teaching foreign languages at an early age

Danielle E. Cyr dcyr at yorku.ca
Wed Jan 12 12:46:29 UTC 2011

In Canada, an officially bilingual country, many if not most of the French as a
Second Language (FSL) students enrol in these programs for political reasons.
Indeed most of our students are first or second generation immigrants. They
REALLY aim at becoming the "perfect" citizens, thus at becoming bilingual.

However, all are not equally talented for learning a SL. Some end up at the end
of their undergraduate studies with a middle and high school background of
French core courses and four years in departments of French Studies with very
little command of spoken French and even less of written French. Others come
out brilliantly fluent in both. They all had the same motivation at the onset.

Once, in a undergraduate course - Linguistics applied to the teaching of FSL (a
course for future FSL teachers)- a student had the idea of having all her
classmates to go through a basic multiple intelligences test. Between 1/3 and
1/2 of the class had not languaging as their major form of intelligence.

I was too busy teaching overload during that year and FSL not being my main
research area, I did not think of searching for correlations between the test
results and the student performance in FSL.

Yet the idea of my message here is that talent is a big factor that is hard to
measure although it has to be taken into account.

Talmy I agree with you that invoking talent might look like drifting away from
science. However, there must be methodologies for taking it into account: the
heredity factor, family members as role models, broad educational history, etc.
These methodologies should also be used for detecting good (FSL) teachers. I say
so because in the same class I refer to above, more than half of the students
had grand-parents, parents, older siblings, uncles /aunts etc who were also

Excellence in languaging and teaching it might be something partly "gifted" at
birth and reinforce by role models, educational orientations, etc. Science
should find a way to account for that.


Quoting Tom Givon <tgivon at uoregon.edu>:

> I suppose I should have indicated by some graphemic means that I was
> using the terms 'imperial' and 'liberation' tongue in cheek. I think
> they pretty much characterize the ideological position of many of my
> Catalan friends. But as is the case in at least one other region in
> Spain, the ideological/national aspirations of one group cut into the
> legitimate rights of another. Internal migration ('imperialism' to some)
> in Spain has made all AutonomIas linguistically mixed. It is fun to
> speak Anzaluz with the taxistas in Barcelona, and once you get them
> going, they will tell you their tale of woes about Catalan linguistic
> nationalism. It is not that in Anzaluzia people don't poke fun at the
> way NorteNos speak, but at least they don't curtail their civil rights.
> These are all subtle details of multilingualism (tho Andaluz is not
> recognized as a language). My point remains tho, that once you get in
> the midst of ideological nationalist zealotry, science becomes murky.
> Best,  TG
> =========
> On 1/11/2011 9:58 PM, Moore, John wrote:
> > Against my better judgement I feel I should add a rejoinder to this;
> anything said in this domain is bound to bother many, if not all.  The
> linguistic situation in Catalunya is, indeed complex.  However, to refer to
> Catalan as 'liberation' and Spanish (or Castellano) as 'imperial'
> over-simplifies.  Catalan is, of course, the indigenous language of the
> region which was strenuously repressed during the Franco period.  Spanish, is
> also clearly the national language that was imposed, also during that period.
>  However, since around the 1950s, there was a significant internal migration
> of of Spanish-speaking Andalucians to Catalunya, who  formed a
> guest-worker-like Spanish-speaking underclass.  This leads to the question:
> how much of many Catalans' aversion to Spanish is because of historical
> repression, and how much is due to old-fashion prejudice against an
> under-class?
> >
> > John
> > ________________________________________
> > From: funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu [funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu]
> On Behalf Of Tom Givon [tgivon at uoregon.edu]
> > Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 5:42 PM
> > To: funknet at mailman.rice.edu
> > Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] teaching foreign languages at an early age
> >
> > Well, maybe it is also worth mentioning that when you get into
> > Catalunia, you get into thick layers of language politics and liberation
> > ideology. So sometimes it is not all that easy to tell when the science
> > ends and something else begins. Of course, Catalunia is not the only
> > place where this can be observed. But once you get into the convoluted
> > relations between a dominant/imperial language and an
> > indigenous/liberation language, it becomes harder to do simple science.
> > People have all kinds of axes to grind. Our earlier discussion last year
> > about the Israeli-Arabic situation certainly overlapped with these
> > issues. I am not so worried about the oft-subconscious effect of
> > socio-linguistic factors on SLA. This should be studied as part of
> > science. It is the deliberate ideologs that scare me.  Best,  TG
> >

"The only hope we have as human beings is to learn each other's languages.  Only
then can we truly hope to understand one another."

Professor Danielle E. Cyr
Department of French Studies
York University
Toronto, ON, Canada, M3J 1P3
Tel. 1.416.736.2100 #310180
FAX. 1.416.736.5924
dcyr at yorku.ca

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