Europe is a continent of many languages. Whether it is the European Union’s constant strive to teach multilingualism or individual European countries’ need to engage in multilingual environments, it is clear that speaking more than one’s native language is a must for Europeans.
Being bilingual has many benefits for one’s health, such as better memory, stronger ‘mental muscles’, even, as a BBC article notes, “faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia.” And, as research continues, more such advantages are being discovered. It seems it does the mind good to be fluent in more than one tongue. And the more languages one adds the greater the cognitive gains.
In light of such data, and, perhaps, most importantly, in light of the needs every country has with regard to communication, the educational systems in Europe, and indeed across the world, make efforts to teach their youth different languages. They do this in schools or through tutors.
However, there is one particular way of language instruction which has been often overlooked. Constantly in the background and ever-present in people’s lives, whether they watch it as a pastime or not, is, still, the television. Random movies or news stations, sports events or documentaries, one way or another, everyone is exposed to this piece of technology. This is something which can be transformed into a very useful tool for language instruction.
If a child spends any amount of time exposed to television, a streaming service, cinema or related media, it is an opportunity for them to learn a new language. The same goes for adults, although it might take them longer to acquire the language.
Many of my peers in Romania, myself included, have learned English, Spanish, Japanese and/ or other languages through television. They were exposed to the language before they went to school, where, many continued their linguistic instruction. This was possible thanks to the fact that subtitles were used instead of voiceovers. That way the child may acquire better reading skills in their own language and enrich their vocabulary, while also learning to speak a new one. The more subtitle options they have the more languages they can access. And, the more channels from different countries they have, the better.
One might argue that more voiceover options in different languages would work just as well. However, this would not be as advantageous, since, usually the native language of the program comes with mannerisms and body language linked directly to the spoken language. This would make it harder to learn the dubbed languages in their cultural context. Moreover, there is no replacing the capacity of a young mind to learn a tongue and cultural skills through listening and watching. That is, after all, how we all learn to understand and blend into our own cultures.
The most important thing here is, however, choice. Therefore, perhaps it would be a good idea to have more options in terms of dubbing and captioning, such as one would find on a DVD. That way one can be assured that the choice of whether or not they might have access to an original language has not been made for them. And, if they wish to enrich the experience by exploring more variants this would be their decision.
If such options are not explored, a state which dubs their media programs and, at the same time, endeavors to teach their youth foreign languages, is making its task much harder. It is important for countries to use this powerful tool of language acquisition. And, ultimately, it is important for them to respect their citizens’ freedom to decide whether they will acquire these skills or not, instead of forcing the choice upon them.