“Human beings are, above all, communicating animals. That’s what we do best and it’s what we do first with our brains. Language is, quite literally, the stuff of life. The more you can speak other people’s languages, the more you can be part of their lives and enrich your own.” This is what Paddy Ashdown had to say on the subject of learning foreign languages in a recent interview published in the Guardian newspaper.
Other well-known figures including the actress, Jane Seymour, spoke about their experiences of speaking a second language as part of the Guardian’s exhibition entitled ‘The language that changed my life’ which is held at the newspaper’s offices in London from 13 to 31 October.
With the government’s recent decision to make foreign language teaching compulsory in all state primary schools across the country, a lot has been written on the beneficial aspects of bilingualism. People acquire a second language for various reasons; some due to work obligations whilst others take up a foreign language because of personal reasons. In his interview Paddy Ashdown describes how he learnt several languages, six in total, including Malay, Mandarin, French and Bosnian, due to his political engagements abroad.
The actress Jane Seymour talks about her multi-cultural background and how being able to speak several languages makes her more appreciative of other cultures and customs: “We must teach the next generation to not just learn languages, but whole cultures and belief systems. We will then make more of an effort to understand people and their different cultures.”She goes on to talk about her involvement in a new TV programme aimed at introducing children to foreign languages through music and animation. The new series entitled Hey Wordy! arrives just as many five-year-old children across the county start learning a foreign language at school.
Research has shown that the technique of teaching a language using songs is extremely effective both with children and adults. Dr. Katie Overy, who supervised a study into language learning and singing at Edinburgh University, emphasises how “those who sing foreign words and phrases will be twice as good at speaking the language later in life. Most people have experience of remembering words from songs they have heard and songs are sometimes used by language teachers with young children. We thought we would explore whether there was a benefit and found singing was much more effective, particularly when it came to the spoken language tests”.