Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crossing the Borders of Language

If I was to name two keys to gaining acceptance with people of another culture, eating their food and speaking their language are areas which quickly rise to the top of my list.

See these recent articles on culture and food on this site.

Language Learning
Obviously the length of a visit might well determine how much one decides to invest in learning the language of people where you might be teaching but it is amazing how using a few words of greeting can open up doors of acceptance.

Language Methods
Personality is a big shaper of our learning preferences and when it comes to how one tackles a new language, it is amazing the number of methods that abound.

Like many westerners I had years of rote learning and grammar exercises to pass exams for schoolboy French and Latin. Later learning in this style was done at greater depth and at a faster pace when studying (for reading more than speaking) New Testament Greek at seminary and Classical Hebrew at university.

I had the chance for learning language by immersion (without any books) when working with Samoans in a timber factory, leading a Hindi-speaking church in Fiji and serving in a Maori-speaking community in New Zealand.

Since living in the UAE I have studied Arabic in a formal class and later by using Teach Yourself methods aided by books and CDs to hear the Gulf Arabic dialect.

Right now I am brushing up my Spanish by using a most interesting and encouraging method—The Pimsleur Method. Here are one or two (promotional) statements that seek to identify the distinctives of this method:

This course is designed to teach you to understand and to speak the essential elements of your new language in a relatively short time. During each half-hour lesson, you will actually ‘converse’ with two people, using the type of language spoken by educated citizens in their everyday business and social life.

The Pimsleur Method centers around teaching, in the shortest time possible, functional mastery in understanding and speaking a language. You will be working on your vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation all at once, while also learning phrases that have practical use in daily life. It has been said that language is primarily speech. With this concept in mind, Dr. Pimsleur created his language programs on audio because he knew that students of languages would learn better with their ears, not their eyes.

Principle of Anticipation
Language by this method is taught, not by tedious repetition for Dr. Pimsleur discovered that learning accelerates when there is an "input/output" system of interaction, in which students receive information and then are asked to retrieve and use it.

Graduated Interval Recall
Dr. Pimsleur discovered how long students remembered new information and at what intervals they needed to be reminded of it. If reminded too soon or too late, they failed to retain the information. This discovery enabled him to create a schedule of exactly when and how the information should be reintroduced.

Finale
Not all languages are available to be taught by this method but when you are having a crack at a new language check out the Pimsleur Method. It is fun, effective. Muy bien!

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “It is amazing the number of methods that abound.”