[EDLING:188] Re: L2 in US Schools

Bernard Spolsky spolsb at MAIL.BIU.AC.IL
Thu May 13 13:05:17 UTC 2004

So the question becomes, how do we go about changing public expectations
about multilingualism?

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-edling at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
[mailto:owner-edling at ccat.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Leo VanLier
Sent: Thursday, May 13, 2004 3:54 PM
To: edling at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Subject: [EDLING:187] Re: L2 in US Schools

I grew up in the Netherlands and here are some observations from our
language learning in those days (60s). I'm sure things have changed, but I
don't know if success rates have changed.

a) we started languages at age 12 or 13 (7th grade in most cases)
b) the methods were not particularly brilliant in my recollection: a lot of
boring translating and rote memorization. However, we also read lots of
simplified readers, had teachers who spoke the target languages well and
often (and often included jokes, puns, stories), and we had oral
examinations as well as written ones. We had to answer questions in the
target language, recite from books, write summaries of reading texts, etc. I
can't remember any group work.
c) we only had two or three lessons a week in each language. In my school we
had to do three languages simultaneously: French, German and English.
d) as part of a successful education, everyone was expected to succeed in
language classes. At age 16 or 17 we were reading original novels in three
languages, and could converse with native speakers. I personally was
translating lyrics from the Beatles and Bob Dylan and became a fan of Graham
Greene's early novels. At age 17/18 I remember we were reading orginal work
of Somerset Maugham, Jean Paul Sartre, and Wolfgang von Goethe in class,
among other books.

I think there is no magic bullet (age, method, intensity, or whatever - all
these things can help, but none of them are a guarantee). If there is one
ingredient that stands out in my mind it is EXPECTATIONS. It was simply
expected that an educated person spoke the three foreign languages, plus in
many cases knew Latin and Greek. When my educated uncle came to visit( the
only one in the family who had finished secondary school and went on to
higher ed) he made me recite my French and commented on my pronunciation,
grammar, etc. So there was a culture of success. Foreign languages were
considered very important, on a par with science, math, etc.

edling at ccat.sas.upenn.edu writes:
>Another question you should ask is how many hours of teaching per week
>your German friend had during his years of teaching. Here in England
>the number
>is much smaller than in most continental European countries, and one
>calculated that we achieve about as much per hour of teaching as other
>countries do.

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