Thursday, September 29, 2011

What - and how - should we be teaching world languages? What is the goal of attaining proficiency in a new language? Howard Gardner, in his book "A Disciplined Mind," asks us to think about why any subject or materials is taught to anyone - before we spend all the effort and time to determine proficiency objectives, assessment methods, curriculum, teacher qualifications and student classroom assignments. Gardner's vision is idealistic. He believes the goal of education is to help form the mind and character of students, so that they will be able to meet the challenges of our future society with creativity and confidence. How can language teachers contribute to this capacity? Why not be inspired with idealism? What new roads might our students travel, now that they have the capacity for language learning awakened within them? World literature is filled with stories of characters who learn a new language in a matter of weeks or months, (and in some cases it's just a necessary plot device so that they can get on with the dialogue in the following scenes.) In the James Cameron movie "Avatar" it was essential that our hero speak the language of the aboriginal community. He began with an intention to infiltrate, and ended up becoming a member, and a leader of the community. De Llosa's hero in "The Storyteller" makes a similar journey, and no doubt there are many others. It seems that teaching language is fundamentally different from teaching math, or science, or even the grammar and literature of a student's first language, or the dominant language of the community. When we teach a person to think, speak, read and write in a new language, we give them a unique gift. The inside of their head will never be the same.

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