Archive for Language teaching and learning

Sweden's renewed emphasis on books and handwriting

Sweden brings more books and handwriting practice back to its tech-heavy schools

Charlene Pele, AP (9/10/23)

Accompanied by 10 photographs showing young children (3rd grade?) practicing handwriting.

As young children went back to school across Sweden last month, many of their teachers were putting a new emphasis on printed books, quiet reading time and handwriting practice and devoting less time to tablets, independent online research and keyboarding skills.

The return to more traditional ways of learning is a response to politicians and experts questioning whether the country's hyper-digitalized approach to education, including the introduction of tablets in nursery schools, had led to a decline in basic skills.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Mongolian language genocide

During the past few weeks, we've looked at the throttling of Cantonese in Hong Kong.  Now, far to the north of the Chinese empire, the CCP is ramping up the war against Mongolian:

Inner Mongolia: China accused of 'cultural genocide' for school language shift

Debi Edward, ITV News (9/1/23)


Inner Mongolia is the latest province in China where ethnic minorities have had their language forcefully phased out from the education system.

At the school drop-off point, we visited in the capital, Hohhot, nothing appeared to have changed.

We saw children waved off by their parents, some speaking in their native Mongolian language.

But from the start of this school year children from nursery to senior school will find all lessons conducted in Chinese.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Overall, why do Mandarin enrollments continue to decline?

This is a problem that has been troubling colleagues across the country.

"Why fewer university students are studying Mandarin"

Learning the difficult language does not seem as worthwhile as it once did

Economist (Aug 24th 2023)

China | How do you say “not interested”?

Ten years ago Mandarin, the mother tongue of most Chinese, was being hyped as the language of the future. In 2015 the administration of Barack Obama called for 1m primary- and secondary-school students in America to learn it by 2020. In 2016 Britain followed suit, encouraging kids to study “one of the most important languages for the UK’s future prosperity”. Elsewhere, too, there seemed to be a growing interest in Mandarin, as China’s influence and economic heft increased. So why, a decade later, does Mandarin-learning appear to have declined in many places?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (32)

Central Asian Turkish languages

I write to announce an exceptional opportunity to learn the Turkish languages of Central Asia.

There is a new Turkic course at Penn: TURK 1050.
This is a survey course that introduces students to the main languages spoken in Central Asia: Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Azeri. The language study will facilitate student research in topics like politics, history, and cultural events. This course aims at generating interest in the languages and studies of Central Asia spanning different periods of its history, with main focus on the linguistic forms and cultural activities.
Tuesdays and Thursdays 5:15 PM-6:45 PM

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

A sign of the future?

Anemona Hartocollis, "Slashing Its Budget, West Virginia University Asks, What Is Essential?", NYT 8/18/2023:

The state’s flagship school will no longer teach world languages or creative writing — a sign, its president says, of the future at many public universities.

Christian Adams wants to be an immigration or labor lawyer, so he planned to major in Chinese studies at West Virginia University, with an emphasis on the Mandarin language.

But as his sophomore year begins, he has learned that, as part of a plan to close a $45 million budget deficit through faculty layoffs and academic program consolidation, the university has proposed eliminating its world languages department, gutting his major.

He will have to pivot to accounting, he says, and probably spend an extra year in college, taking out more student loans.

“A lot of students are really worried,” said Mr. Adams, 18. “Some are considering transferring. But a lot of students are stuck with the hand they’ve been given.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (38)

Axing languages and linguistics at West Virginia University

From M. Paul Shore:

Article that appeared on the Washington Post website this morning (and is therefore likely to appear in tomorrow's print edition) about the recently proposed demise of, among other things, the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at West Virginia University's flagship Morgantown campus (note that that department name really should be something like "Department of World Languages and Literatures and of Linguistics", since "World" doesn't really apply to "Linguistics"):

Recently proposed demise of languages, linguistics at WVU (Morgantown)

WVU’s plan to cut foreign languages, other programs draws disbelief

Academic overhaul at West Virginia University, in response to budget deficit, outrages faculty and students

Nick Anderson , WP (8/18/23)

A proposal from West Virginia University would discontinue 32 of the university’s 338 majors on its Morgantown campus and eliminate 7 percent of its faculty.  As of 6:30 PM, the article had attracted more than 900 comments, which I'm fairly sure is well above average for the Post website.  By 11 PM, it had garnered 1,400 comments.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Teaching Taiwanese in France

Taiwanese may be fading in Taiwan (see "Selected Readings" below; except for foreign diplomats and the like!), but in France it is thriving:

"Language of our own: Fun Taiwanese classes gain popularity in France"

By Tseng Ting-hsuan and James Lo, Focus Taiwan (8/10/2023)

In a classroom in Paris, Taiwan's top envoy to France François Wu (吳志中) was serenaded with ballads from his homeland, sung not in French or Mandarin, but in Taiwanese Hoklo.

