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Re: French and US high school language instruction (was: Re: Optimum number of symbols)

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Saturday, May 25, 2002, 23:01
Quoting nicole perrin <nicole_eap@...>:

> Christophe wrote: > > Kendra wrote: > > >> I wish my teacher corrected pronunciaton. There're > >>people in my class STILL saying "ill est trace bow," and > >>it makes it hard for me to have any clue. > > > > > >I'm under the impression that it's one of the consequences > >of the view of Americans towards foreign languages: "they > >will speak English to us anyway, so why bother learning > >their languages?" At least I thought teachers would fight > >this point of view, but I see it's not the case :(( .
I think this vastly oversimplifies why people in any given country tend to learn foreign languages in a given way. First off, the vast majority of the human population learn only those languages that are pragmatically useful or otherwise perceived as needed for some external reason, not because they make an abstract decision about the ability of mastering foreign languages to widen one's views of the world. In much of the American Southwest, it is increasingly difficult to get by in one's everyday life without at least some knowledge of Spanish. When new immigrants with little or no formal education literally appear on your doorsteps asking you if they can do some oddjob for you (mowing your lawn, cleaning your house, etc.), without Spanish, much of the conversation is carried out in a kind of rough and ready pidgin and obvious hand signals, which can be awkward and lead to misunderstandings. As a result, people in that region of the country have an incentive to learn the language whether or not they happen to like learning foreign languages. The lazy attitude described by Christophe really only applies to exactly those languages for which most of the population has in fact no discernable self-interest in learning: namely, German, Italian, etc. and to a lesser extent French (since Quebec is on America's doorstep). (We often forget that, as conlangers, we like to learn languages which have more or less by definition no pragmatic value for us in the Real World. Most of mankind is, alas, not like us in this respect.)
> Unfortunately, in my experience the teachers often *want* > to fight this point of view but realize it is worse than > futile -- I knew of many teachers of foreign languages in > high school who purposely made their classes as easy as > possible, even if it sacrificed fluency, because if > students thought the courses were too difficult they would > simply stop taking them (as they are seldom required) and > then eventually when student interest was low enough no > classes would be offered anymore.
I find this is very true for those languages I mention above that have little sociolinguistic interaction with most of the population.
> Also, even when the > teachers do attempt to fight practices like the one Kendra > cites (oh so prevalent this one, I might add) a lot of > students simply disregard any pronunciation corrections > because they couldn't care less about really learning the > language and figure everyone understands English anyway > (not true, even as near to the US as Quebec, but for some > reason Americans rarely seem to grasp this). Sorry for the > somewhat-rant, but seven years of middle school & high > school French plus four of German have left their mark on > me...
My highschool back in Houston obliged anyone who wanted to graduate with honors to have at least two years of some foreign language (including Latin). Since 96% of my graduating class (and 100% of my brother's) went to either a two or four year postsecondary school, probably the majority of people felt they needed to have at least two years, if not more, of foreign language education. (IIRC, at least one year was required of everyone.) ===================================================================== Thomas Wier "...koruphàs hetéras hetére:isi prosápto:n / Dept. of Linguistics mú:tho:n mè: teléein atrapòn mían..." University of Chicago "To join together diverse peaks of thought / 1010 E. 59th Street and not complete one road that has no turn" Chicago, IL 60637 Empedocles, _On Nature_, on speculative thinkers


Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>French and US high school language instruction