I haven’t written part two of the essay. Part of the reason is that I’ve been distracted by something more important, but the other part is that it’s hard and I’m still struggling to overcome my academic laziness.
I am not proud of this. I like to hope that announcing my weakness will motivate me to overcome it. I see it as similar to telling everyone I’ve started a diet. Which I haven’t. Just to be clear. So no weight comments, please.
I was scrubbing the grout on the kitchen floor yesterday and entertaining myself by listening to a lecture about the Middle Ages. (Synopsis: Black Death=Bad; Printing Press=Good)
I was sort of tuning in and out when the professor mentioned the shift in scholarship from the Continent to Britain. For a long time all of the great church scholars had been from Italy, but all of a sudden you had guys like Thomas Aquinas and William Ockham coming out of England and Ireland and taking over the academic world. Why was this?
It’s because they didn’t speak Latin. Rather, they didn’t understand Latin natively. Italian is derived from Latin. French is derived from Latin. Spanish is derived from Latin. But English is not. English is a Germanic language that is completely unrelated to Latin. The theory is that Continental scholars didn’t have to work as hard in their studies (all in Latin) because they already spoke a language that was very close to Latin.
They were lazy students, and the Brits took over the world because they had to study harder to learn anything.
I contemplated this point as my aunt and I met with her surgeon this afternoon. He moved to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was in his teens, learned English, graduated from a local high school, and got a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He spent five years at IBM before going to medical school and becoming a surgeon. He’s been in practice 10 years.
Obviously this man is brilliant. More amazingly (to me, anyway) he’s an incredible student. I can’t imagine ever being motivated enough to get the education required for either an engineering or a medical career. He’s done both.
I’ve read that graduate students in science and engineering at the top American universities mostly come from foreign countries where English is not the native language. I’ve observed that the three local M.D.s I’ve talked to this week grew up speaking Vietnamese, Turkish, and Spanish.
It has me wondering: is there some truth to this theory that people who are forced to overcome a language barrier make better students of subjects that require intense study? Are we undergoing a cultural shift whereby most of America’s doctors and engineers will speak English as a second language?
Something for me to ponder as I avoid serious thinking.
Categories: Brain Workouts