Monday, October 4, 2010

A rant about language instruction in America:

Until I get some pictures taken of the pens that I have, this will have to do as my next post... but I promise it will be moderately interesting.

Having taken Latin in high school, I realized what is absolutely necessary to know in order to understand the fundamentals of any western language. I am still continuing linguistics now in college and have even taken Ancient Greek in order to further understand the roots of languages, but I am now learning through the modern languages that my professors don't really know how to teach a language to someone who already knows the complexities of grammar. This misunderstanding is partially due to the fact that the textbooks for modern languages don't incorporate anything dealing with case systems or basic conjugation until you're 50 pages in and even then, it doesn't develop for another 100 pages. The professors, however, chose these books with this knowledge, which bothers me to no end.

All of this methodology deals with strategy and has nothing to do with vocabulary, which is learned differently by every person.

There are two main strategies for learning languages, of which both can be useful, but one is more useful to the linguist.  The first one, which is the choice of many first year language teachers is based on hearing the language. This is similar to the Suzuki method of learning how to play an instrument. The idea is that the student is immersed in the language and hears only that language in the class. The second method, which is more practical for me is the method of teaching grammar, which is less practical for learning cute colloquial phrases, but is more useful in the long term.  I could come to appreciate the first method if the teachers actually immersed the class in the language as the theory suggests, but most teachers don't and that is why so many students struggle with languages in high school, and even college. I've learned the Classics (Greek and Latin) and Arabic through grammar and have found it to be much more efficient. Unfortunately, most teachers would rather not teach it that way, which leads to mass confusion in the class.

So, what is my point?  Americans already have a bad reputation for not being able to speak other languages, while the polyglots in Europe continue to advance farther and farther ahead. Wouldn't it be nice if foreign language teachers actually learned something about the teaching methods for languages and employ them correctly? I've never been so bored and simultaneously confused while learning a language as I am with the Japanese and German classes that I'm taking in college right now.  It doesn't mean that I'm giving them up (since I enjoy writing in both of them so much!), but it does mean that I'm going to stop taking introductory language classes in school and instead teach myself. After all, you could say that there is a third method for learning languages; teach yourself what you find necessary and spend the most time on what you deem necessary.


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