A mother from Barcelona spoke to me the other day about her 8-year-old daughter’s recent conversation with a friend. They had several languages in common, and the suggested that they stopped speaking Hungarian together. She said it wasn’t important as they only went to Hungary in the summer anyway.
How should we determine the value of a language? There is a very widespread view that the more people use a language, the more important it is, but it also doesn’t hurt if it that language happens to be used in one of the wealthiest countries. But are there other criteria we should consider?
Every language we learn makes the process of learning a new language slightly easier, and the help that this provides should not be underestimated. We can count on this support not only in the case of languages that are similar to each other, but also when learning dissimilar languages. This is because when we learn, we not only learn the information, but we also learn strategies for language acquisition. So the skills acquired through the learning process itself will also help us. I would like to emphasize that the methodological knowledge of each language teacher or person teaching a language contributes to the success of the person learning the language, whether they are a child or an adult. I am not only referring to foreign language teachers, but also to those who teach their mother tongue. Adult language learners, for example, sometimes report that they no longer remember parts of speech, so, for example, the difference between a verb and a noun might not be. This deficiency in the acquisition of the mother tongue causes a serious disadvantage when learning other languages. The less awareness we have of how we use our mother tongue, the more difficult it will be to learn foreign languages. But the opposite is also true. The higher the level of proficiency we have in one language, the more likely we are to start learning another one, and another one, and another one, and so on.
Methods of language learning, including methods for learning a mother tongue, can be different in different cultures. For example, in some cultures the spoken language is more dominant until the start of school, and at school the focus is on using language in group interactions. However, other cultures encourage parents to read to children from a very early age, and when children start school, books are a big part of the language acquisition process. I could give more examples, but I just wanted to highlight that these types of factors also affect the learning processes for languages other than the mother tongue. So to sum up, every language is valuable, and not only because it offers new perspectives, but because while learning any language, we acquire a lot of skills that will help us to learn other languages as well.
If we learn to see the value in different languages, each of them can offer us a new interpretation of the world. In one language, time factors might be more nuanced; in another, the place and location of things could be given greater emphasis, etc., and through specific metaphors, we can truly marvel at our environment or life itself from new perspectives. The possibility of seeing the same things from different points of view stimulates our creativity and actually strengthens our freedom, since it allows us to choose which aspect we identify with the most.