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Le Savoir Faire

On the first day of my introduction to linguistics course we were told to, “Raise your hand if you speak more than one language.” As more than 90% of the class raised an arm, I sat there slightly embarrassed to be one of the few who was monolingual. I had taken French in high school but they are not kidding when they say, “use it or lose it.” By my second year in college, I had forgotten most of what I had learned. That day inspired me to start taking French again.

Since my linguistics class, I have completed four quarters of French. I am nowhere near bilingual, but I have at least regained and surpassed where I was in high school. Every chapter from my French textbook starts with a theme and a new set of related vocabulary. This one word stuck with me throughout the entire quarter: le savoir-faire. In English, we can translate it to “practical knowledge”. Savoir means to know and faire means to do, thus in a literal sense we can think of it as knowing what to do in a given situation.

Leio Mclaren Leiomclaren Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) / Unsplash Psychologists have various theories for breaking down the notion of intelligence. For example, Psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence describes eight distinct types, including spatial, linguistic, mathematical, interpersonal, and musical. On the other hand, Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence describes three, analytical, creative, and practical. These are two of the oldest models of intelligence, and countless others are still being proposed. 

In any case, the notion of le savoir-faire is extremely valuable. The drastic changes brought about by technology raises the question, what should be taught in the classrooms of generations to come? It is hard to know what will be most valuable for children to learn. Digital maps and GPS systems have rendered many people spatially inept. New programming languages are created and replacing old ones as fast as fashion trends. Computers have the ability to complete calculations that would take years using pen and paper. With so many changes and not enough time to learn as fast as they occur, what information is most imperative to pass on to future generations? 

people sitting in chairs in a classroom viewed from behind Sam Balye on Unsplash Although I cannot claim to have the answers, the notion of “practical knowledge” seems like a pretty good place to start. An ability to problem solve in any environment enables one to adapt to the societal changes we are currently facing. New problems arise every day, and these problems are growing quicker than solutions are being produced. The next generation needs the tools to be creative self-sufficient problem solvers who can pick up new skills as needed.