Foreign Language Learning: An aid to Friendship

Writing this in the 48 hour Twitter protest about hate messages, I recall an interesting discussion on Sunday about the future of foreign language teaching. The school and university subject, often known as ‘Modern Foreign Languages’ in the UK, or ‘World Languages’ in the USA, has been woefully sinking in popularity with students in recent years. Trade with foreign lands is of course the bedrock of any nation’s economy, and plainly the last thing a post-Brexit Britain needs is a population able to communicate with foreigners only by shouting loudly in English. However, there is a more vital reason to encourage young people to engage with foreign cultures. On Sunday I posed a Twitter question about students exchanging information, sharing points of reference, common interests etc., thus strengthening and bonding foreign links between our country and others around the world, and received the following response from an eminent professor of languages. Prof: “It should be included alongside art, theatre, sport, history, science, youth culture, architecture etc etc - in the countries where the #languages are spoken. This enables some shared ground when learners meet peers. Discussing similarities & differences is fascinating” The wisdom of his words is twofold. 1. Surely an understanding of foreign cultures will foster empathy and reduce animosity between individuals and nations. 2. Sharing ground with foreign people is fun and endlessly fascinating. Me: “Today being a day of reflexion for some, would you feel comfortable with linking this to a teacher's moral obligation to open students' minds in this way? I certainly would!" Prof: “Definitely! That’s the greatest benefit!” What nobler mission for a teacher or student than to fight the scourge of hatred?