One of my earliest influences as an educator was a man I never met : Frank Bell, who between 1942 and 1945 set up a clandestine university in the horror of a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the country now known as Myanmar, improving morale and keeping his colleagues active mentally with a curriculum made up principally of languages but including Public Speaking and even Pig Farming.
When he returned to Cambridge after the war, Bell established a language school in the town, specifically with the objective of bringing together students of many nationalities in the same classroom to learn English; but he knew, as all educators do, that however important the subject taught in a classroom might be, the process of study, and the benefits it brings, are equally important. He hoped, in a small way, to contribute through English teaching to understanding between people of different nations. He always guaranteed scholarships to enable Japanese students to study at his schools, and to immerse themselves in the English language and British culture.
While learning a language no doubt contributes, as Frank Bell hoped, to international understanding, there are many other benefits.
Every language offers a different perspective on the world, and when we learn a language to a high level, it allows us to see and understand the world from that different perspective . More than learning a new set of words for things, it enables us to think in a different way, to be more flexible in the way we see things.
Claims can certainly be made that speakers of several languages perform better academically, have better memory function and enhanced problem-solving skills. Perhaps more to the point, each language I speak makes it easier for me to connect, understand, empathise and do business with other speakers of that language – to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, if you talk to a person in a language they understand, you speak to their head; but if you speak to them in their own language, you speak to their heart.
World Mother Tongue Day reminds us of the importance of multilingualism, of the diversity of world languages. It seems there are some 6,500 languages existing in the world, and some 43 % of the world’s population are fluent in at least two – their mother tongue, and a more widely-spoken national or international language.
I’m proud to say that Kensington students, by the time they leave the school, have joined the 13 % of the global population who speak three languages or more – English, Spanish and French. In addition, we have mother tongue speakers of a surprising number of languages on our staff- Irish, Welsh, Hindi, Farsi, Tagalog, Russian, Croat… so best wishes for World Mother Tongue Day !
As we move forward as part of the Inspired family of schools, the opportunities for our children to communicate with other students across the world will grow, particularly as vaccination programmes roll out and we recover some of our much-missed mobility.
I hope you enjoy reading in out newsletter about the children’s study of Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the work they have done on the life of Nelson Mandela : each, in their own way, a small step in developing new perspectives, new understandings, as they move forward in their understanding of the world. I also hope you enjoy reading about Jesús Camuñas our former caretaker, who passed away this month. May he rest in peace.