Tuesday, November 7, 2017

We shouldn’t blame speakers of English for failing to be multilingual.

Sent to the Guardian, November 7, 2017

Re: The Guardian view on languages and the British: Brexit and an Anglosphere prison (Nov. 3).
The cost of Britain’s failure to learn other languages (Nov. 6).

We shouldn’t blame speakers of English for failing to be multilingual. 
(1) Language teaching methods in the UK and other English-speaking countries are no worse than methods used elsewhere.  In fact, language education all over the world has failed to consider comprehension-based methods, shown repeatedly in the published research to be far superior and more pleasant than traditional grammar-based methods. (2) The best way to reach advanced levels in other languages has been shown to be pleasure reading.  It is very difficult to find affordable pleasure reading in languages other than English in English-speaking countries. 
(3) It is even hard to get input in the language even when you are in the country where it is spoken. I am multilingual. I have spoken the language of the country in France, Spain, Mexico, Paraguay, Colombia, Germany, Austria, Israel, Ethiopia, China, and Taiwan.  In every country, I meet people who hear my accent and switch to English, often persisting even when it is obvious that I speak their language far better than they do English. “English Fever” is everywhere.

Semitic language scholar Wolf Leslau solved this problem when acquiring Amharic in Ethiopia. He would hire a taxi driver to take him somewhere in Addis Ababa, and converse with the driver in Amharic on the way. When the taxi arrived at destination, Leslau would say, “Now take me to …”, cheerfully paying the extra fare in order to get more Amharic input. 

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

No comments:

Post a Comment