The importance of languages

On the internet, numerous articles present us with the 5, 10, 20 reasons to learn a language. They mention economic power, education and jobs abroad, trips around the world. It is an undeniable fact that speaking several languages provides some opportunities, but it is a pity that the economic performance is the most sought-after benefit of foreign languages at the expense of essential and human benefits.

If one relies on economic reasons, then only the languages spoken in the business world deserve to be learned. This line of reasoning benefits the detractors of language learning in English schools. Liam Mullone, in an article for the Spectator, wrote: "It's just that I want my children to be successful, and learning French makes no business sense." Jeremy Paxman, in an article for the Financial Times, echoes this sentiment: "The outcome of the struggle is clear: English is the language of science, technology, travel, entertainment and sport. To be a citizen of the world it is the one language that you must have”. 

However, it seems that these two gentlemen have forgotten the essence of the languages. Languages cannot be reduced to a simple means to professional success. They express our thoughts, our ideas, our identity, our culture. 

Discovering one or several foreign cultures gives us a more open view to the world. Moreover, according to an American study conducted by Samantha Fan, and Zoe Lieberman of the University of Chicago, “ to understand a speaker’s intention, one must take the speaker’s perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking.” Learning a language, pushes us to acquire a profound knowledge of the other. It allows us to feel that we are integrating a culture.

In addition, and this is the greatest power of learning languages, it offers a more profound self-awareness. To learn a language is to discover who we are, it is to know our values, our passions, our struggles. It is to live new emotions and become better citizensof the world. 

Of course, languages help to succeed in one’s professional life, but what is essential, as Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk said, is that “the more languages you know, the more you are human.”

Reading a French Novel

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Reading in French allows you to increase your vocabulary and get a better grasp of grammatical structures. There is a wide range of texts you can choose from : there are magazines, newspapers, blogs … and there are novels. Reading a novel in a foreign language can be challenging but as soon as you finish your book, you experience a wonderful sense of achievement and pride. I will always remember finishing La casa de los espíritus by Isabel Allende in Spanish. Not only did I enjoy the story but also I felt a real sense of accomplishment.  

It is important to choose a novel at the right level. If you choose too challenging a book, you have more chance to get frustrated and quickly give up. 

Once you have selected your book, you can find an electronic version. Reading on a e-reader or tablet will allow you to look up unknown vocabulary easily. You just need to download a French dictionary and a bilingual dictionary. Looking up words becomes faster and you are able to review them at the end of your reading session. 

You can also listen to the audiobook version of your novel while following the words. However, I would recommend reading each chapter first as the reading pace may add an extra challenge. 

Here are a few suggestions : 


Easy - Intermediate (A2-B1) 

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Jean-Louis Fournier portrays his father through the eyes of the child he used to be. His father was a generous doctor, who looked after his clients even if they could not afford his consultations. He could be light-hearted and full of humour, but he was also an alcoholic and could be bad-tempered, irresponsible and cruel when he had had too much to drink.  

This bitter sweet and moving novel is made of short chapters and successive anecdotes which are accessible to intermediate learners. 

Monsieur Linh is an elderly Vietnamese refugee who has endured a long journey by boat with his baby grand daughter and one old suitcase. He has seen his homeland destroyed by foreign soldiers, his village, fields, buildings and population burnt and killed, including his son and daughter-in-law. All that is left is the baby, Sang Diu. Monsieur Linh arrives in a city in France, and is moved to a refugee centre where he lives in a dormitory like place with other refugees. He is lonely, homesick, deeply traumatised, only living to devote his whole self to his care of the child.

This is a moving story that make us think about the fate of refugees. The vocabulary and the structures are simple.


Intermediate (B1-B2) 

Erik Orsenna makes us love words and French grammar with his poetic, fun and moving tale. It is the story of two children who are castaway and who lost their vocabulary during the storm. While discovering the island where they landed, they recover, little by little, the power of speech.

An endearing story for young and old. 

 

In Ni d'Ève, ni d'Adam, Amélie Nothomb writes about her private experience when she was living in Japan and tells us about her love story with Rinri, a young Japanese man who wanted to learn French. We discover another side of Japanese culture.

This is a charming book. the vocabulary and the style are not challenging.


Intermediate - Advanced (B2 - C1) 
 

Sorj Chalandon, a former journalist for Libération, who covered events and wars in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq …  wrote this violent and yet emotional story.
Le quatrième mur is the story of an impossible dream, a story of hope beyond hatred. Sam wants to produce a play in Lebanon with actors from the different communities at war. As he gets ill, George will help him pursue his dream by going to Lebanon and staging Antigone. 

This book will not leave you unscathed. It shows the abyssal gap between our lives and the ones of people who live in countries devastated by war. 

 


Of all the things I have mentioned above, I think that choosing the right length and level of book is the most important. However as with anything you get out what you put in! If you challenge yourself and keep going the satisfaction and sense of achievement will be worth it.