“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
As a teacher of languages and a keen linguist, I believe that languages, if taught well, with love, passion and purpose, can provide life-changing experiences for many young people. I also want to challenge and seek to improve the content of language education in Hong Kong.
In essence, learning a language is to learn about other people, countries, cultures. In turn, we learn more about ourselves in the process. Despite my years of learning, I still find the process of learning languages a humbling experience because it shows me how much more I have to learn.
The world comes alive to me through languages. A single foreign word or phrase transports me back to people, places, events, travels, books, food, music, their pasts - all in a heartbeat. Languages empower you to feel less like a stranger when you travel in foreign lands and inhabit the world of the native. This transformation is exciting, enjoyable, rewarding and life-giving.
Certainly, there is a major component of language learning in schools that is to do with a lot of memory work and repetitive practice which many students may find dull. Hence, it is important that I pass on my love of learning languages to my students at The Harbour School. And what better way than to be immersed in the culture and to metaphorically transport them to France. This year, I have shown French films such as “Le Ballon Rouge” , “Les Choristes”, “Asterix” and students read from a variety of authentic French texts including magazines, menus and cartoons. My students enjoy watching the videos and then they read the script. We also play French games and music. Such activities are a fun way of not just learning new words but also understanding social norms of that particular culture. Hence, my goal for my students is not to memorise words but to acquire the new vocabulary by watching, listening and reading daily. The more they are hooked, the easier it becomes and this leads to confidence, which helps them with their speech and expression.
I also enjoy comparing human expressions, across place, time and culture, for the same observations and thoughts. For example, in English: “I could eat a horse”, in French: “J’ai une faim de loup” (I am as hungry as a wolf).
One advantage of knowing another language is the ability to switch between languages depending on the situation. If I speak in English, I think in English. When I speak in French, German, Italian or Spanish, I think in those languages, and so on. We must not forget that more than half the people in the world are bilingual or multilingual. We tend to think of bilingualism as someone with a bi-cultural background, such as mine. However, speaking two languages or more is commonplace, such as in Africa and Asia, where there may be an official language and several local dialects. Even in countries like the US which predominantly speak in English, Spanish is widely spoken. In Canada, Belgium, or Switzerland, where there are multiple official languages, it’s people speak a plethora of languages as a result.
While the process of language acquisition can seem daunting at first, here’s an interesting data point: it gets easier. Many have found learning a second language easier after learning the first. So give it a go!
Learning a foreign language is a life-long experience and a true asset that can enrich and be advantageous not only socially and culturally, but also professionally.