Over the past few weeks, I have been speaking to my students about why we study languages. Many students have raised the question of which languages they should study at school. Should it be Spanish and French or should it be Mandarin and Arabic, or should it be German and Hindi? I always have the same advice for the students; do not worry about which languages you study, just ensure that you are studying them because studying languages will provide you with some of the invaluable skills needed to become a positive member of the global community.
Learning languages teaches you problem solving, resilience and creativity. These are skills which are going to define the working world of the future as jobs are increasingly replaced by technology. Of course we study a language so that we can learn to communicate in it when visiting another country but the future of languages is hardly predictable as many believe that the status of different languages will change rapidly in the coming decades. Furthermore, future technology that allows people to translate spoken and written words of any language immediately is almost a certainty.
So why study them? Because, in the future, our children will be successful if they can solve problems and be resilient when faced with difficulty. Languages force students to do a lot with only a little. They have to solve problems with minimal resources; they have to communicate and convey meaning with a small vocabulary. Translation pushes them to develop pattern finding skills, to make links between new and previous learning and to make well informed guesses. Languages teaches them empathy and how to look for different ways of communication when speaking to someone who they don’t understand fully. When studying another language, they learn about other ways of thinking and others ways of living that make them question what they do and how they think. Languages bring together the reasoning and patterns of mathematics along with the creativity of writing. Their futures will be brighter because of these myriad of skills. Finally, studying languages is hard! Studying languages is sometimes frustrating and long; a simple sentence make take a whole lesson to translate properly. Not all tasks are simple and languages will teach them the patience and resilience to be great learners forever.
Mr. Hopps is a French teacher and inspiring leader at BISC Lincoln Park.