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May 20, 2009


Most teachers I know think we should be teaching more language classes than we do.

Most parents I know agree!

Well of course we should be teaching more foreign languages, and teaching them more effectively. But that's not at all what this post is about.

Hagen's post is pure gibberish. See if you can make sense of it. Now he has a second one up about "failing" American schools which makes no more sense than his original.

I agree that the post is badly written, but the comments were pretty good. But then I completely agree that we do an appalling job at teaching foreign languages. The way we have traditionally taught foreign languages couldn't be worse in terms of brain development. When puberty hits -- exactly when most American students START learning a second language -- language acquisition no longer happens in the original language center and it becomes increasingly more difficult with every passing year to develop real fluency.

But I think the real point is that it's symptomatic of the traditional American approach to education: the only thing that really has solid support is the 3Rs. Anything beyond that is, by definition, expendable.

This makes less sense now than ever, not least because it ignores everything we know about brain development. There's plenty of research that convincingly shows that serious study of the arts helps kids master language and math skills. I mean, there's a reason why we teach kids the alphabet in a song rather than flash cards.

Hagen's follow-up comments aren't any help, either.

Terry, how about this idea: write a rebuttal titled "Why European Schools Suck," since their product cannot write a coherent paragraph.

Yes, Zarwen, that's my point exactly. Despite his self-described fluency in foreign languages, Hagen seems incapable of sustaining a coherent, logical argument.

The best comment I read on one of the two posts, Rita, was the one which linked No Child Left Behind and its testing requirements to the unconscionable narrowing of the American public school curriculum.

BTW, congratulations on your more than respectable showing in the (non)election. You and Steve B should have joined forces to really put some heat on Martin, maybe flipped a coin to see which ONE of you would run.

Or maybe PPS Equity should have sat you both down, staged a mock debate, and then picked the winner.

Oh well. (Want your sign back for the next go around?)

Thanks, Terry. As for the signs, I'm sure they won't be necessary 4 years from now because by then we will have figured it all out and things will be just swell! Right?

It's been 50 odd years since I last studied a foreign language in high school, so I don't know if instructions methods have changed. But, if they haven't, I would vote to ban all foreign language teaching from high schools as wastes of time.

Rita identified part of the problem -- related to age, puberty, and the original language center. But another reason is that, once you've taken your one hour class in French or German in high school, you most often get no reinforcement for what you've learned during the rest of the day.

The only efficient way to learn a foreign language is through total immersion. You need to surround yourself with speakers of that language 24-7 for a sustained period of time -- several months or longer. An hour a day in a high school classroom is a waste of time.

I applaud Rita Moore's comments on the importance of introducing music and a second language in a child's life as early as possible.

I have read that European students have an advantage in languages as there are so many countries with different languages existing in close proximity introducing them to one or more "other" languages early in life..

I fault Hagen for speaking of US public schools as homogeneous. There are many excellent public schools in the US and Oregon. The challenge should be to emulate that excellence in all public schools.

Well, not a TOTAL waste of time.

Years after taking four years of high school German, two terms of 3rd year college German (when I was 18) and then two years of college French, I was able to speak enough of both languages to inquire about rooms and make polite (albeit limited)conversation on a month long trip to Europe.

My German was especially useful, not only in Germany proper, but also in Austria, Switzerland and even Belgium, where late one night in Zeebrugge we found a guy in a bar who spoke fluent German (his wife spoke Flemish.) It turned out he had a room to let in his house. And that's where we stayed our last night on the continent.

Craig, it can be what you make it. I learned enough German in middle(!) and high school and French in high school to test-exempt the beginning classes in college. I got fluent enough in German to be thinking in the language after I had been there only 48 hours. At my college audition, one judge remarked, "It is so nice to hear a high school student who knows how to pronounce German!" To which the other judge replied, "Yes, and she knows what it means, too."

In college, I added Italian and Russian to my studies. Why? Because I was studying to be a classical singer, and I wanted to be as versatile as possible. Hagen got one thing right: studying a second language makes the third and fourth easier.

Maybe high school students don't get that many opportunities to practice, but it's not rocket science to find a study buddy and practice with each other. It can be what you make it.

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