Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sit Up Straight, Eat Your Veggies, Learn a Language

Branseurotrip wrote this morning from Interlocken, Switzerland, that she is constantly being made aware of the fact that almost everyone in Europe speaks more than one language. As an American traveling through Europe for 100 days, she is at a disadvantage because she is fluent only in English.

This very topic has long been of interest and concern to me. Back in the dark ages I graduated from college with a double Secondary Education degree in Spanish and English. I fully expected to teach Spanish in high school; but along about that time, the powers-that-be decided that languages were a "frill" in the education system. Consequently few schools were hiring teachers of foreign languages, and I taught English (now more commonly called "Language Arts") throughout my teaching career. In recent years, foreign languages are again being taught in our public schools, but, alas, Spanish unused quickly becomes Spanish unusable.

In the above-mentioned blog post, the writer points out that one of the reasons most people in Europe learn other languages is that the close proximity of the countries makes it especially useful, if not actually necessary, to speak the language of bordering countries. Perhaps because of the geographical hugeness and isolation of the United States on our continent, we haven't seen the necessity of teaching our children other languages. We can travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles without encountering the need to speak or understand another language.

Besides the obvious advantage of being able to communicate with more people, the advantages of learning another language abound. For one thing, children who learn another language at the same time they are learning their native one come to realize early the important fact that we are each citizens of the universe, not just of our own country. They become more tolerant of differences, they don't perceive different as inferior. They learn an important lesson in human communication: that just because I don't understand it doesn't mean it is wrong or useless.

Another great advantage of learning at least one foreign language is the understanding of language structure in general that is gained. This understanding helps one become more effective at using his/her own language to communicate clearly. Communication is difficult at best. Any given listener or reader seldom understands exactly what any given speaker or writer means by his/her words, since we all interpret what we read or hear in the context of our accumulated life experiences. Given this innate problem with communication, we as a society should do whatever we can do to increase the likelihood of true understanding between people. Anything that can be done to help children learn to communicate more effectively will be of benefit to all of society.


Carol said...

We had Spanish in our school system's elementary schools until this year. In July when they were cutting the budget, elementary Spanish was one of the casualties.

lil sis said...

I admire people who can speak more than one language. I hear people who get irritated when someone is talking to them and English is their 2nd or 3rd language. My thoughts are they speak at least 2 languages, I can't, so why be judgemental that they might have a thick accent??

My husband and I took 'conversational Spanish' a couple of years ago. It was fun. But one thing the teacher said that I really appreciated. She said the thing is to be able to communicate - not worry about having the exact accent or pronunciation. She said to think of the people we talk with who are speaking English as a 2nd language - they don't speak it perfectly, but we still undrestand them. The same is true for other languages. That helped me to relax a little and actually enjoy trying to learn to converse in Spanish.

I have found, that when you are around people speaking the language, learning it is easier and more natural than trying to learn it in a classroom.

Just some random thoughts on the subject :)

Ruth said...

I loved reading "Sit Up Straight, Eat Your Veggies, Learn a Language "

Also enjoyed reading about about your upcoing cruise. Did you hear the weather report this afternoon: the Airport in Fort lauderdale is to be closed down to outgoing and incoming flights.

dancilhoney said...

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