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Why learning a foreign language is more important than ever

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Français? Español?  We hear from Jane Basnett, Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Downe House on the importance of learning another language for our children

English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and for many organisations, business and otherwise, English does seem to be the lingua franca. Add to this the burgeoning success of apps and technological tools that can translate words and sentences for you, one might ponder the point of language learning in this day and age. What is, then, the value of learning a language?

Personally, I think that there has never been a more important time to learn a language.

To understand and be understood is of huge significance right now when awareness of other societies and of people within our own society seems to be lacking. Furthermore, knowledge of another language is also an awareness, a grasp and understanding of another culture and this is surely the best way to show respect for others.

The importance of the process itself cannot be overlooked. Unlike learning to ride a bike, there is no eureka moment when the stabilisers are removed, and you can suddenly speak in another tongue. Linguistic proficiency is not something that can be achieved overnight.

However, it is in studying languages that the greatest benefit is derived. I believe that linguistic proficiency in another language has immeasurable impact on your understanding of your own language, history and culture. As Geoffrey Willans, the English author and journalist once said:

“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.”

Becoming proficient in a language is a process and it is one that never ends; there is always more to learn and discover. Our own language evolves and develops constantly and the same is true of other languages around the world. It is a process that takes time and effort; a huge investment in one’s own education but it is worth it! And, like riding a bike, once you have a foundation in place it is always there to rely on even if you do not get the chance to practise and use it regularly.

I will end with a point which I hope might strike a chord with the younger generation. When I consider youngsters today, I know that, for many, home is where the Wi-Fi is, which I have a certain affinity with. However, I feel most at home where I speak the language and where I can communicate with others.

Bonne Chance!


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