Sunday, 27 July 2014

A poor case of language lessons

"For they have a way of teaching languages in Germany that is not our way, and the consequence is that when the German youth leaves the high school at fifteen, it can understand and speak the tongue it has been learning. In England we have a method that for obtaining the least possible result at the greatest possible expenditure of time and money is perhaps unequalled. An English boy who has been through a good middle-class school in England can talk to a Frenchman, slowly and with difficulty, about female gardeners and aunts. Possibly, if he is bright, he may be able to tell the time, or make a few guarded observations concerning the weather."

This quotation (slightly altered) comes surprisingly from Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome, the sequel to his more popular novel, Three men in a Boat. I say 'surprisingly' because the book was published in 1900. The fact that someone could write exactly the same words today, more than 100 years on is somewhat worrying. It also shows that the British attitude to languages and indeed anything beyond our shores is unchanged and at best dismissive.

We do of course hamper ourselves (as Jerome pointed out) by spending barely a few hours a week learning a language (mostly French) that is of very little value. Looking at the most common and influential languages of today Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic, these would be more helpful, but when the teachers can barely speak French there is little hope of progression into other tongues.
     In some cases (again as Jerome noted) schools employ French men and women, who are often from Belgium, and who can speak their own native language very well. Sadly in many cases they are not teachers and so are equally unable to pass along their knowledge to a class of thirty children who have no interest in our nearest neighbours and certainly don't care to study their verbs.

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