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Why we should and why we don't - Scarlet Letters

Aug. 25th, 2010 11:48 pm Why we should and why we don't

It bothers me that we Brits are becoming more and more monolingual, almost without a second thought. Not only have we long failed to teach languages in school – my French teacher had clearly modelled her pronunciation of la belle langue on John Major – we've given up even trying beyond a token three years, and are now seeing the knock-on effects as universities close language departments.

Why might this be? The whole world speaks English? Nothing is forever, and that's certainly not the point. I can just run it through Google? Don't make me laugh. Or is it, perhaps, that we don't really like leaving our comfort zones?

Confession time. I'm a language teacher. I always tell my students to have a go and not worry about getting it wrong. But deep down I understand how they feel, because I hate hate hate to look less clever than I am.

However. Something I believe to be true: learning another language is a profoundly humbling, yet hugely enriching experience, because it involves questioning every facet of your understanding of the world, and redefining who you are in response to a different set of wisdoms.

At 21 I had some right to feel pretty smug, a bright lass fresh from swanning around Oxford's dreaming spires. Crash! Japan took me right back to zero. With time and a lot of hard graft I became a gurgling two-year-old, then learned to toddle, falling over less and less, then after a year the floodgates opened and I could hold a conversation. But then came the polishing: learning what to say, what not to, when, how. Wrestling with social levels, distance, seniority. Trying to act my age, to express myself fully, persuasively, to truly own my words.

I became someone else for a while, in that process. I cut-and-pasted so much that I lost my voice somewhat. When I tried to put it all back together, though, I felt that there was more of me, more insights and ideas, more perspectives, more understanding of the drives and desires of human beings.

Isn't that something we should be teaching our children?

A different language is a different vision of life.  ~Federico Fellini

Current Location: Malaysia, Alor Star
Current Mood: angrypeeved

2 comments - Leave a commentPrevious Entry Share Next Entry


Date:August 25th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)

aka Dad

Two random thoughts:

1. When my sister studied English at university - OK, last century - she had to study Anglo-Saxon. This, as a current TV series is teaching me, is a lyrical, lilting language, the loss of which should be regretted. Needless to say, undergrads don't study it today.
2. I can now translate English into Welsh - sometimes a requirement at work - through Google Translate. No idea how good it is - though some colleagues are using it to translate entire documents - but it 'looks' OK. De-skilling, dumbing down, whatever you want to call it, but it is hardly enriching.
Date:September 3rd, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
well penned! I'm inspired to do more russian )))