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Author of the Child in both languages, professor at the College of France, Claude Hagège campaign so that children can learn from primary school two foreign languages, and not necessarily English first. Interview.
Why do you say that children should learn foreign languages sooner?
- To allow the child to reveal his immense abilities. Until the age of 6 months, he can finely distinguish all the phonetic nuances that differentiate languages. Then, he loses this ability gradually over the months, lack of stimulation, probably. But this potential is only dormant, and for a long time, a child remains very receptive. He can acquire, as far as pronunciation is concerned, linguistic competences comparable to the mastery of a mother tongue, at least up to eleven years. It would be a shame to wait for college entrance to initiate! After that, it's not too late, and we can learn new languages as adults. But acquisitions are based on other forms of work, thanks to a good command of grammar and lexicon.
You recommend introducing two living languages at school. It's not a bit heavy?
- I think, on the contrary, that the current content of learning at school is much lower than that which can be assimilated to children. Their abilities are underutilized. One must take advantage of the grace period of their first ten or eleven years to teach them languages. Admittedly, the question of the volume of class hours arises. But it is possible to kill two birds with one stone and to teach, for example, geography, history, why not sport, in a foreign language.
Why do you denounce that English is taught in first language?
- I respect that language, as well as English or American culture, of course. But the omnipresence of English leads to the destruction of a multitude of languages less spoken and soon forgotten. We must save these to ensure maximum diversity, the only way to guarantee the wealth of thought.
What do you recommend to promote children's open-mindedness?
- To guarantee this openness at an early age, one should not start with English at school, but with another living language. So with family, whenever you stay abroad, or if you just love a country, it is good to consult together a manual to discover a few words, expressions. At school to do the rest by multiplying, for example, the teaching of certain classical subjects in foreign languages, or the exchanges of teachers between European countries.
This supposes a very important school reform ...
- Yes, I have designed a five-point reform that is based, first of all, on the early introduction of languages, from kindergarten. Second point: it is essential to change the conception of languages and to consider them as tools, tools for exchange based on the game. Third point: immersion by massive exchanges of masters in Europe (or world), in order to offer lessons in the speaker's original language. This solves the problem of training teachers who do not necessarily speak several languages today. The fourth point of my program: the permanent maintenance of knowledge; this assumes a lasting political and family will, ensuring a continuous supply of knowledge over the years. Finally, my last point: make the right choice of languages taught in primary. And my preference does not go to English. Let's start with German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, etc.
Interviewed by Sophie Viguier-Vinson