La Rivista per l'insegnamento e l'apprendimento delle lingue

Some thoughts on three articles that appear in Babylonia 4/2001

Anthony Wood

In autumn 2001 there was an accident at the south end of the St Gotthard tunnel; rescue, fire-fighting and other services were provided by the Tessiners. I was impressed by the facility with which the various spokesmen, all Tessiners, dealt with reporters from German, French and even English language media. This must be a credit to the language teaching and teachers of the canton.
The articles by Philippe Perrenoud and Gianni Ghisla’s (pp 28 & 35) are to my mind well-argued and weighty and I suspect that there are truths in both. As an Englishman, however, who is very sensitive to the massacre of his language not only abroad but also in his own country, I appreciate greatly Gianni Ghisla’s article starting on page 49. In the 50’s/60’s I lived in Montreal; had Anglophone Canadians made an effort to learn French and had Anglophone businesses conducted the affairs within Québec in French the guns of the “séparatistes” would to a great extent have been spiked. Much the same can be said of Belgium where I have had the good fortune of spending 14 years of my life; but in this case it is the Francophones who are at fault; whilst the Flemings had traditionally been well taught in French, the same cannot be said of Wallons and French-speaking Bruxellois. What happened? The Flemings stopped learning French and the others continued to ignore Dutch; both now, but especially the Flemings, give priority to English. It is surely tragically wrong for countries where two or more languages are spoken to choose the “English option”. More particularly, for Tessiners whose economic future (as well as present and past) is closely bound to that of their German-speaking neighbours across the Alps, German must of all languages be vital. In the NZZ of 15 April 2002 I read on page 35 in an article on Tessiners in Zurich “es sei vor allem die Sprache, die es erschwehre, Kontakte aufzubauen und Freundschaft zu pflegen ”.
Although I love the French language I question the utility of teaching it as an obligatory subject in the Tessin.
One final thought I permit myself: I have two children who are gifted linguists but dunces at figures and three grandchildren who are first class mathematicians but do not quite match the language facility of my children. Is it really necessary to try to pump even German, let alone French, into the heads of unwilling pupils? Let the parents choose.