to basic phrases in that language. You never know when you might need them.