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DRAMA AND POETRY.
W. C. Bryant
STUDY OF LANGUAGES.
LANGUAGE, of all subjects, deserves attention. Its acquisition commences with the cradle; its practical application terminates only in death. On its perfection depends that of all human knowledge. Through it alone can social enjoyment be had, and mental acquirements be made. It need not, therefore, excite surprise, that the most eminent writers and philosophers have suggested means for the acquisition of languages.
From the natural progress of civilization, the arts and sciences have assumed an importance which has called forth a corresponding advance in the cultivation of the languages of those nations whose high state of cultivation, and rich literature, have rendered their idioms powerful auxiliaries in the acquisition of useful knowledge, the formation of taste, and the discipline of the mental faculties. At first confined to the privileged few, a knowledge of these languages was looked upon rather in the light of a fashionable accomplishment. As their practical value became more apparent, they began to be studied also for utility's sake. It is only since the luxury of the few has become the want of the many that the real importance of the modern languages has been better understood; and that, not only with a view to the benefits consequent on their acquisition, but also as a means of intellectual cultivation, their study has become & leading branch of modern national education.
Foreign languages, indeed, should not be studied merely as a means of international intercourse, or on account of the information their writers may afford. The study of language, besides being a very wholesome mental exercise, yields in itself a class of knowledge second to none in interest or value. Language is not only the organ of thought, the medium of communication between mind and mind; but so inseparable is word from thought, so instantaneously does each suggest the other, that it has been forcibly contended that without words—not necessarily written or even spoken, but conceived-thoughts would be impossible. Useful, then, as a second language may be, either to extend our circle of communication, or to multiply our sources of information, it will assume a much higher importance, if its study be made subservient to a more profound knowledge of the native tongue, to the formation of taste, and the cultivation of the intellectual powers.
Among the foreign languages studied with this view some are more appropriate than others, and the result depends in no small measure on the mode of their acquisition. As a general rule, it has been admitted that the more unlike those languages are to the mother tongue, the greater is the advantage. But this single consideration of
unlikeness is clearly not sufficient to determine the choice of a language for comparison or contrast. No one has yet suggested the study of Chinese as an admirable means of mental discipline for the young. Other considerations, then, come into view deciding the selection. Of these may be stated three, which are, perhaps, the most important: 1st, The utility of the languages themselves to the future man in the intercourse of life; 2d, the value of the literature locked up in the strange tongues; 3d, the degree of their etymological relation to the mother tongue-an advantage not incompatible with that arising from the diversities of construction and of idiomn. On these three especially should be founded the selection of the foreign languages to be studied, and by their test the question of priority decided, should the acquisition of more than one language be contemplated, which further must depend on the future avocations of the learner, and the peculiar circumstances in which he may be placed.*
But whatever be the course determined upon, let it be well considered that although foreign languages are studied mainly with a view to the ultimate benefits to be derived from their complete possession, intellectual education should be the object principally aimed at in the process of their acquisition. The mother tongue cannot, in mental training, supply the place of a foreign idiom; for it is so intimately associated with our feelings, so identified with our habits of thought, so much a part of ourselves, that it easily escapes analysis and critical investigation. It is by its comparison with other idioms that the powers of the mind are evolved, and sound notions of grammatical science are formed. At the same time, it must be remembered, that, great as is the mental action which the study of a foreign language calls forth, it is limited in its effects; for each department of knowledge is addressed to some particular class of faculties. Intellectual superiority results from the harmonious development of all mental powers. Sciences and arts should, therefore, concur with literature and languages in producing a perfectly cultivated mind.
The objects of instruction being thus considerably multiplied, the time formerly devoted to linguistic learning must be proportionally shortened, to make room for the study of branches of knowledge indispensable to our advanced state of civilization. By abandoning the old system of tradition and routine, and by substituting a method founded upon sound philosophical principles, this object may be attained, not only without prejudice to the learner, but even to his advantage, by better applying his faculties. Method is to instruction, what machinery is in manufacture. We do not find that human labor is superseded; it is only better directed; men work as hard as ever, only they produce ten times more, and the task is better performed. Why, then, not apply to mind, as we have long done to matter, improved powers, improved combinations, and improved processes. Let a rational method be adopted; and we have no doubt that, by keeping constantly in view the real object of literary studies, and rejecting from them whatever is useless, foreign languages, ancient and modern, may be learned not only concurrently with, and subserviently to, scientific and industrial pursuits, but in such a manner also as to insure both their complete possession and the incidental benefits which arise from their study. The importance of the subject will be our motive as well as our excuse for entering into details, and for submitting the following remarks to the attention of the reader.
It is in the faculties of man, and in their mode of action in the acquisition of knowledge, that we must seek for the general principles on which the science of method is
*On this subject see "The Relative Importance of Ancient and Modern Languages, considered as Branches of Education." D. Appleton & Co. New York.
based. The application of these principles to any one department of instruction constitutes a particular method, and varies according to the nature of the study and the ends proposed. Confining our attention to the particular object of this essay, we will here briefly examine what are the characteristic features of the method by which languages may be best acquired.
