Los Angeles Times
May 23, 1996


Renford Reese loves languages
He speaks about 15 of them--not perfectly, mind you, but well enough to break the ice with someone who speaks no English. Even greater than Reese's love of language, however, is his commitment to helping bridge the gaps between people who speak different languages.

"Even if you don't say the statements phonetically right, trying to speak someone else's language still helps to break down barriers," he said. Reese, a 28-year-old professor at USC, has built an entire program around this concept. He calls it "Colorful Flags."

The name refers to Reese's bright, wallet-sized cards inscribed with elementary phrases in different languages. To go along with the flash cards, Reese has developed a videotape and a manual that teaches the basics of respect, common courtesy and social etiquette as defined in different cultures.

More than 40 schools in Los Angeles County--the Brentwood Science Magnet School and Venice High School, among them--have adopted the five-month training program.

Colorful Flags also is part of the training in several departments at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan in downtown Los Angeles, Reese said.

About 40 officers from the LAPD's South Bureau are learning the Colorful Flags program, too. They, in turn, will train the rest of the department's 1,400 officers. The officers will be taught the basics of Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Cantonese, Samoan and Croatian/Serbian.

"I like the idea that it gives the officers who maybe don't speak the languages of people in our community a key into some dialogue," said Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker, the bureau commander. "It's a positive little gold nugget at a time when we need every little ounce of cultural interaction that we can
muster in our city--especially between the community and our police Department."

Reese's program was a hit at the Brentwood Science Magnet School last fall when Reese spent a day introducing the program to the 1,200 students. The children speak 38 different languages and come from neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles.

Although some of the teachers stopped using the program after the five-month curriculum was finished, many still incorporate Colorful Flags into their social science classes, said Jung Kim, assistant principal.
"For children who do not hear too much of their primary language, this program has boosted their morale," said Kim. "Their eyes light up and they feel very proud that their peers are learning their language."