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Surval Blog: Celebrating European Day of Languages

26 September 2019

I love commuting between languages - just like I love commuting between cultures and cities. – Elif Safak

A love of languages lies at the heart of Surval. Lessons are taught in either English or French, but our international student and staff body means that many more languages are spoken throughout the day, with informal teaching of languages frequently taking place between the girls; all of whom, when asked, will cite discovering other languages and cultures as one of their key reasons for choosing Surval as a place to live and learn. There was no way, therefore, that we could let European Day of Languages pass unobserved…

Today’s celebrations of the Day begin with an assembly led by our new Head of Boarding, Mrs Wilkinson. A Scots native with a degree in French and Spanish, Mrs Wilkinson began by asking everyone how they were doing in Scots Gaelic – “Ciamar a tha sibh?”, if you’re wondering! – before going on to share a very useful French phrase: “Voulez vouz un croissant?” (We would recommend replying with "Oui!") Different students and staff then took it in turns to share a phrase in their own language – Welsh, Irish, Swiss-German, Spanish, Russian, Czech, Italian…Then, later in the day, Mrs Wilkinson hosted a European Languages Tournament, with much merriment taking place as students and staff were quizzed on their general knowledge in this area.

Those with a keen interest in languages will already know that Surval’s international language of English is the second most spoken language in the world today, with 983 million speakers – still some way off the most spoken language of Mandarin Chinese – 1.1 billion speakers worldwide. Spanish, a language frequently heard at Surval, is fourth most spoken, with 527 million speakers.

So you might be wondering – how many people speak Scots Gaelic, the language Mrs Wilkinson began the assembly with? In a survey conducted in 2011, only 57000 people in Scotland were able to say that they were fluent in Scots Gaelic, out of a population of over 5 million. The once native language was purposefully eradicated in earlier centuries, in particular with the passing of the Education (Scotland) Act in 1872, an act which mandated the exclusive use of English-medium education in Scotland, in effect banning Scottish Gaelic medium education in a country for which, for nearly 300000 Scots in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, it was their first and only tongue.

Following this, students who spoke their native Gaelic in the playground could be subject to corporal punishment. The language rapidly died out in Scotland as a result; yet, today, there is a Scots Gaelic revival taking place, with over sixty schools across Scotland offering a Gaelic-medium education. The reason? “The expectation is that, as time passes, these young Gaels will revitalise a language that is intricately tied up with their country’s identity.”

And this brings us to the reason for celebrating European Day of Languages; its origins stems from the Council of Europe’s conviction that "linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent." Not only does learning other languages and celebrating the many spoken tongues of Europe help promote a better understanding of different countries and cultures, but taking the time to learn about the history of language in our own country (or countries) gives us an insight into our own culture (or cultures) that it is impossible to place a value on. It is wonderful that so many of us here at Surval want to discover other languages, both European and worldwide – yet how much do we know about the linguistic history of our own countries? – the languages that are spoken; the languages that are dying – or, perhaps, like Scots Gaelic, the languages that are being revived; and the languages that are now dead.

If languages are your passion, there truly is an infinite amount to discover…

And so, here is a little bit of suggested further reading on this wonderful day of language celebration - and feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments on our Instagram post on the day…

The man bringing dead languages back to life 

Why you should learn a dead language

(For the British who voted Remain) Learn another European language – and give two fingers to Brexit Britain

And by several of our own Surval students:

The importance of learning a foreign language (Alexa, former FY student, Mexico)

Discovering Swiss Culture (Gimena, former Liberal Arts / Swiss Gap Programme student, Mexico)

A Day in the Life of a Surval Summer Camper (Nastya, currently in G12, Russia)