Proverbs, Sayings and Language Learning
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here.
Today, I want to talk about what teachers often get wrong. Now, I know a lot of very good language teachers. I'm talking to two of them, Czech tutors via Skype. Some of our best tutors at LingQ are teachers. Lots of teachers get it right, but I wanted to mention where I think they get it wrong, some of them, maybe many of them. I had a comment from a person called Reeva on my most recent post about the meetup in Prague and she (I'm assuming it's a she) said that she wishes she had spent more time listening and reading and developing her ability to understand Czech and to enjoy the language rather than doing what she needed to do to pass her tests.
The teacher, for example, insisted that they learn certain Czech proverbs. That's just one example. I am not the slightest bit interested in proverbs when I learn a language. I don't know proverbs, I don't care about them, but there's nothing wrong with proverbs. If the teacher is interested in proverbs that's great, but why would the teacher insist that the student has to know and learn these proverbs and then be tested on them. To me, that's just plain ridiculous. It's far better for the student to spend his/her time on things that are of interest to the student. In fact, proverbs are not very important at all if we look at the real goals of language learning which are comprehension and communication.
The same is true with a lot of the grammar tests that students are given fairly early and, in fact, throughout their period of study in many cases, as is the case in our school system in Canada. People are tested on the subjunctive in French and things of that nature or on their tenses. Again, I have to say when I start learning a language, I'm not that interested. I'm kind of aware that there are issues in the Slavic languages with cases and there are issues with verbs of motion. I read the explanations. I vaguely understand what they're getting at. I'm vaguely conscious of it as I read and listen in the early stages, but I wouldn't want to have to be tested on it. I wouldn't want to have to get it right. Some people may want to do that, so then that's fine, but why should the student who is learning something that's of interest to him/her, in other words the language where the ultimate goal is to understand what is said and to be able to communicate, have to dance to the teacher's tune?
Why should the student have to write tests on proverbs or on colors or subjunctive or whatever the teacher chooses to test the student on? To me, it's meaningless. I've said it before, I've seen the products of French language instruction in the English school system in Canada and the results are abysmal. I posted my efforts in Czech and some person said that I'm already better in Czech than many of the people who study the language.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I enjoy my Czech, I enjoy it so much that I listen every day. I listen to things of interest and I read things of interest and I build up my vocabulary. Now that I have all of that, I'm starting to focus more on the fine points of grammar so that my usage gets better. But the first 10 months I wasn't speaking the language, so as long as I can understand more or less. I say more or less because I'm quite happy to half understand or 80% understand, but I'm enjoying it. As long as that all is happening and I'm gaining experience in the language, well isn't that really good enough? Now, you're going to say well, yeah, but you can't do that in the classroom because you have to have a curriculum.
I say, why do you have to have this curriculum? Can't they come up with some other test? Of course, the teachers want some test that is objective. You either know the proverb or you don't know the proverb, you either put the right tense down or you don't put the right tense down, so you've got something that is measurable. It's a little more difficult to say this person understands, this person communicates well. It becomes more of a subjective measure. So there is a problem.
I admit there's a problem, but the solution, in other words trying to force students to learn what the teacher taught, to learn things that the teacher thought were interesting or to learn in the order that the teacher wants the student to learn, I think in many cases that discourages the learner and delays arriving at the ultimate goal, which is the ability to communicate and to comprehend. So whether those thoughts of mine have any relevance to the classroom or not I don't know, but I couldn't help wanting to talk about it when I saw this comment on my video from Reeva saying that in her Czech classes, if I understand correctly, the students are asked to be able to reproduce Czech proverbs, which struck me as completely ridiculous.
Not that proverbs are ridiculous, but insisting that students who may have no interest in proverbs, like me, still have to reproduce proverbs struck me as ridiculous. Anyway, thanks for listening.
Bye for now.