Archive for Language teaching and learning

More on Mongolian and Kalmyk Studies

One of our last posts was on a German Mongolist named Julius Klaproth (1783-1835) who was a specialist on Kalmyk.  This prompted a regular reader to send the following interesting account about another German Mongolist who was also an expert on the Kalmyks and their language, Nicholas Poppe (1897-1991):

From what I understand, the Russians confiscated the Kalmyk's cattle in WWII, which pushed them to collaborate with the Germans (who were then close to Stalingrad). Nicholas Poppe, the well-known Russian linguist of Mongolian, who was of German ethnicity and (I understand) had a relative among the invading Germans, served as an interpreter and eventually had to flee to the West because of this. Stalin took out a savage revenge on the Kalmyks for their betrayal.

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Don't keep apologizing for your poor L2

Ying Reinhardt wisely advises us in this delightful article:

"I stopped apologising for my poor German, and something wonderful happened:

After a decade in Germany, I was still anxious talking to native speakers – then I realised my language skills weren’t the problem"

The Guardian (4/1/24

What Ying Reinhardt says about German as a second language is true, ceteris paribus, of other foreign languages that one may be learning.  Just plunge ahead.  Of course, one doesn't want to speak utter gibberish, but don't be afraid of making minor mistakes in grammar, vocabulary, and, yes, even tone or accent.  Just get your ideas across in the most efficient way possible within your capability.  It's all about communicative competence.

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Pinyin resurgent


Some exciting news.

A member of the PRC's National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (the yearly meeting of which is taking place in Beijing right now) is urging schools to increase the time spent teaching Pinyin (currently 4-6 weeks) to a semester or even longer to help ensure more students have a solid foundation in this skill. Intriguingly, there's also a mention of using more "texts."

Here's an account of what's happening:

"Schools should spend more time teaching Pinyin: PRC politician", Pinyin News (3/7/24)

Xu Xudong (徐旭東/徐旭东), a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, is advocating that public schools in China allocate substantially more time to the teaching of Hanyu Pinyin.

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Political aspects of teaching Classical Chinese at First Girls High School in Taipei

This issue caused quite a hullabaloo more than a month ago and, during the runup to the national election that was going on at that time, it generated a lot of hot rhetoric.  It's important to note that First Girls High School is an elitist, influential institution that is very hard to get into.

The debate over how much and what sort of Classical Chinese to include in the curriculum grew quite heated, so naturally I quickly wrote a detailed post on the subject, but then my computer crashed because of one of the many dreaded, hated "updates" that I have to endure for the sake of "security" (the bane of my life), and I lost my carefully prepared post on the Classical Chinese debate — same thing happened to the draft of my post on the Tokyo restaurant sign that supposedly "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people".  It has taken me till now to find the time to reconstruct them.

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The importance of Cantonese for teaching English

Think what this article is telling us.  If you want to find a job teaching English in Hong Kong, you would do well to first learn some Cantonese — even if you are Pakistani.

"Hong Kong’s ethnic minority jobseekers tripped up by lack of Cantonese end up doing low-skilled work, survey shows", by Fiona Chow, SCMP (2/3/24)

    • Most surveyed say it’s hard to break out of jobs as deliverymen, security guards and construction workers
    • Hongkonger of Pakistani origin says learning Cantonese helped her land a job as a teaching assistant

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Quadriscriptal "You Are My Sunshine"

From Emma Knightley:

Sent by my boomer parents – according to the caption how a Taiwanese village is teaching seniors how to sing "You Are My Sunshine" in English, which requires them to know a combination of Mandarin, Taiwanese ("阿粿"), English ("B"), and Japanese ("の")! (I think the calligraphy is wonderful, to boot.)

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Sanskrit is far from extinct

[This is the first of two consecutive posts on things Indian.  After reading them, if someone is prompted to send me material for a third, I'll be happy to make it a trifecta.]

Our entry point to the linguistically compelling topic of today's post is this Nikkei Asia (11/29/23) article by Barkha Shah in its "Tea Leaves" section:

Why it's worth learning ancient Sanskrit in the modern world:

India’s classical language is making a comeback via Telegram and YouTube

The author begins with a brief introduction to the language:

The language had its heyday in ancient India. The Vedas, a collection of poems and hymns, were written in Sanskrit between 1500 and 1200 B.C., along with other literary texts now known as the Upanishads, Granths and Vedangas. But while Sanskrit became the foundation for many (though not all) modern Indian languages, including Hindi, it faded away as a living tongue.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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.”

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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.

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