Classification is the fundamental law of a rational method; we should ascertain what things are to be learned, and in what order they are to be learned, before we think of the mode of learning them. The mind cannot effectively attend to several distinct things at the same time, if these are all equally new; it must be abstractedly engaged on one at a time. The study of language must, therefore, be subdivided into the branches which constitute the leading objects proposed from it, namely, the arts of understanding oral expression, of reading, speaking, and writing. It is essential to distinguish these ultimate objects from the exercises which, although requisite for attaining them, are, for the greater part, of little utility after the period of study. For want of sufficient distinction on this point, the ends and the means have often been confounded together, and the former sacrificed to the latter.
The principles of subdivision and gradation, by concentrating the powers of the mind on one thing at a time, are most powerful in instruction, as well as in the affairs of life: a rational method of learning languages, in conformity with these principles, ought to indicate the successive operations which are necessary at the different stages of the acquisition, so that each may suitably prepare for that which follows, and that all may gradually concur to the end proposed. It ought to prescribe the order in which the different departments of the study may be successively entered upon. Throughout the course, and particularly at the outset, an accumulation of difficulties should be avoided, not to discourage the learner and thus damp his progress.
Time will also be saved and the period of learning much shortened, if the method be sparing of those preparatory exercises, which make the student forget the end in pursuit of the means, and which not only render his labor unprofitable, should he happen to change his course, but divest study of interest by concealing from him its ultimate and real object. Young persons are averse to the acquisition of any knowledge, the application of which is either remote or unperceived. If they are given only such exercises as are consistent with the end proposed and such as keep this end in view, they will be stimulated by their consciousness of the useful results to which their efforts may eventually lead. And as, on proceeding, they can apply their acquisition to practical purposes, success becomes a powerful incentive to exertion and a continual source of enjoyment: it is thus that a good method makes the learner find pleasure on the road of duty.
One of the chief characteristics of a good method consists in enabling learners to dispense with the assistance of a teacher when they are capable of self-government. It should be so contrived as to excite and direct their spontaneous efforts, and lead them to the conviction that they have the power, if they have the will, to acquire whatever man has acquired. The prevailing notion that we must be taught every thing is a great evil. The most extensive education given by the most skilful masters often produces but inferior characters; that alone which we give to ourselves elevates us above mediocrity. The eminence attained by great men is always the result of their own industry.
A language, more than any other branch of instruction, may, to a great extent, be acquired without the aid of a teacher; for it is based on imitation. "All languages," says the celebrated tutor of Queen Elizabeth, "both learned and mother tongues, be gotten, and gotten solely by imitation."* As a child acquires, of himself, the vernacular
* Roger Ascham, the Schoolmaster.
tongue by imitating the living models, so does an adolescent learn foreign languages by imitating the written models: in either case, the frequency of impressions tends to secure the powers of expression. If this great principle were well understood and properly applied, it would bring the knowledge of languages down to the level of the meanest capacities, and, in a great measure, within the grasp of those whose pecuniary means deny them the advantage of teachers.
The natural process by which the vernacular idiom is acquired demonstrates what can be done by self-instruction, and presents the best model for our imitation in devising & method of learning languages. Without premeditated design on his part to learn, or on that of his parents to teach him the language, a young child unconsciously gains the power of understanding it when spoken. From the moment his perceptive faculties are in full activity, prompted by curiosity, he notices the looks, the tones, the gestures, which accompany the phraseology addressed to him, and, aided by sympathy, he readily apprehends the idea conveyed by the language of action. Once in possession of the idea, he instinctively associates it with the phraseology, the representative character of which becomes obvious to him by repetition. Thus he gradually masters the import of words, and finally understands the articulate language independently of the natural signs.
As the child, afterwards, wishes to express his particular wants and feelings, he instinctively repeats the expressions he has heard; but mostly modifies them conformably to others which are familiar to him: he adapts to different words, the order, verbal inflections, and grammatical concord, which he has heard used on similar occasions. When he repeats the expressions which he has heard, he speaks by imitation; when he alters them, and forms similar ones which he never heard before, he speaks by analogy. The one exercises his memory, the other his judgment. Such imitations and analogies, the first manifestations of his dawning reason, permit him always to suit his language to his social wants; analogy, especially, enables him to multiply his expressions in proportion to his increasing stock of ideas. It is from imitation and analogy that custom derives its authority in language.
Curiosity, sympathy, and perception, are sufficient to enable a young child to understand what is said-imitation and analogy to enable him to speak. The same result would be obtained in a foreign language, if these various faculties could be made to act a prominent part in the learning of it, but this cannot always be done completely; two of these faculties-sympathy and perception-are more especially suited to the social condition of infancy, and are not generally available in acquiring a foreign language after this period. However, our mental constitution provides for this deficiency, because their place is efficiently supplied by imagination and conception, which act respectively in the absence of persons and things as sympathy and perception do in their presence. With regard to the other three faculties,-curiosity, imitation, and analogy, -they are active and efficient at every period of life, and ought, consequently, to be resorted to in a rational method.
Although circumstances do not always permit the complete adaptation of the method of nature to the study of a foreign language, the fundamental principles on which it rests should always be kept in view, namely, example and practice. By these principles the child is easily and successfully led from the ideas to the signs, from the phraseology to the words, from the facts of language to the rules of grammar. By them also he may be led in a foreign, as in the native tongue, from hearing to speaking, and from reading to writing.
The complete knowledge of a language consists in the power of using it readily in all its forms and in every way in which it is required. This power depends on example more than on precept, on practice more than on theory. None of these great principles,