So, this isn’t so much a pitch for languages in schools, but more WHY YOU SHOULD ALL GO LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE, at least to the point where you can read a book in another language. You might not be debating philosophy in it, but be able to read and understand a foreign language. Here’s my story of a practical reason why….
As I have mentioned maybe a million times at this point, I am a college student. As a college student, I am writing essays on stuff and doing research and whatnot. I have this handy-dandy book on Cheri Samba that I got years ago that has some of his art works as well as an interview done in French, with English translation alongside it. I’m using this as a source for one of my papers, and it’s great. I’ve used it for various presentations in French class throughout the years (If you’ve got a presentation that works, why change your approach? Just change the presentation).
I’ve read the text, of course, but I’ve never looked at it so closely as I am right now, looking for textual evidence for my essay. It was when I was doing this, comparing the French interview transcript to the English translation when I decided that there were spots I wanted to use where the translation didn’t sit well with me, and I would have preferred a different word choice in the English. Since I’m doing my paper in English, not French, the words I write in English are what really matter. SO, I’m translating all the French quotations myself, using the English as more of a guideline as I read through quickly to find the bits I want to use and re-translate.
Will this likely to be something you’ll do some day? If you’re getting an advanced degree in English, I wouldn’t doubt it. In fact, most Masters programs in English REQUIRE you to take a foreign language so that you’re proficient enough to do your own translations (a couple of years worth of college-level language for the ones most people choose). Unfortunately, by the time you get to that point your language learning capacity is a fraction of what it would have been if you’d started learning the language when you were younger. I started with Spanish and French in grade school, so I can pretty much read any novel in those languages that you put in front of me, although my speaking leaves something to be desired. It’s not quick as it is in English, and my plodding through Don Quixote de la Mancha in it’s original language is much slower than my whizzing through A Song of Ice and Fire in it’s original language. But it’s still a very useful skill. It’s nice not to read the footnotes to decipher the French terms in Anna Karenina, even if my Russian isn’t up to snuff for reading that in it’s original language. Someday, maybe.
The long and short of it is that all writers should be at least familiar with other languages, because you never know when the urge to read Goethe in German will strike. Or not.