How about this for an alternative educational framework for languages?


Please discuss in the comments.

Posted on 18/03/2015, in Blog only. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Surprised not to see more activity on this post. Bring on the conversation, folks!

    As a university language teacher myself, I am undeniably implicated to at least some extent in the workings of an institutionalized approach to learning. At the same time, I attempt to introduce students to a philosophy of autonomy, self-directedness, and perpetual curiosity in place of dependence on the institution; limiting themselves to the minimum of those few overdefined, concrete tasks that the short space of a semester allows as homework; and entertaining some notion of “mastering” a language within 4, 6, or even 10 years. As Viktor has noted in various places on this very blog, one never even truly masters a native language in every social or regional variety at all concurrent stages of chronological evolution in every conceivable field of specialization.

    Be all that as it may, allow me to come directly to the post above. To begin, could I observe that the system presents twelve levels? I recall having learned in connection to writing instruction that there do actually exist theoretical frameworks in defense of the ’12-step’ idea, but I have lost track of them. Could anyone point me toward those? What I can say myself is that having many levels (not just six, for example, as the CEFR proposes) better avoids an oversimplistic reduction of just how immense is the task one undertakes upon beginning to learn a language, and better cultivates the motivation for always finding more, and more, and more to learn. Learning a language is not just a tool, is not just another field of knowledge and learning, but an embrace of new dimensions to life. Of course one can (and many do) limit language learning to much smaller aspirations, but in so doing they limit themselves and forfeit a great deal of the richness available through such new dimensions.

    What I saw missing from this system were any explicit references to becoming one’s own teacher or to ‘meta-learning’. Whatever our attitudes toward the smack of postmodernism betrayed in the formation of such a word, it does reflect what my own teachers and parents believed about learning: that true learning can never simply content itself as a process of acquiring certain tidbits of knowledge, of facts, of dates, or even of techniques or structures, but must rather go beyond these to analysis, to learning HOW to learn, to cultivating the process of thinking at different scales, and to connecting all these components to one’s daily awareness and practice of life. Such a self-directedness is hardly to rebuff or snub the achievements of experts, artists, or scholars; I speak not of arrogance. Precisely the opposite! To maintain a perpetual drive to learn, to understand, is to maintain a tentativeness, a modesty—dare I say a humility—regarding one’s own achievements and accompanying limitations. It is moreover to cast off mechanized, exploitative models of education all too prevalent in schools around the globe in favor of self-determination, aspiration, and participation for societal improvement.

    Especially at advanced levels, the student must more and more become his own teacher in order to continue advancing. I have seen lifelong students of a language struggle along at very basic levels, and I have seen advanced users of a second language with certain fossilized errors (and I’m not talking the presence or absence of articles but rather serious errors that interfere with communicative comprehension) that, even over the course of months and months of lessons targeting those errors, persist stubbornly. When the learner fails to take initiative in the learning process, no amount of ‘following the scripts’ of the lessons can eradicate deeply-rooted problems.

    I speak, then, of meta-learning with respect to languages as a process of cultivating constant waking awareness for the language (and if it seeps even into sleeping consciousness, well, all the better), of preparing one’s self to guide the process of learning far beyond the classroom and far beyond the confines of one’s brief university enrollment, and of constantly seeking new avenues and resources for the ongoing learning process.

    There is, perhaps, a nod in this direction with the approach to handling grammar in the system: explicit specifics are laid out up to where the typical CEFR-type systems culminate, but then reference is made to future new vocabulary items and the quirks they bring with themselves. But with idioms, poetic word orders, slang, frozen collocations, and historical language, syntax and even morphology go beyond simple questions of vocabulary.

    But that brings me to what I love about the system: ample use of authentic materials, of translation, and of literature. Whoever instigated the anti-‘grammar and translation’ fashions of academia was, I fear, dramatically oversimplifying the notion of what it means to use linguistics, to use literature, and to use translation in the pursuit of a deeper, more intimate knowledge of language generally or of a specific language. Do the anti-G&T academics imagine that the classic masters never spoke in their second languages? Do they fail to grasp the concept of cultivating new neural networks (and denser existing ones) by demanding more of one’s mind through literary memorization and through employing the second language as a medium of learning for other new fields? To put it in terms of something the universities actually do emphasize: imagine if sports coaches never demanded more of the athletes. What world record would ever be set, let alone broken? What match would ever bring viewers to the edge of their seats?

    My comments, of course, reach beyond the field of language learning and broach politics, trends, and sociology. But to limit myself again to the question at hand, even my critiques above point to the strengths of the alternative framework presented above by Viktor: its independence of institutional narrowness and its easy adaptability/adoptability to a dignified, initiative-taking approach to learning. And that I applaud. And if the lack of explicit reference to initiative-taking that I have cited is a reflection of just how obvious and taken for granted initiative-taking is for Viktor and perhaps for his readers, please let me know!

    Liked by 1 person

    • An excellent response. In the meantime I have also been doing work on the table so that it is now more developed and will also do more adjustments taking account of this and hopefully other comments.

      With regard to 12 stages, this is so that the student can feel more easily when they have achieved a half-way, quarter-way, two thirds way stage. It is better than the round figure of 10 for this reason of divisibility and motivation through numbers, but also gives a more subtle gradation and additional opportunities for writers and publishers to prepare truly directed material and for students to buy the precise materials they need.

      Re meta learning, you are welcome to give an idea of how you would see the content of such a column.


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