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Showing posts from February, 2012

What Is the Goal of Language Teaching?

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a painful point in a 2004 lecture. The lecture is on the topic of theological education. In context, what he says about language acquisition is only a passing remark to help clarify how he would identify someone educated theologically. Yet it is an unfortunate fact for language teachers the world over, even the proverbial elephant in the room, I would argue: We might say it would be very strange to learn a language without learning how to speak it – although that is as you all know the way many of us learn languages. Williams' point is that in any type of education (musical, language, theological) has some practical goal, as it would be odd and rather purposeless to complete a course of study "in the absence of any acquisition of a skill – any capacity to do something in a particular way."
So why do so many students finish one, two, three, four (or more!) semesters of language study without the ability to speak the l…

Even the French Are Awesome

We recently established here at Langue or Parole? that the French language is awesome. It was not my intent to argue for the awesomeness of France or the French people, given that the French language extends for beyond the Hexagon. Yet according to a recent book excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, French parents (and by extension can't we assume pretty much all French people?) rock.

Yes, this totally ignores many social problems in France. But there were two salient points to this article for me (as a parent).

1. We parents do not need to feel pressure to be constantly "present" with one's child (e.g., it's okay for my son to play alone sometimes; I don't have to be constantly entertaining him).
2. We parents should have definite, clear rules and parameters, but within those we should give a lot more liberty.

These two boil down to the "French" approach to parenting, distinct from the "American" approach (whatever those are): don't stress …

Another Word on English as a Global Language

I do not have a problem with a person not becoming fluent in a second language. I do think language is an essential part of any curriculum, regardless of grade level.

I do not "have it out" for Americans, however. There is a funny joke about Americans that people often share with me* and of which I certainly appreciate the humor. (Though I have no statistics, from my personal experience I think I can say that you could insert many, maybe any, other nationalities in the joke for American and it would still be funny.)

And yet, I am not all chagrined (even as a multilingual and language teacher) that a majority of Americans (quickly shrinking due to demographic shifts) do not speak a second language. To be quite honest, millions of Americans (and many others around the world) have no use for bilingualism.

*What is a trilingual? Someone who speaks three languages. What is a bilingual? Someone who speaks two languages. What is a monolingual? American!

A New Way to Read

There is akind of readingthat can be called"preliminary reading" or "partial reading":

Given that one does not have the time to read everything he or she would like to read,and that manybooksare not worth readingin their entirety, andthat from timeto time one finds books that he or she did not intendto read but that seduce anddistract him or her from his or her reading plan, I came up with a new method of reading that involves reading only the first sentenceof each paragraphin some books.

This is not really a new method. I actually thought of trying it when I overheard someone else talking about a (history) professor of his that does that.

There are exceptions, of course, books to which one could not effectively apply this method. It would not workfor readinga novel, for example. But for many academic books, whether history or science or theology or linguistics, this type of reading could very well highlight most of the important ideas while saving gobs of time by not…

Un nuevo método de leer

Hay untipo de lectura quese puede llamar "lectura preliminar":

Puesto que uno no tiene eltiempo para leertodo lo que quisiera,y quemuchos librosno merecenuna lecturacompleta, yque por lo menos yo encuentro de vez en cuando con librosque yono tenía la intenciónde leer pero que me seducen yque me distraen del plan delectura, decidí de tratar de leersólo la primera frasede cada párrafo en algunos libros.

Hayexcepciones, por supuesto.Estemétodo no funcionacon la lectura deuna novela.Sin embargo,para los librosacadémicos, me parece queuna lectura no completa pero que destaca las ideas principales puede servir muy bien.Se pierde mucho, es cierto,pero creo quetambién podría teneruna visión general demuchos librosmás, siguiendoeste método de"lectura preliminar" o "lectura parcial."

Une nouvelle méthode de lecture

Il y a une sorte de lecture que j'appelle "lecture préliminaire" :

Etant donné que je n'ai pas le temps de lire tout ce que je voudrais, et que beaucoup de livres ne mérite pas ma lecture complète, et que je tombe par hasard sur des livres que je n'avais aucune intention de lire mais qui me séduisent et distraient de mon plan de lecture, j'ai décidé d'essayer de lire seulement la première phrase de chaque paragraphe.

Il y a bien sûr des exceptions. Cette méthode de lecture ne marcherait pas avec un roman. Mais pour les livres académiques, il me semble que je pourrai me débrouiller bien. On en perd beaucoup, c'est vrai, mais je crois qu'on pourrait aussi avoir une vue d'ensemble de beaucoup plus de livres en suivant une telle méthode de "lecture préliminaire" ou "lecture partiale."

Today in Language: Charles Dickens

English Not Quite So Important?

Melanie Ho was mentioned in yesterday's post regarding the New York Times' Room for Debate forum. Her rejoinder to Lawrence Summers' doubting of the importance of language learning had the most shocking anecdote, and thus merits a separate post.
She says, "I asked a friend of mine from mainland China [...] if she would be interested in helping me with my Chinese, and in return I would teach her English. She said she would help me, but replied that she had no interest in learning English. If someone wanted to speak with her, she said, they could learn Chinese" (emphasis added).
You don't like that? A lot of Americans have said the same of their language. So who is culturally myopic and educationally shortsighted?

Learn Another Language, After All

Getting back to the post about Lawrence Summers' essay on changes in U.S. higher education, the short discussion Summers had on the need for learning other languages was included in the New York Times' Room for Debate forum.
Obviously, I disagree with Summers' statement that "English's emergence as the global language [...] make[s] it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue us universally worthwhile." My reasons coincide with Summers' six interlocutors: 1) you actually do need other languages because 2) English really is not as global as we think; and besides, 3) there are many intangible but huge benefits to foreign language learning.
Here are a few choice quotes from the responses to Summers: Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, a globally successful monolingual, says of her experience, "Few starting out today could succeed as I did speaking only English." (practical)Anthony Jackson says, "While English remains th…

La Chandeleur

Luc 2:34-35
Siméon les bénit, et dit à Marie, sa mère : Voici, cet enfant est destiné à amener la chute et le relèvement de plusieurs en Israël, et à devenir un signe qui provoquera la contradiction,et à toi-même une épée te transpercera l'âme, afin que les pensées de beaucoup de coeurs soient dévoilées.