The Corner

Re: Language Skills

My yesterday post on this generated a big email bag, with all sorts of opinions going off in several different directions.  Commonest themes:

—I shouldn’t be so sniffy about Spanish having low value in the job market because (according to me) Spanish-speaking is too commonplace a skill.  Fluency in Spanish, people tell me, is actually much in demand in the higher professions–doctoring, lawyering–and there is real value-added to anyone aiming at those professions in being able to speak Spanish.  [Me] That’s because we currently have masses of people in this country whose first language is Spanish, and who speak English imperfectly, or not at all.  Will that be true 15-20 years from now?  I doubt it.   

—French and Italian are dying languages, spoken by dwindling populations of near-zero geostrategic or commercial significance.  [Me] Possibly so, if you are looking at the world from the outside.  A visiting Martian who decided to equip himself with four or five useful Earth languages likely wouldn’t bother with French or Italian.  My kids, however, are not coming at the world from outside.  They’re coming at it from within the tradition of Western, European civilization.  French and Italian–yes, and Latin, too–are key languages of that tradition, that civilization.  Let’s show some civilizational loyalty, please.

—Why three Romance languages?  Might as well just teach the brats Latin and have done with it.  [Me] I’m cool with that.  But yes, on my previous point, German certainly belongs there–more than Spanish, in fact, on that point.  No offense to anyone, but Spain was always a bit of an outlier of Western Civ.  Name a Spanish mathematician; hum a tune from a Spanish opera; etc., etc.  

—”Spanish is the Loving Tongue.” [Me] Yeah, yeah.  If I’m going to set my child’s course in life based on my affection for old Bob Dylan songs, I may as well just go out & buy him a big brass bed.  As for the language of love… see below.  (Though I’m pretty sure that when Cupid means business, any language will do just fine.)

—Why no Latin?  [Me] Because it’s a MIDDLE SCHOOL.  The local HS has Latin, but my boy isn’t there yet.  And incidentally, to the reader who scoffed at Latin on the grounds that it is useless for picking up girls:  Sir, you are WRONG.  It can be done.  I can testify.  You just need to know your Catullus.  “Da me basia mille deinde centum…”  Spanish the loving tongue?  Pah!  

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