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Ted Turner’s Children of the Global Age

Is watching TV the best way to teach your children foreign languages?

September 7, 2001

Is watching TV the best way to teach your children foreign languages?

Admittedly, Ted Turner endowed the UN Foundation handsomely — to the tune of $1 billion dollars.

With that money, he aimed to help the UN achieve the goals and objectives of its charter — to promote a “more peaceful, prosperous and just world.” However, he might have done well to take a more pragmatic view.

In most households that have a television set, the scene is the same all over the globe. Kids stare at the magic box for hours on end, mesmerized.

From the parents’ point of view, this is not exactly an ideal occupation, electronic baby-sitter or not. After all, the children should do their homework — and then go outside to play and get some fresh air.

Every parent knows how heated an argument about a television program can become. The usual grand compromise after the kids’ temper tantrum about stopping to watch TV is to allow one more show — but only one.

Others might be inclined to allow only quality cable TV programs such as National Geographic.

But there is another “Turner-esque” solution. Just let them watch all the cartoons they wish to see. You only need to make sure of one thing: the show being watched must be in a foreign language.

Our collective inability to speak various foreign languages still is what divides us the most around the globe. Children of the Global Age should be allowed unlimited TV access as it will make them ready for a future where language skills will become more and more important.

Over time, they will undoubtedly develop an impressive passive knowledge of almost any language. Even if it means watching Mickey Mouse (or some other iconographic, U.S.-made made cartoon) in French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, German or Dutch.

In order to sponsor such a global satellite-based, multi-lingual children’s television station, one naturally needs sponsors. This is where Ted Turner enters into the equation.

He has got the money, a record of impressive donations — and always the appetite for earth-shattering revolutions in his stomach.

Better yet, providing global coverage for global kids TV may just cost a fraction of his donation to the UN. All you need is the combined services of ASTRA or EUTELSAT for Europe, ASIASAT for Asia, INTELSAT K and GE-1 for North and South America and INTELSAT 707 for Africa.

Just think of the potential global criss-crossing of cartoon networks most of which are being produced in the United States and Japan.

In a global world, what is the point of having 500 mostly domestic, U.S.-centric channels available in the United States alone, if it does not truly connect the world?

Such a project could even help the EU get over its biggest failure, in terms of integration policy. Because it never used any of its regulatory powers to set up such a network, few German, French, English or Italian kids can talk to each other. This would help remedy that problem.

Even better, drastic cuts in prices have made this technology much cheaper so that the combined services of all the satellites involved would cost in the millions, not billions, on an annual basis.

Some nitpickers may think that this kind of global television would create a conflict of interest between Turner’s own Cartoon Network — in English — and the ideal of a multi-lingual cartoon satellite show. But we doubt that the grand wizard of global surprises would see things so narrowly.

Yet, a global web of foreign-language cable TV channels would be to everyone’s advantage. First, it would check English-language hegemony to some extent — and promote diversity.

Second, U.S. animation companies would still be able to continue their work as their characters would attract a global audience.

Third, other countries with a flourishing animation industry, such as Japan, could expand their business — and all this would help to make the little ones happy and real smart. Not a bad outcome.

And finally, AOL/Time Warner — which bought CNN back in 1996 and is thus the source of much of Turner’s wealth — isn’t exactly using him much these days. So a new challenge is in order. Let’s work on that dream, Ted.