4.0477 Language Learning (4/107)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 12 Sep 90 23:47:01 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0477. Wednesday, 12 Sep 1990.

(1) Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 09:28:59 MDT (32 lines)
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 4.0470 Learning Languages, Part II

(2) Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 12:30:46 EDT (25 lines)
Subject: Learning other languages at young age

(3) Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 19:31 CDT (23 lines)
From: Robin Smith <RSMITH@KSUVM>
Subject: Value of learning a second language

(4) Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 09:27:49 PDT (27 lines)
Subject: learning foreign languages

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 09:28:59 MDT
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 4.0470 Learning Languages, Part II

All the defenses of learning foreign languages seem to come down to the
grounds that the other language teaches one grammar. I heartily agree
that grammar is one of the fundamental pillars of the educated
individual, so here's a completely novel idea:

How about the English professors teach a bit of grammar? What an
innovation! English teachers teach English! The very mountains reel at
the notion. The consequences are staggering.

If English were taught at the university, then English-Secondary Ed
teacher would likely learn a bit of it. Mayhap they were pass some
knowledge of grammar on to their students. If enough of this got round,
it might even be seen as . . . important.

But, I'm being foolish. English departments are havens for writers and
literature buffs. The clear signal sent by all (despite their pious
mouthings) is that grammar is dull, while literature and writing are
interesting. Little wonder the word is passed down the chain. And so
they pass the dreary chore off to the languages -- as English was not a

If we don't lead, then we ought to shut up.

Ellis 'Skip' Knox, Ph.D.
Historian, Data Center Associate
Boise State University DUSKNOX@IDBSU.IDBSU.EDU
Boise, Idaho 83725
(208) 385-1315
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------38----
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 12:30:46 EDT
Subject: Learning other languages at young age

As a visitor on sabbatical in a different country, I'm putting my two
children (2 and 5) through the process of imposed, rapid acquisition of
another language. This process is humbling to watch. They just snap it
up: idioms, accent, grammar and vocabulary. A matter of weeks.

It makes one want to make kids go through this ordeal again and again,
as often as possible, as long as learning is so easy for them.

1) Is this a cruel thought?
2) What are the limits of this charmed ability? (in age, capacity?)
3) What are the implications for teaching computer languages and
concepts like iteration, structure and recursion?
4) Are my (or other multilingual) kids missing out on the
advantages of the structured learning of languages?

Sheizaf Rafaeli
School of Business Administration
University of Michigan
Sheizaf_Rafaeli@ub.cc.UMICH.edu or SHeizaf@UMICHUB
or 71271,763 on compuserve or (313) 763 2373

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------29----
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 19:31 CDT
From: Robin Smith <RSMITH@KSUVM>
Subject: Value of learning a second language

Though I strongly support the learning of at least a second language as
part of a general education, I am not persuaded by the argument that its
value lies in its somehow revealing to one the grammar of one's native
tongue as a result of having to slog through all those paradigms. That
can as easily lead to pernicious as salutary results (think of what we
still hear today about the 'illogicality' of double negatives
functioning as positives, a part of the legacy of imposing Latin grammar
where it doesn't belong--and even though the first logician of all,
Aristotle, said *ou me* like any other Greek). What I think is valuable
is the process of becoming self-conscious about the workings of one's
own language, and practice in translating from one language to another
is a unique vehicle for encouraging this. An English-speaking student
learning the difference between the aorist and the imperfect has to give
some thought to the differences of sense of various English expressions.

I would also agree that language study is more beneficial if the second
language is more remote from the first. The exercise of choosing among
Russian verbs is lots more interesting for a speaker of English than
trying to decide which French or German tense to use.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------31----
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 09:27:49 PDT
Subject: learning foreign languages

I may have missed part of this discussion, but it seems to me that the
main issues have not been raised (maybe because everyone "knows" them?).
I passed the Latin exam on college entrance (a tribute to my high school
teacher!) and so took no language as an undergraduate. Then in graduate
school, I finally got over the French and German "reading" hurdles. I
cannot easily read either now, and I feel at a disadvantage when I
realize that non-U.S. people often have fluency in at least 2 languages.
I think the benefit of learning other languages is not so much increased
understanding of one's own language, or even the ability to read untrans-
lated material in one's academic discipline. Rather, it is learning that
there are other cultures, other ways of living, and other world views
that enable people to get on with life. This knowledge moves one away
from nationalism, cultural imperialism, etc., and can lead to a fuller
appreciation of the unique contributions of one's own culture.
Even persons in ethnic minorities in the US can usually function in at
least 2 cultures - the minority and the white, but put a WASP in Harlem
or Watts . . .

But this kind of training is different from language requirements as
hurdles. And at the graduate level, would require actually using the
languages in the discipline classroom, reading assignments, etc., a
tremendous effort that I doubt students or faculty are ready to shoulder!
I salute those rare individuals who do it on their own.