I am a big fan of language acquisition and believe it is central to every student’s education. I am pleased we embrace languages at BGS and I will always encourage our students to keep studying a language, or two, throughout their time at school.
I also believe that part of the fun of learning a language is starting something new, the thrill of starting with the basics and putting the words together to make sentences for the first time is always exciting. I am therefore delighted that we will be introducing an additional language option in the Sixth Form for IB Diploma students from September 2021, where students who have not studied it before will be able to take up a course in Italian. Who would not want to be able to sit on the terrace of a bar in Rome and order a meal with a perfect Italian accent, or ask for directions to The Colosseum without relying on a google translate?
Having worked in Asia for five years, the vast majority of the students I taught there were fluent in at least two languages. Many had three or four languages under their belt; they were always open to learning a new language to communicate with their new friends from other countries. In the Languages Department, they used to have a poster which stated: “monolingualism is the new 21st century illiteracy” and I couldn’t agree more. In our interconnected, globalised world, it is imperative that we are able to communicate with one another. This is one of the elements of the IB Diploma Programme which I most love, the focus on language acquisition as a link to understanding and connecting cultures.
I studied French at A Level, and was able to study in France for a year at university, work in Brussels as a lawyer and then I had an excellent grounding for learning Spanish, whilst traveling around South America when I took a career break before moving into teaching. Learning languages has opened so many doors for me; it has changed my views on the world and created a network of friends around the world. It has given me the confidence to travel, to work abroad, to walk into a room and not be afraid of starting a conversation. Learning languages has been an important part of developing my self-confidence.
There is plenty of research that also highlights how language acquisition encourages brain development, which has extensive cross-disciplinary advantages. Languages are puzzles, the logic of learning and putting sounds and words together can be applied to other subjects, Maths, Music and Sciences. These key building blocks are fundamental to a holistic education and develop enquiring, problem-solving mindsets.
I hope our students seize this opportunity to experience a new language and through it appreciate the importance of understanding others’ customs and cultures. As the American Law Professor and author, Amy Chua, said: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery”. So I encourage all our students to take these words as inspiration, to be bold, to step out of their comfort zones and to open themselves up to a world of new possibilities.