The Principal of Presbyterian Ladies College, Ms Beth Blackwood, shares her views of the importance of learning languages. We are grateful to Ms Blackwell for her generosity and leadership In languages education.
To learn another language is quite simply and profoundly one of the best ways of learning to recognise the world and to see how others and otherness inhabit it. It is an education in difference as a pathway to understanding how to contribute to [...] global citizenship.
Vice-Provost of University College, London.
The October break provided an opportunity to attend the IB Heads World Conference held at the United World College, Singapore. It was a unique experience to be in the company of school leaders from across the globe, sharing the experience of teaching to the International Baccalaureate and striving to provide best practice and educational excellence for our students. As often happens, I was humbled by the multilingual ability of most colleagues and challenged as to how to impress on young Australians the importance and value in learning a second language. Governments around the globe, including Australia, are not only recognising the plurality of languages of their citizens but are seeking to promote ways that meet the demands of the 21st century. For example,
The geographical isolation of Australia and the fact that our mother tongue is English cannot continue to be excuses not to learn a second language if our young wish to engage in a multilingual, multicultural world. A strength of the IB programme is that it addresses this issue. An ability to communicate in more than one language is an essential skill. Fortunately, ideas about teaching a second language have changed away from the prescriptive grammar-translation approach of my day to a more balanced emphasis on communication and content. Additionally, technology and travel mean that students often have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a second language. Learning a language, however, is an academically challenging task that takes effort and persistence.
There is research that demonstrates that multilingual education improves academic achievement – so the effort and persisitence required to learn a second language can pay dividends in results for other subject areas! Increasing learners’ literacy in their first language strengthens their academic language development in other languages through the transfer of skills. (Cummins 2000)
Multilingual education, moreover promotes intercultural awareness and international-mindedness. The IB programme’s emphasis in intercultural awareness prepares students for a world where diversity has become a feature of everyday life.
As George Walker, the former Director General of the IB, has pointed out,
We are increasingly living next to, working alongside, sharing our leisure with, choosing our partner from, people with different cultural backgrounds.
(Reference: Language and Learning in IB Programmes, September 2011)