The Linguist

The Linguist 58,4 - Aug/Sept 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 26 of 35

@Linguist_CIOL AUGUST/SEPTEMBER The Linguist 27 OPINION & COMMENT nothing new No more education gimmicks So, to stem the decline in modern foreign language (MFL) learning in schools, the Education Secretary proposes setting up a network of schools to share best practice, a mentoring project to encourage pupils to learn a language and the appointment of a tsar to advise on teaching methodology. Chicken feed! Window dressing! What's needed is a radical change in the way MFL is viewed in schools. I taught French and German in the 1960s under an enlightened Welsh headmaster who wanted all children in his nine-form-entry comprehensive to learn a language: English for the two reception classes, French and German for the other seven. Pupils in the top two bands took CSE or GCE examinations. Headteachers today are preoccupied with exam results and their school's standing in league tables. Because languages are viewed as harder subjects, their status in the curriculum is allowed to dwindle. Of course they are harder subjects: they are the only subjects where the medium is the message, the only subjects where rote learning is unavoidable. Vocabulary and grammar have to be committed to memory, intellects stretched, phrases and sentences rehearsed. What's wrong with a little application and perseverance? The satisfaction of achievement is enhanced as a result. Perhaps there should Continue the discussion online #TheLinguist be additional recognition in league tables for that achievement in MFL. I think that's 'added value' in modern assessment parlance. I won't rehearse the arguments for the cultural, economic and political importance of learning languages here. They are already well known. The methods that lead to best outcomes are also well known by language teachers. Grammar-grind was rejected long ago; the direct method transformed the languages classroom, followed by audiovisual and audio-lingual methodologies and materials. The language laboratory played an important role in the development of language teaching and learning, and now interactive, computer-based technologies are adding a new dimension to learner aids. There is also an enormous variety of beautifully produced and stimulating course books, exam practice books, and radio and television programmes for teachers to use successfully in their work. They have the benefit, too, of more books and articles on language learning and language teaching than, I suspect, any other subject. We don't need 'best practice' schools or 'mentors' or 'tsars', Mr Gibb. We need a stream of highly enthusiastic, fluent, well- trained and well-paid graduates with a fair share of curriculum time to work their magic. David Smith FCIL based and involved the study of at least one foreign language. These courses represented a departure from the "traditional 'lang & lit' approach" that, indeed, was still prevalent in the majority of UK universities. To what extent then has this practical approach become eroded over the past 30-40 years if it is now seen to be in dire need of revitalisation, with universities such as Cardiff and Southampton possibly reinventing the wheel in this respect? Michael W Harrington FCIL Paul Bishop replies: I am grateful to both correspondents (Letters, TL58,3 and TL58,4) for engaging with my article. It was intended to stimulate discussion, so if it has done this, I am delighted; and I'm equally glad to clarify a couple of points. I would agree with Michael Harrington that the argument proposed might not be new, but perhaps it needs restating – and with even greater urgency. The 1970s/1980s were a long time ago, and the crucial game changer is surely technology. While I accept that languages certainly have a value "for their own sake", I wonder if Michael Loughbridge would agree with me that 'Learn languages – they're useless' isn't a great slogan. (In fact, translation strikes me as a good example of the utility of languages.) So the challenge remains: how to make language pedagogy fit for purpose. A case of interference I enjoy comparing languages and am very familiar with the common mistakes that Polish people make when speaking English. Most language learners, young or old, make wrong assumptions when learning a second language. Known as 'interference', this is a mental and communicative process through which learners develop their language skills by activating their existing linguistic knowledge. Every language specialist will be able to list at least ten common interference errors off the top of their head. Most of the mistakes made by Polish natives are caused by direct, word-for-word equivalence from Polish into English. Examples include incorrect verb usage ('I have 20 years old', 'you have right'), word choice ('she was dressing the Christmas tree', 'he made a photo'), preposition usage ('I play in football') and use of the plural ('he needs more informations'). Other issues include false friends ('sympathetic' rather than 'friendly' for sympatyczny, 'fabric' rather than 'factory' for fabryka), and incorrect word order, as Polish word order is less strict than English. Amusing examples include 'I am boring' when the intention is to say 'I am bored' and 'I please you!' instead of 'I beg you!' Interference affects all aspects of oral and written communication, from the most

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 58,4 - Aug/Sept 2019