From the outset I need to declare a conflict of interest before I write another word; I am a teacher of Japanese and have a profound love for the teaching and learning of languages. My favourite subject at school was Indonesian. Along with English, the studying of Indonesian opened up a raft of possibilities and potential that I had never even considered before. I was fascinated by the cultural differences that were exposed through the studying of texts in the classroom and I was drawn to the exotic notion of the ‘other’. Studying a language opened my eyes to the fact that my world could be so much broader and richer if I embraced and understood other cultures and peoples through their language. Moreover, as I learned more about the culture of Indonesia some of the customs were more easily understood and I gradually moved from a position of seeing things as ‘weird and wrong’ to a position where I saw things simply as ‘different’.
I was learning how to take perspective. This ‘soft’ skill has been recognized and formalised in the Australian Curriculum through the pillar of Intercultural Understanding which is one of the seven General Capabilities that are required to be formally taught to all Australian students. I believe that intercultural understanding and an ability to take perspective will be essential for our children in this century of rapid change. The next part of my language journey began at university where I began my love affair with Japan and Japanese. Japan has given me so much and is central to who I am as a person today. I won’t list everything but my perspective on beauty, food, spirituality, war, nature and design would be completely different if I had not lived in that country.
My own life would also have been far less rich. This week we witnessed two compelling reasons why learning a language is more important and relevant than ever. Firstly, we bid farewell to our exchange students from Shixi High School in Shanghai at muster on Wednesday and heard two amazing speeches from Chisomo Banzi in Mandarin and Vicky Yuan (a Shixi exchange student) in English. Not only were they able to stand up and speak in front of close to a 1000 people, but they were able to do it in a second language as well! They showed poise and confidence, but most importantly, respect and understanding for a different culture and people; commodities that will be very important in minimizing potential conflicts in an ever more complex and rapidly changing world. Another benefit of learning a language and in contrast to what I wrote earlier, is that through cultural and language learning, we come to realise that our similarities as humans far outweigh the differences. Secondly, our 51st Lipman Fellow, Louka Parry also spoke about the importance of language learning. Louka’s thesis is that in the same way that emotional intelligence (EQ) has replaced intelligence (IQ) as being relatively more important in the ‘knowledge age’. Louka argues that the next economic and social revolution will come about due to the rise of artificial intelligence in our daily lives and adaptability intelligence (AQ), will be essential to handle the exponentially rapid rate of change that the evolution of artificial intelligence will bring. What will be required, he argues, are people who can accept, adapt and master change and that more than ever before can be life-long learners. Louka speaks four languages and he believes that one of the cognitive benefits from learning languages is an ability to be flexible and adapt to the cultural situation you find yourself in. Learning a language then, does not only grow your understanding of yourself and the world, but may just give you the tools you need to be able to deal with the reality of the rapid rate of change that we are about to encounter.
Happy language learning! Pro Deo et Patria.
Deputy Headmaster/Head of Senior School