Language Instruction

Discussion in 'Education' started by DGS49, Sep 3, 2013.

  1. DGS49
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    DGS49 Gold Member

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    Here in Pennsylvania (and I assume in many other states), Language Instruction in both secondary ed and colleges is under attack. With funding being frozen and costs increasing, something has to give, and Art & Modern Languages seem to have been marked with a target for elimination.

    Do we care?

    Having just returned from a couple European trips (one business, one pleasure) I think I can say with some confidence that most of the people that Americans would ever deal with in the rest of the world are speaking English these days. Most foreign school systems - especially in Western Europe - teach English as a primary second language, so whether you are touring or conducting business in Europe (and especially when people from various countries are participating), chances are very high that English will be used and known. On my Cruise Ship there were more then ten countries represented, and essentially all of the passengers (and crew) understood English.

    It is said that foreign-language instruction is a valuable process, because it forces the student to think a little differently, to learn something about another culture, to understand grammar, and to communicate with some people that one might not be able to communicate otherwise. But it would be a rare life indeed that would REQUIRE knowledge of any language other than English to get by.

    And putting it bluntly, American foreign language instruction stinks. The Europeans have figured out that foreign language instruction must be done when the kids are young, and it must be vigorous and demanding (European kids generally hate it). Language instruction must be constantly stimulated, and Europeans can just turn on their TV to hear programming in almost any important language - mainly English - which helps the learning process immeasurably.

    American language teachers - fearful for their jobs - make few demands on students, and tolerate a low level of engagement that would not be tolerated in a serious program. And once you leave the classroom, there is no stimulation in that language until you hit the books or come to your next class.

    Most American college graduates have taken, at one time or another, "a few years of [fill in a language]," and are proficient to the level of, "Dos cervesas, por favor" (Two beers, please). Basically, it was a waste of time and money. And truly, what is the benefit of taking four years of French (or German) in High School? You would still have to live in the country for 6 months to be truly fluent, and most students never do that.

    When I was in the Army, they had a vigorous language instruction program (mainly for Intelligence types) that involved a one-year, total-immersion course, taught exclusively by native speakers (again, hated by the students), that made you fairly fluent by the end of the year. And they were very particular about who was accepted into those schools; if you didn't do well on the Army Language Aptitude Test, you could forget it.

    My proposal would be to remove language instruction from conventional schools and set up language academies that could truly focus on languages on an "immersion" basis, and award certificates based on real proficiency. These would run in parallel with our current school systems.
     
  2. Unkotare
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    Unkotare Diamond Member

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    Or, start language instruction earlier and teach it more comprehensively?
     
  3. DGS49
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    DGS49 Gold Member

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    Pretty much. But that requires dedicated facilities. I don't see it happening in a typical American public K-12 program.
     
  4. Unkotare
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    Unkotare Diamond Member

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    Not necessarily.
     
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  5. Unkotare
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    Unkotare Diamond Member

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    .
     
  6. frigidweirdo
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    frigidweirdo Platinum Member

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    Yes, language has been under attack in English speaking countries for a long time. Simply said English is the first language of the world.

    The problems are many. When I learned languages in school, it was a waste of time. I wasn't going to learn anything, the teachers couldn't really teach and I struggle to learn languages (I know this because I learned Spanish to a high level, German to a middle level and am struggling away with Zhongwen right right.) Simply said I learn to slowly to be taught alongside other students. I have a concentration span that limits the amount of learning time per day to about three 45 minute sessions.

    For some kids learning a language just isn't worth it. For others it is. Everyone should get to try, but to go beyond one or two years it should only be done if it's going to amount to something.
     
  7. Unkotare
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    Unkotare Diamond Member

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    Obviously, it's a benefit to anyone.
     
  8. longknife
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    longknife Diamond Member

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    The OP mentioned DOD language institutes. I attended one for German and can speak first-hand of their methods and effectiveness. They teach not only the language but the history, culture, and every-day life of the speakers.

    To do this outside of DOD facilities would take dedicated schools which I don't see happening.

    So, why do other countries do this successfully while we don't?

    Simple, students know at the beginning that learning English will directly affect their future careers. Thus they take the time and effort to learn.

    We do not have the same goals here.
     
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