26 NOVEMBER 1887, Page 39

A general dislike to learn anything avoidable is not an

in- capacity to learn living languages, more especially when they always are learned by the same boys under pressure of necessity. Missionaries are quite average persona in intellectual power, and are apt from concentration of ideas to be a little " wooden " besides; but no class of men on earth, except German professors, would attempt to rival English missionaries in linguistic attain- ment. There are men among them in dozens as familiar with the folk-lore of ont-of.the-way tribes, as Professor Darm- stetter is with the folk-lore of the Semitic peoples, and others who have mastered thoroughly the so-called " impossible " languages, learned Chinese and popular Singhalese. There is no natural incapacity, and, as far as our observation extends, very little disposition to deny the value of such acquire- ments, which heads of families, again, preach with energy and reiteration. The defect must be somewhere in the method of tuition, and wo incline to believe it is to be found in two facts. One is that an Englishman seldom learns well except of an Englishman, and always is set to learn languages of a foreigner; and the other, and more important, is that he has no idea of the time required by the study. He has an absurd notion, which we have in our experience found universal among all classes except the highest, that he can "pick up" a modern tongue "in no time,"—that is, in odds and ends of time, of which the main bulk is devoted to other studies. He may do that or something like it when he is studying his third language, if he is very quick, very mimetic, and very well content with a narrowly defined range of vooables,—with the terms, for example, wanted for a profession or for the management of a household. But it takes a German residing in England, and making the language his business, a year to learn English well, and at the end of it the conversation will slip perhaps twice a day out of therange of his knowledge. A year's study of that kind, much of it involuntary, is equivalent for a student learning the first foreign tongue in his own country, to at least three yearn of steady application through a good section of each day. How many English lads who fancy they are learning French or German devote that amount of time to it, or even a faint approximation to that amount? They never give a fifth, and very seldom a tenth, and never advancing beyond beginnings, never overcome the initial disgust with which all labour not immediately profitable inspires all but a very few. Lads constantly give four hours a day to Latin for eight months a year for seven years, and then cannot translate at sight, or write a good Latin letter offhand, to save their lives; yet they think they can learn German by reading two hours a week for three terms. So thinking, they are always dissatisfied with the result, accuse themselves of natural incapacity, and hate the study and the teacher about equally. That blander we are convinced is the very root of the English failure to learn languages, and until is thoroughly eradicated, the English lads will never compete with Germans in work requiring solid linguistic knowledge. Teachers of any inde- pendence ought positively to refuse to teach upon the present system as bringing discredit upon themselves, and fathers to insist that if "the languages " are taught, a sufficient division of the week's time should be set apart for them. Englishmen are sensible upon most points, though education is not, perhaps, their strongest ; but they will have it there is a royal road to modern languages, and there is not.