My how things change

Today in Learning Languages, we watched a video demonstrating the “Communicative” method of teaching English. It was focussed on making the students talk in English, under a particular situation, in order to acquire a particular function and structure in the relevant social context. It is characterised by having the students freely produce English, and with an almost complete lack of correction (barring recasting of mistakes). The theory behind it is that language can be acquired by practice at a level slightly above the learner’s current level, based on the ideas of “Communicative Competence”

This was a marked difference from last week’s, where we saw the “Audio Lingual Method” which is focussed on demonstrating and memorising a pattern. This method involved the class memorising and performing a set of lines, with a little bit of work with substitutions into the pattern. Any mistakes are immediately and directly corrected. This method is based on the Behavioralist idea that language is simply a set of habits which must be learnt.

Due to the hetrogenous nature of the class, the native language of the speakers is not given much of a chance to interact with the learning process, which is a shame as both methods provide different approachs to the inclusion of native language in second language learning and acquisition.

Coincidentally, on Monday afternoon driving home from the same class, I overheard a discussion in federal parliament (House of Representatives) on language, and from the hansard transcript, I got the following quote: (Pages 46-51 of the PDF, 30-35 nominally, this quote was page 51/35)

The argument is clearly that the best acquisition of English occurs when you teach as long as you possibly can in the first language. The literature is complete — it is irrefutable — in that the longer you teach in their first language, the better the acquisition of English is going to be.

(The debate was ajourned until today, but today’s hansard isn’t up yet.)

This is interesting, as it goes against all the theories of language learning we’ve considered so far. Admittedly, we’re only up to the 1970’s, so maybe we’re building up to that point? I’ll have to remember to ask Louise about it next week.

On the other hand, there’s Semantics. I finallly did one of the readings, which was a piece by Professor Anna about “happiness” and “happy” in cross-cultural context. As I usually seem to find in Prof. Anna’s articles, it was mainly a criticism of preceeding work (I’ve no problem with that per se.) along with what I feel was a fairly flimsy justification for an argument that “happy” in English is untranslatable to other languages, and is somehow disconnected from “happiness”. The evidence comes from the fact that English, unlike other European languages, allows constructs such as “Are you happy with the decorations” which has little or no effect on one’s situation of “happiness”. This however highlights one of the issues I seem to come across a lot in semantics, which is the conflation of a word with a concept. In this case, “happy” w/out object and “happy” with a (possibly assumed) object (happy with/about OBJ) are different, and have different cultural scripts. The intransitive “happy” does to my mind tie directly to happiness. “Are you happy?” can hardly be said to have nothing to do with happiness, although the answering of it is often broken down into a categorised consideration of the various aspects of one’s life, which then brings in the transitive “happy”. The transitive “happy” can be seen as closer to “satisfied”, and as Prof. Anna observes, does not have the “I cannot want anything more” effect that “happiness” does. Even so, I’m not convinced that happiness in English has this facet, either.

So in short, the article’s main thrust (Proving English-speakers are happier by asking people if they are happy is flawed beyond doubt) is reasonably argued, but the NSM-ised details for me fall very short of convincing.

I’ll put this to my Semantics lecturer tomorrow. It should be an interesting lecture.

I’m finally starting to read the Semantics textbook, hopefully that will hang together better than some of the bits I’ve read so far. (Well, everything else was done in Cross-Cultural Communications a few years ago, so my memory is somewhat coloured by the negative feelings I associate with that class. >_<)

(I also got the IPSec stuff working with OpenSwan and RSA keys, but not x.509. I moved to isakmpd, but haven’t gotten that working with x.509 either. I haven’t tried it with RSA yet though. I might go back to OpenSwan, I found that easier to work with.)

I was gonna talk about tonight’s MGC screening, but it’s 2am and I need sleep. ^_^


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