Learning a Language - More Than Just Communication

Woman surrounded by books

On Graham Norton’s show on 11 November 2016, Andrew Lloyd Webber said that there has never been a time when arts within education was more important and that anything invested in the arts within schools pays massive dividends. Not, he says, because children will eventually grow up to be musicians or actors, but because they are empowered.

This struck a chord with me. I have never been able to fully explain why I believe in languages so much, but hearing this has enabled me to clarify it in my own mind.

Of course, learning a language gives you the skills to communicate with other people who speak that language. However like learning any skill, it also makes you feel good. It teaches you structural and learning. It teaches how to follow a recognised process to reach success, and then enables us to learn how to step outside of that process to achieve individuality. 

Language is amazing for this last point. For instance, you will learn how to greet someone, which in many languages is literally the fairly old fashioned 'good day' ('bonjour' in French, 'bom dia' in Portuguese). But it then teaches you that you can rip this up and communicate a feeling similar, although completely unique to you, your day, your culture and how you are feeling. 'Hey', 'How yah goin’?', 'Yo' are examples in English alone - imagine how many different ways there are to communicate surely the most commonly conveyed ideas in the many languages across the world. 

Then there is another layer - when we learn a language, we learn 'why'. Why do they say that? Why is this sentence structured in this way? Why is this phrase in their language? Language is full of historic and cultural references  - it says a lot about British culture, for example, that many of our commonly used phrases come from either Shakespeare, cricket or the bible.

There is a Japanese saying: 

花鳥風月 (Kachou Fuugetsu) which literally means 'flower, bird, wind, moon' and communicates 'experience the beauties of nature and in doing so learn about yourself'. This reflects how nature plays a massive part in Japanese culture - indeed, the Shinto religion is one of the bedrocks of Japanese culture, in which 'the spirit of nature' and 'the energy generating a thing' features heavily. This is not just their history - it is entrenched in the way the country moves forward [www.jnto.go.jp].

So, learning a language is not only about how to communicate with someone else who speaks that language. It empowers our learning style, increases our knowledge base and teaches us how to move forward with an open mind.

Without getting too political, consider how different things could be if more people had this open mind, knew the why and understood consequences learnt through history. 

I really should resume my Spanish lessons...


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