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What can learning languages do for students?

Aside from obvious practical advantages, studying foreign languages encourages students to develop habits and learning skills that are useful across the curriculum. It particularly helps develop a deeper understanding of English and encourages students to develop habits of mind such as resilience and critical thinking, which are key to performing well at HSC level.

"…learning a language can really enhance your life experiences, not just in the outside world … but also academically."

SUZANNE RICHARDS, HEAD OF LANGUAGES

Suzanne Richards talking with James McPherson and Dan Brown

SUZANNE RICHARDS, HEAD OF LANGUAGES:

I think learning a language definitely helps support your other subjects. For example what we are experiencing now with your English studies: you develop a wider vocabulary and think more about your grammar and how you write. So it helps deepen your literacy skills. Also it is giving you a broader perspective of the world in helping you develop intercultural understanding. And of course it’s fun!

JAMES MCPHERSON, YEAR 11 STUDENT:

Definitely, I think it’s a really rewarding experience, you learn little snippets of the language. You can understand the broader perspectives of other cultures. Yeah it’s lots of fun, definitely.

DAN BROWN, YEAR 10 STUDENT:

Of course it’s also really handy to have, just in case you ever go overseas. You have that advantage of being able to talk to people and a better appreciation of where they’re coming from as a culture.

James McPherson

SUZANNE RICHARDS:

It’s amazing how people respond when you try to speak to them in their language. Even if you just have the basics, they appreciate it so much. Instead of both sides getting frustrated at not being understood. If you look at the statistics, there is a lot of the world that does not speak English. So when you can communicate in another language it really goes a long way.

Suzanne Richards

SUZANNE RICHARDS:

In Junior School in Years 5 and 6 the students do French, then in Year 7 there is a break as there are other options on the curriculum: music, drama and critical thinking. Then in Year 8 you have to do a language. Did you do French?

DAN BROWN:

Yes I did French in Year 8, I also chose it as an elective.

SUZANNE RICHARDS:

What appeals to you both about learning a language?

DAN BROWN:

You are constantly analyzing and even though you can sort of work off English, you have to adapt what you know. Words that we have in English may not exist in another language, so yeah, it’s challenging. And obviously for speaking in different countries it’s insanely useful. I mean you have things like job opportunities, it just helps with your resume – people will be more interested.

Dan Brown

JAMES MCPHERSON:

It also gives you a break from doing all the basics like Math and English. You get the experience of jumping into different cultures. Coming into this class, and not knowing what you are going to learn for the day is great. With other classes like Maths you know you’ll be doing things with numbers, but with languages it could be grammar, numbers, vocabulary, songs….

SUZANNE RICHARDS:

It really is so worth it for your resumé. It gives you an edge, even if it’s not at a really high level. Just saying that you’ve got some Spanish or French is impressive. It helps you think more critically and makes you build on prior knowledge, making those linguistic connections. So it’s just not the acquisition of knowledge, but actually applying it. When you have learnt some rules and understand, for example, the different tenses, you then have to apply that to new scenarios.

DAN BROWN:

The New Caledonia trip we did was definitely an experience of a lifetime. It forced you to put what you know into practice and, because the majority of the families spoke solely French, we were forced to interact in another language. So you are constantly learning words that you don’t know and then having to use the word. It’s an amazing experience, I would definitely recommend it to anyone else.

SUZANNE RICHARDS:

I was lucky enough to grow up in Spain in my later teens. And being from the UK, I just find it a beautiful, fascinating country. Spanish people really do live life to the full. I love to talk about something that is very close to my heart and I feel privileged that I am in a job where I get to talk about my passion every day, and to hopefully instill that in my students and inspire them to travel and to develop a passion for languages. Passing on that understanding of how it can really enhance your life experiences, not just in the outside world, which is really important, but also academically as well. It’s really satisfying when students have that light bulb moment, “I now understand what this means and how it works and that’s helped me understand it in my mother tongue.”