Why in the world must I learn French? Have you ever been asked this question? Or perhaps have you even asked it yourself?
It is not only because the learning of French as a second language is required in our publicly funded Ontario English-language schools that we teach a foreign language at MCS. There are a multitude of reasons and benefits.
The gift of learning a foreign language is an investment that lasts a lifetime. And our young children are uniquely suited to the task. The developing brain is hard-wired to acquire language and never again will it be done so naturally and so easily. As we expose our children while they are still young to a second language, we allow them to optimize their learning potential and we offer them opportunities that help shape their brains at the most flexible stage. Children are uniquely suited to learning a second language and, at a young age, it is cognitively as easy as learning one’s first language.
In a recent article in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell quotes James Flynn, a renowned scientist, as saying: “The mind is much more like a muscle than we’ve ever realized… It needs to get cognitive exercise. It’s not some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark.” Research suggests that exposure to more than one language is an excellent way of flexing these brain muscles and also building them up. If grey matter is denser in the brains of children who have been exposed to a second language from an early age, then let’s participate in the gym of foreign language learning!
So, what are the goals and benefits of foreign language development? They are many. The essence of our Christian education is to interact with all of God’s world from a Christian perspective. Foreign language study equips our students to do just that especially well. Studying French (and all other foreign languages) helps to prepare our students to serve the church of Jesus Christ as well as society as a whole. A considerable body of research shows that second-language learning provides significant cognitive and academic benefits. It is known to enhance first-language and overall literacy skills and to provide a foundation for the learning of additional languages. There is also evidence that shows learning a foreign language can help in the development of interpersonal and social skills. According to the 2004/05 report of the Commissioner of Official Languages, research shows that people “who master more than one language increase their self-confidence and self-esteem and are more at ease with others.” Fair enough for the one who does not know the Lord as Saviour, but what a grander prospect for the believer! Studying foreign languages (read “French”) provides growth, appreciation and understanding of God’s work among different peoples and cultures. It is to the glory of God that children of our Heavenly Father become more connected with our ever-increasing global community. Surely, we can thereby better express God’s love and salvation in a more meaningful and personal way. We will be more effective witnesses for Christ when we attempt to learn the language of our friends from different cultures and languages.
As our elementary students explore learning French, the task challenges them to grasp new concepts and to shape their own developing ones, to ask significant questions and to seek answers, and to develop original ideas. When our children ask the question, “Why do I have to…”, let’s encourage them to delve deep into learning French and to become intellectually self-motivated, life-long learners and servants of God.
Written by Janet Davis, who is qualified French as a second language teacher instructing our grade 3-8 students in French.