Monday, July 18, 2005

On the Merits of a Third Language

Why should foreign language learning be of value in the first place?

It is often argued that now more than ever, ours is a globalizing world marked by open, porous borders. This phenomenon of political, economic, cultural and social interconnectivity is often linked to the presence of multinationals in the country. Why study a foreign language? In order to gain employment in a multinational company, and ultimately, earn a better living than might be provided for by local industries. Or, in order to migrate abroad and, ultimately, earn a better living than might be provided for by the country. Knowledge of a third language other than Filipino and English is added value, a competitive advantage in today’s cutthroat domestic and international labor market. While this argument is practical and sound, it is our view that attending an institution of higher learning goes beyond mere calculation of returns. A university education should mean more than considerations of just how dear a graduate might render her services to the highest bidder.

Each word, turn of phrase and even syntax are embedded with ideas and ideals. Knowledge of a foreign language opens one’s mind to other ways of life and other ways of thinking. Languages ultimately heighten our common humanity. It opens a person’s perspective beyond her immediate surrounding and ultimately, beyond her immediate concerns. Languages broaden one’s horizon to encompass great, big ideas much larger, and more meaningful than our own humble existence. Is this not what being an individual for others ultimately means?

Knowledge of other cultures may inevitably lead to comparisons with one’s own. The Filipino's “love of country” has always been suspect, and one cannot help but assume that in this comparison, our own culture may always come up short. It may even be argued by certain Nationalist perspectives that appreciation of things foreign erodes our own appreciation of Filipino culture.

Here we argue that this argument is misplaced. Many crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of Nationalism. What is “national” is considered sacred, inviolable and must be protected from the “external.” But a simple division of the world into neat and independent territories no longer applies. Now more than ever, it is increasingly evident that nations are interdependent and reliant on one another. For example, the actions and decisions of the world’s more influential countries impact on all us. Conflicts from far-flung places inevitably spill into domestic discourse. Goods, labor and policies as well as cultures, norms and ideas now freely circumnavigate the globe.

Perhaps, to be nationalist is to put “love of country” in proper context. And the context is that of a multi-ethnic and religious developing country ensconced within a globalizing world of both perils and opportunities.

To sum up, languages open as well as close doors. Languages can connect as well as exclude. In the larger context within which we live today, it is perhaps wiser and more prudent to open and connect rather than to close and exclude.

No comments: