Friday, May 21, 2010

Speaking is what it's all about (Irish polyglot) - or is it (Peter Morgan)?

"Why studying a language will never help you speak a language." The whole blog of Irish Polyglot is provocative, challenging, entertaining and hopefully encouraging for languages teachers. I have always thought that if you can speak a language, it means you must deploy, not just have stored in your brain, a whole network of knowledge - many kinds of knowledge. He reminds us that we actually develop that network in interaction and communication with people, not merely in rote learning [the indispensable] words and rules and conventions. Compare his thoughts to mine on grammar below and to a newspaper article about Prof. Peter Morgan's assertion that teaching "just the basics of language acquisition" is not so important to universities as applying language in "a broad engagement with real questions of culture and language". Language Departments risk losing their essence by Bernard Lane in The Australian, March 24, 2010. "This is all part of penetrating, understanding deeply the mind, the culture, the history of whatever language it is."

Morgan is talking about levels of language beyond the old fluency versus accuracy debate: he would assume both are developed in schools and language institutes. And yet when schools go for the intercultural awareness more than linguistic proficiency, too few arrive at university with any decent proficiency (either conversational ability or sound grammatical and literature proficiency. Many are not teaching even "the basics of language acquisition".)

So, school language programs are vitally important and need to produce palpable language learning results that the learners and teachers [and later tertiary lecturers] can all find satisfactory and enabling of communication at all sorts of levels. How do we achieve this in current Australian educational culture when so few even wish to continue any language study beyond a compulsory taste? Would the Irish Polyglot's truly communicative approach have any value or chance in schools?

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