THE CHOCOLATE bar, the electron microscope, the light bulb, insulin and the Java programming language as well as the zipper, the baseball and the kayak were all invented by Canadians. And the plentiful list of well-known contemporary Canadian personalities includes, among others, poet and singer Leonard Cohen, jazz pianist Diana Krall (of Slovak ancestry) and movie director James Cameron. But these facts were not the most important message that students of the Ľudovít Štúr secondary school in Zvolen absorbed during their discussion with Georges Lemieux, chargé d’affaires of the Canadian Embassy.
“When we know many foreign languages we become citizens of the world; we become integrated and more involved in the affairs of the world,” Lemieux said as he told the students about the importance of learning other languages.
Lemieux met the Zvolen students as part of the Bringing the World to the Classroom project developed by The Slovak Spectator, several foreign embassies in Slovakia and Sugarbooks, a distributor of textbooks. He emphasised that the process of studying a foreign language is just as important as the ultimate goal.
“The way we learn a new language potentially changes the way we think and the way we look at our lives,” said Lemieux, noting that some of these thoughts had also resonated in the essays that the students wrote that responded to the provocative question: is knowing a foreign language a requirement only for the elite?
In the process of studying another language one cannot help but also learn something about the culture and traditions of the people who use that language, Lemieux stated, adding that it is an advantage when someone is exposed to those who speak a different language at an early age.
“In my case, I did not really meet anyone who was not French Canadian, white and Catholic until I was nearly 16 years old,” said Lemieux, who today speaks French, his mother tongue, as well as English, German, Spanish and some Czech.
In their essays some of the students discussed whether money, time and the ability to travel are preconditions for learning foreign languages. The response that Lemieux offered to the students was that “at the end of the day if there is a will, there is a way” while emphasising that lack of money is not an obstacle to learning foreign languages. He added that young people’s exposure to English today is much broader because of the internet and better communications.
When encouraging the learning of foreign languages, Lemieux listed several important factors for the students to consider, including a recent survey which found that about 65 percent of companies in Slovakia had a foreign language requirement for employees.
“The internet is so powerful and yet to benefit from it completely English has become a key issue,” Lemieux said while referring to another famous Canadian, futurist Marshal McLuhan, who suggested in his 1989 book that a global village would bring us all together but to do so we must speak a common language.
Students note the importance of English
Student Jakub Dycha wrote in his essay that how people thought about foreign languages “has always been strongly influenced by the era in which they lived” suggesting that in the past it was not necessary or was simply impossible to learn more than one’s mother tongue. But Dycha wrote that now “development and progress of technology has literally forced people to learn international languages, directly or indirectly” adding that even operating common things such as computers and numerous home appliances would be nearly impossible without a basic knowledge of English.
According to another student, Pavol Krajči, elitism has disappeared from studying languages and it has become accessible for ordinary people. Alexandra Mojžišová wrote that without knowledge of foreign languages young people would hardly be able to use the study and education opportunities offered by some European Union programmes.
The Bringing the World to the Classroom project has the goal of promoting greater openness to different cultures while motivating students to pursue further education. The project sponsors believe that discussions in the English language at Slovak secondary schools with personalities from the international community can inspire young people’s understanding of issues that are crucial for a tolerant society, one that welcomes diverse cultures and is capable of participating in international discourse.
10. Jan 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová