Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/336

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322
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

REASON AGAINST ROUTINE IN THE TEACHING OF LANGUAGE.

FROM THE FRENCH OF CLAUDE MARCEL.

Part I.—What Reason prescribes.

TWO Different Classes of Languages.—The mode of teaching living and dead languages is nearly the same. The differences between these two classes of languages, and the ends sought in studying them, need to be better defined.

Living languages, like the mother-tongue, are simple instruments which cannot be too soon mastered for instruction in our own social relations, and information of the political, scientific, and industrial life of other people. But dead languages are not the depositories of science, nor do they serve for the exchange of ideas; they are studied solely for the intellectual development they favor.

A professor of Greek or Latin, who knows to its foundations the language of his pupils, in teaching the ancient language, can give them critical and rational instruction—can call into exercise their highest faculties. But a foreigner, teaching his own language, rarely learns the niceties of the French, and seldom knows it as well as his pupils. He cannot, therefore, in any way, use their own language to aid them in learning his; so he only attempts to give them a practical knowledge of it. Hence the methods of studying these two classes of languages should differ essentially. Exercises in the ancient languages should be a gymnastic of the mind resulting from their comparison with the national idiom; each lesson in Latin being also a lesson in French. Exercises in modern languages should be vehicles of thought without the intervention of the national idiom, and they should be so familiar as to become, through reading and hearing, sources of natural instruction.

The complete knowledge of a language includes four distinct arts—reading, hearing, speaking, writing. In an ancient language we need only the first of these arts. Its study should have no aim but that of giving the pupils the ability to read the classical authors, and appreciate the charm of their compositions. It is in meditating on the thoughts of the great writers of antiquity, and in translating their masterpieces, that we discover their beauties, and are able to transfer them into our native language.

In living languages these four arts should be the object of study. To say that one class of languages is learned to be spoken, and the other class to be read, does not express the exact difference of aim in the two cases. The art of speaking is useless unless we understand what is said, and this talent of understanding is a hundred times more