Arun is Bringing You...Your Daily Remedy

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Linguistics, Language, and Learning

I love alliteration.

In high school I spent four years learning French exclusively through school and University classes. Homework, quizzes, tests...unfortunately, these were all a waste of time!

Fast forward to about a year ago, and on my own time I decided to relearn some French. I did so with Pilmsleur audio tapes as well as watching these movies of daily activities on the BBC website. I learned and retained FAR more useful French than I did during the four years of classes!

Sure I had a leg up since I knew the basic vocabulary and grammar, but the way I exposed myself to the language made a big difference.

They have it all wrong in schools. Classes place ENTIRELY too much emphasis on writing. The first and foremost thing teachers should focus on is SPEAKING! Learning by ear (just as babies learn) is infinitely more useful. This can easily transfer into reading proficiency since Latin based languages use the same alphabet, and we already know how to read (at least I hope so, otherwise the only reason you could be on my site is to look at that handsome devil in the corner with a pink t-shirt :).

Let's paint a little picture shall we? Let's say I go for a nice little trip to France. Well, the most important thing for me is to be able to speak and understand the language on SOME level to get around, right? Secondly I need to be able to read signs.

Somehow, I don't think I'm going to be writing a whole lot of letters or dissertations in French. Secondly, I'd like to be able to say a simple word like "bathroom" before I learn how to conjugate the six different tenses of the verb "to go."

Of all the friends I have, I really couldn't tell you (nor do I care) who sucks at spelling. Yet, in my French 1 class, I distinctly remember getting docked points for misspelling "chocolat" on a test (I put an 'e' on the end like the English spelling). Seriously, spelling is important for mastery of a language, but should not be a concern in the first few years of learning. Hell, our own former Vice President publically (and obviousloy INcorrectly) attempted to correct a third grader's spelling of "tomato" by spelling it "T.O.M.A.T.O.E" I rest my case.

Had I spent those four years focused purely on holding conversation, and being able to read, I'd be nearly fluent (or at least appear to be, conversationally)! Instead, I can only "get by," but at least I can spell the word "disco club" in French with all the right accent marks in the right places!!!

The school system is so determined to see "tangible and testable" results that they insist on these godawful written tests.

On a related note, I think I found an accurate measure of my French proficiency. The other day I was at the hot tub, and these two guys were conversing in French...I obviously could hardly understand what they were saying. Then, one of the guys young daughter comes over to chat...I understood her French completely!!! In fact, I had a nice little conversation with her (though she was still a little better than me)! So I figure, I'm about the equivalent of a 4 or 5 year old in French proficiency.

She might speak better than me, but I bet she can't conjugate AND spell the six different tenses of the verb, "to go!" :)

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