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The Importance of Learning Languages

By Vittoria Scardigli, GIS Alumna

Featured in WORLD STUDENT MAGAZINE,  September 2016

Living in a world driven by scientific discoveries means we often value scientific subjects over humanity and art-based ones. Languages, unfortunately, also fall into this negative spiral, and as a native Italian speaker morphed into a bilingual through education, it is easy and natural for me to criticise this situation. Generally speaking, students are not keen to learn new languages as they don’t see the importance of them; this especially applies throughout higher education such as IGCSE and A-Level. Research shows that the number of students taking A-Level English actually fell by 4.6% in 2014, the same year that Maths outnumbered English in over a decade. This, to me, seems extremely preposterous – shouldn’t the language the world communicates with be compulsory? Furthermore, since the middle of the 90s, the number of students who take languages at A-Level has more than halved in the UK alone. According to the Telegraph, in 1996, over 22 thousand students were studying French in Years 12 and 13. Last year, there were fewer than 10,000. Considering there are more than half a million students in each age group, only around 0.02% of students in the UK take French.

I believe that this is because they are not aware of the benefits associated with learning languages. Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world,” referring to the ability of languages to not only be the building blocks of culture, but ensure that we can freely express ourselves and our ideas. I believe this to be incredibly true, especially in the working environment, as without the breadth of languages, we limit ourselves to a narrow, singular world. With the breakthrough of applications such as Google Translate or Wordreference, or even the Internet in general, it may seem ludicrous to think that in this modern day and age there are still people who are unilingual. Disappointingly, this is a reality we live with, especially in English-speaking countries. We have to remember that languages help us in numerous ways. Firstly, they allow us to stretch our memories and minds to learn and remember new words, which consequently improves our test-taking skills. Moreover, we are also able to improve our knowledge of our own languages, especially the grammar. I have to admit, prior to learning English and Spanish, I had no idea what tenses I was using when speaking in Italian, I simply knew that there were different ways to describe something that happened yesterday, is happening now, and will happen tomorrow. Learning languages additionally makes us more competitive employees in the industrial world, as even in our modern society, people still are not able to successfully communicate using only one language, which is where translation is often necessary.

Languages allow us to communicate in deeply linked ways, and the best way to portray this ideology is through the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” This is because languages are not only advantageous in that they improve our basic skills, but they allow us to communicate and keep cultures alive. Words are constantly changing and being created. Consider the word ‘selfie.’ Although it now seems like such a simple word, it represents the fast technological innovation that makes our current society so different from past ones, and maybe even the future. It is also interesting to see how different languages have developed, and how there are words that simply cannot be translated, for example the difference between ser and estar in Spanish, which are both translated to “to be” in English. Through this, the unique nature of each language is highlighted, only reinforcing their importance.

I strongly believe that the beauty and importance of languages is something that should be shared, which is why I am writing this article – to highlight how although our world thrives because of other discoveries, the evolution of language and its presence is what builds our cultures and ensures the development of our world, as without even a simplified form of language, we wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other.

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