I just read a fascinating article posted in the New Yorker, by Mary Hawthorne, entitled LANGUAGE IS MUSIC. Most of the piece is a response (from various translators) regarding an editorial by Lawrence Summers in the NYT, which opined that, ‘English’s emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile.‘
Naturally, there was much disagreement over his points in numbered paragraph 5. Quite honestly, I do think that learning a second (or third) language is something that ought to be done. It needs to be taught properly at the lower grades, when learning of languages has been shown to be easier. There ought to be more opportunities for immersion, as well. Learning another language is learning a different way to think, a different way to view the world. And, as David Bellos states, ‘mastery of a foreign language is a prerequisite for understanding how to use your own.’
Am I biased? Yes, probably. I would have loved to have decent instruction in French when I was younger, but the teachers I had most years barely knew any more than their students, having (I’m guessing) drawn the short straw or had the free period needing filled. (And, alas, my parents chose not to put me in French immersion schooling, though I think I would have done well.) So now I plod along, working haphazardly to learn a bit more French. To be honest, properly learning a foreign language is a lot of work. With everything else that I do, I just don’t have time to devote hours every day to study.
Still, I’ll keep at it, though progress is slow. In the meantime, I’ll continue reading French works in translation, and maybe someday I’ll know enough French to read Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘L’Invitée’. I have a copy, and it’s waiting for that moment.