For approximately two hours, the University of Languages and Civilizations (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, INALCO) classroom was filled with the sounds of French students trying their hand at performing songs in Taiwan's version of the Southern Min dialect.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2)

Is there no / any longer a reason / need to learn a foreign language?, part 2

People, including serious linguists, are beginning to wonder:

John McWhorter, "Are translation apps making the learning of foreign languages obsolete?", NYT 7/25/2023

I remember a time, not too long ago, when John was making a serious effort to learn Mandarin, because he often asked me cogent questions about the language and wanted to know the best methods for learning it.

What we can learn from the Tower of Babel

In Europe, nine out of 10 students study a foreign language. In the United States, only one in five do. Between 1997 and 2008, the number of American middle schools offering foreign languages dropped from 75 percent to 58 percent. Between 2009 and 2013, one American college closed its foreign language program; between 2013 and 2017, 651 others did the same.

At first glance, these statistics look like a tragedy. But I am starting to harbor the odd opinion that maybe they are not. What is changing my mind is technology.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)

Euro-Americans speaking North Korean with native fluency

This short video claims that these two men speak perfect Korean with a Pyeongyang accent.


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Is there no / any longer a reason / need to learn a foreign language?

Or, to put it another way, in the words of Douglas Hofstadter,

Learn a Foreign Language Before It’s Too Late

AI translators may seem wondrous but they also erode a major part of what it is to be human.

The Atlantic (7/13/23)

Hofstadter recounts how he spent years of painstaking, hard labor learning more than half a dozen foreign languages, though he never came close to mastering any of them except French and Italian.

But today we have Google Translate. Today we have DeepL. Today we have ChatGPT—and so on. There’s no need for me to list all the powerful technologies that allow anyone today—a monolingual American, say, who has never devoted a single moment to learning, say, Chinese—to write fluent passages in Chinese. Today it’s a piece of cake to send an email in a tongue you don’t know a word of. You just click on “Translate” and presto! There it is! Or at least, there it is, in a certain sense. Assuming that there are no egregious translational blunders (which there often still are), what you are sending off is slick but soulless text.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

Five old, white men

I promised that I would tell the story of how five old, white men persuaded me to begin the study of Asian languages two years after I was out of college.  Here it is.

When I graduated from Dartmouth in 1965, I joined the Peace Corps for two years in Nepal.  Although I contracted fifteen diseases, some quite serious, lost fifty pounds, and had three nearly deadly trail accidents, the experience was transformative.

I was an English major in college and wrote an undergraduate thesis on Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde".  At the end of my Peace Corps service, I still wanted to study for a PhD on Chaucer.  So, among other applications to graduate school and for funding, I applied for a Woodrow Wilson fellowship.  In those days (1967), that was a very prestigious prize.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)


As I am about to deliver a keynote address to an international conference on Chinese language pedagogy, I receive news of this new LLM that knocks my socks off:

InternLM is a multilingual large language model jointly developed by Shanghai AI Lab and SenseTime (with equal contribution), in collaboration with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Fudan University, and Shanghai Jiaotong University.

Technical report: [PDF]

Note: Please right click the link above to directly download the PDF file.


We present InternLM, a multilingual foundational language model with 104B parameters. InternLM is pre-trained on a large corpora with 1.6T tokens with a multi-phase progressive process, and then fine-tuned to align with human preferences. We also developed a training system called Uniscale-LLM for efficient large language model training. The evaluation on a number of benchmarks shows that InternLM achieves state-of-the-art performance in multiple aspects, including knowledge understanding, reading comprehension, mathematics, and coding. With such well-rounded capabilities, InternLM achieves outstanding performances on comprehensive exams, including MMLU, AGIEval, C-Eval and GAOKAO-Bench, without resorting to external tools. On these benchmarks, InternLM not only significantly outperforms open-source models, but also obtains superior performance compared to ChatGPT. Also, InternLM demonstrates excellent capability of understanding Chinese language and Chinese culture, which makes it a suitable foundation model to support Chinese-oriented language applications. This manuscript gives a detailed study of our results, with benchmarks and examples across a diverse set of knowledge domains and tasks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

"Romanisation 'gives clarity'"

As we have pointed out countless times on Language Log, if one wishes to learn a Sinitic language, one can concentrate on the characters (writing system), one can rely exclusively on romanization or other phoneticization, or one can devise various means for combining the two approaches.  Here is a clever, fun method for learning Cantonese that tackles the problem head on.

Hongkonger creates colourful Cantonese font to foster language learning

Jon Chui’s new font shows coloured, context-sensitive jyutping for Chinese text. He created it as his partner “had a hard time with the tones” when learning Cantonese.

Mandy Cheng, Hong Kong Free Press (5/16/23)

Jon Chui "has created a new Cantonese font, which combines over 8,000 characters with colourful, Romanised pronunciation guides in order to foster language learning and teaching."

Cantonese Font. Photo: Jon Chiu.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)