The auditorium at MSA-East was alive with the sounds and dances of countries around the world as the school’s foreign language students last Friday.
The program was a celebration of National Foreign Language Week, a concept originally conceived by late Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.
The theme of the program was “languages lead us on a path to understanding other cultures,” a point driven home by the program’s enthusiastic keynote speaker, Misagh Naderi, Ph.D.
He began by explaining the importance of foreign languages, how many words have been mispronounced for hundreds of years and by pointing out homo sapiens reached the top of the food chain because of our ability to communicate.
“From an evolutionary perspective, homo sapiens in general were not physically more powerful or faster than the top predators,” Naderi said, leading to the human species only reaching the middle of the food chain.
“But in less than 100,000 years, they claimed their irrefutable spot on the top of the food chain, superseding predators such as lion and tigers who got to the top after millions of years,” he continued. “What made that possible was humans’ ability to form complex social constructs.”
One of the first leaders to recognize that ability to form civilized societies was Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenids dynasty, the largest empire known to man at the time, Naderi said.
He accomplished that feat using the concept of a central government and an official language, a concept that has been preserved worldwide since 500 BC, the LSU researcher said.
“The undeniable necessary prerequisite for the accomplishment was a form of verbal communication that could relay natural phenomena as well as stories of supernatural ideas of hope and of brotherhood,” Naderi said, adding that our need for languages is the basis of the difference between humans and other species.”
He talked about the need to learn foreign languages for numerous reasons, including travel to foreign countries, possibly working in a foreign country and others “which require understanding other languages and subsequently other cultures,” he continued.
Naderi also compared to the challenge of learning a foreign language as a way to strengthen the brain much like exercise strengthens muscles.
“Study has shown that the challenge of learning a new language exercises different parts of your brain in a way that nothing else does,” he said.
The idea for the program, which included a dramatic dance performance near its conclusion, came from one of the school’s Spanish teachers, Sara O’Neal.
“I got this idea after I went to a school in Lafayette that had activities related to foreign cultures and I fell in love with it,” she said. A visit to an international themed festival in Baton Rouge further enthused O’Neal.
“I thought this is what my students need to integrate the foreign language and to love the culture,” she said, adding she hoped it would also spark a heightened appreciation for learning their chose foreign language.
“It seemed to be what they were looking for and I though it was the best way to learn and to open their eyes to tolerance of other cultures,” O’Neal said. “We are all different. Nobody is the same and for me, having the students understand that was important.”