Thursday, August 1, 2013

Outmoded method for learning foreign languages-----or is it?

Okay, this is completely off topic, but there is the "grammar-translation" system of language learning. What you do is you memorize the grammatical rules of the language, you memorize a list of words, and you translate text from the language into your own. This was the preferred method for learning foreign languages in the past but teachers shun it now.

But I did hear a kid on the radio. He speaks six languages, all learned pretty much on his own, and this is how he did it. He started studying a language, started having fun translating various texts to English, found it worked very well and started using it with other languages. He could speak them. He chattered away in one for the interview.

And if you get on the internet, there are "language nerds", people whose hobby is to learn new languages for no reason. They use different methods. And one that's popular is something akin to the "grammar-translation" method. One said he would start translating texts in the language until he felt brave enough to try speaking to someone in the language.

I read elsewhere that you don't really have to work that hard on the grammar. By simply reading text in the language you're learning, you can effortlessly pick up proper grammar.

On the other hand, I had a friend in high school who took German. He took it for four years, got good grades and seemed proud of his German skills even though he couldn't speak or understand German. He enrolled in a German class in college. It was only then that it dawned on him that, after four years, he should be able to speak German like the students from other high schools did.

His teacher apparently used the backward "grammar-translation" method. My friend spent four years studying German grammar. I had the impression that they did more grammar than translation. I saw no sign that he could read German, either. He spent four years filling out worksheets.

When you do well in a class that's difficult and boring, you assume you must be learning a lot. He probably thought his depth of knowledge was far greater than that of those other kids chattering away frivolously in their target language. I don't know what was wrong with that dumb kraut teacher. I googled him and was surprised to find that he was actually popular with his students, although that type of teacher is usually popular with certain kids.

You can't judge teachers from what the kids think. Every time a teacher or principal is fired for abusing or molesting pupils, you'll find a large number of students coming to their defense. A teacher in this area was arrested for attempting to murder his wife's boyfriend. The boyfriend fought him off. The teacher left behind his backpack which contained, among other things, a "to do" list for carrying out the murder. Students at the school circulated a petition demanding that the teacher be allowed to return to class while awaiting trial. "He hasn't been convicted yet."

It doesn't stop at high school. There were students at a university who launched mass protests when the university president was forced to resign after being arrested for making obscene phone calls from his office.

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