The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
An International School.
The High Schools of England are admirable institutions, and contrast as light against darkness with the Boarding Schools in which our mothers and grandmothers were instructed in Mangnall's questions, and the use of the globes; but, if it might be permitted to point out a defect, I would call attention to the inefficient way in which modern languages are taught in them, and observe that in this respect our schools are behind all Continental schools. There is something perhaps in our insularity which makes it difficult for us to learn the speech of others. There is literally a great gulf fixed between us and all other nations, so that we can never come shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours, as the Continental nations do on the borders of their respective countries. This is perhaps the reason why we give up all attempt to gain a practical and serviceable knowledge of any language, beginning with hard dry rules of grammar, which the pupils learn off by rote and forget immediately, because these rules have never really been grasped by their thinking faculties. The power of conversation in any foreign language is not cultivated at all. Send a girl who has only studied languages at a High School to France or Germany, and she will find her knowledge of no practical use to her whatever. Set her to converse with any unfortunate native of either of these countries who does not know English, and the conversation will not proceed far. Italian, the most beautiful, and one of the most useful of modern languages, is not taught at all, and there our grandmothers had the advantage of us, for they usually were taught a smattering.
Now, I believe that in any Continental school whatever languages are taught in a more practical manner. The pupil begins by acquiring a considerable vocabulary. She will learn to speak, to read, and to write from dictation, and not till custom has made her familiar with the construction will she learn the rules of grammar, in which she will then take a certain interest, because we like to know the why and wherefore of phenomena with which we are acquainted. Without familiarity with the example, the rule is apt to convey no meaning to us.
There is an International School in Naples founded by the foreign residents; there girls belonging to four different nations are all taught together, without any confusion or any partiality being shown for one race over another. Except that Latin is not taught, I believe it to be inferior to no High School in the matter of general instruction, while four languages are not only taught, but thoroughly learnt. It will be remarked that a school in which the pupils are of different nations must be in a more favourable condition for the learning of languages than any English school can be; and it is undeniably true that when English, French, Italian, and German girls are learning and playing side by side, they acquire without any direct effort much of one another's language. This gives an advantage which no English school can possess, but I see no reason why the same method of instruction should not be pursued in English schools.
If French were taught by a French man or woman in the French language; if, instead of dry, scarcely intelligible rules of grammar, a larger vocabulary were acquired; and if spelling were learnt through writing dictation (the only way in which it ever is learnt), I think that the result would be a more useful and practical knowledge of the language than is attained under the present system.
I suppose it would be too much to ask that mistresses and pupils should habitually speak a foreign language together--French and German on alternate days or weeks, for instance. Such a system can perhaps only be carried out in an International School. There, the method is practised with great success.
For one entire week general conversation is conducted in French, the second in German, and so forth, until all the four languages have had their turn. The head mistress of this school is German, the great majority of the pupils Italian and German, the races being often mixed in the same individual. The French girls are a small minority, yet French is the favoured language amongst the pupils. There are few wholly English girls, but these are provided with an English mistress, and their language by no mean neglected. The difficulty of bringing together for the same course of instruction children of different race, habits, characteristics, religion, and language may well seem almost insuperable, but it has been surmounted not only in the girls' school, but in that organised for boys on the same principle, in the same town; and his is equally excellent and successful with that for girls, although regulated in rather a different manner. One cannot but think that what appears a smaller difficulty--that of teaching foreign languages in a useful manner to our insular children--might be surmounted likewise.
Typed by happi, Sept 2017
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