Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Multilingualism, please!

I guess that by this point you've guessed that I am a language geek (among other types of geek). A week or so ago I was reading this opinion piece, titled Only English Spoken, on Inside Higher Ed.

The author goes through a synopsis of historical liberal arts education, and the role that foreign languages played in it. The general view of the opinion piece (which you should read, by the way) is that if you are only monolingual you are denied access to a lot of inside knowledge. While a lot of information may be available in your native language (English for example in most cases in the US), and a lot of information is available in English (science and technology related information in my case), there is a corpus of knowledge both written and spoken that is not available in English and that knowledge is inaccessible if you don't know that language.

I happen to agree with this point of view and I do agree that as college graduates from US universities we should be at least bi-lingual, if not proficient in reading in three of four languages. However, I would add that in my view foreign languages need to be part of the curriculum in earlier grades. Kindergartners should be exposed to two languages (English and something else), by grade six we should have communicative competency in both of them, and by end of grade twelve students should have communicative competency in three languages. When student get into college, they should then pick another language that they want to learn and cultivate.

By learning another language you don't just have access to a corpus of literary work and knowledge from other places, you gain access to the people which helps you in ways that you may not have yet imagined.
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