Expatriates Magazine p.14 & 15


Here, Guy Cook gives us at last a less rigid view on translation as a tool for language teaching/learning… Translation understood as a comparison intellectual exercice, not as a « let me check in Google Translate » move.
Translation « allows learners to relate new knowledge to existing knowledge (as recommended by many learning theories), promotes noticing and language awareness, and highlights the differences and similarities between the new and existing language »




I have been reading here and there about how speaking a new language can change our identity.
Mostly writers ask questions: does it really change us? in what ways? What is it exactly that changes in us? Is it good or bad?

If there’s a change, I think it starts with learning a new language, before you even speak it. Learning is a deep change process. And learning a new language is a change process that impacts the very tool we use to tell the world who we are and what we think!
Piaget took us on this track when he said that « all assimilation is a restructuring or a reinvention » – the assimilation being the goal of learning, or the end result if we do it right!

When learning and using new languages we seem to be in a constant back and forth movement between two parts of ourselves. On the one hand: the original I, the one who is used to function in the world with a first language (or two or more for native bilinguals). And, on the other hand, the expanded I who is progressively getting some other codes to communicate and also to be in the world and relate to others.
Indeed, more than a practical communication means, a language is an interface between the world and we. It’s a bit like a pair of spectacles: I don’t see the world the same way through my eyeglasses for myopia and through my correctionless sunglasses. Correctionless… except from lowering the intensity of the sun on my retina.
Unless you wear spectacles frames, without glasses – what would be a sort of Latin, a grammar with no spoken words – our spectacles always correct something. As well as our languages.
So what changes in us, when we are sincerely putting the effort to learn the new code, is the way we see the world.

One could compare learning a language to a buddhist attitude: it’s knowing that THE world, in itself, as an objective concept, doesn’t exist. Only our perceptions of it do. There are many languages for many perceptions of the world.
Deciding to learn a new language is willing to try on a new perception.
So, surely, speaking another language is being someone else, as it’s another way to look at the world and therefore to receive it. It’s being in the world differently… maybe, being in another world…
And this may be the main obstacle for most of us: beyond the tedious and repetitive work it represents, learning another language means to let go of our most ingrained points of reference. Losing ourselves, in a way.

When I studied didactics, I got really interested in the comprehension question and how we deal with it when we teach. Even though we can understand faster and on a broader base than we can actually express ourselves, not understanding is a big frustration when we learn a language. Understand is one of the main objectives and we tend to put it on a scale and aim at 100%: I want to understand everything.
Yes, this is why we’re alive, to understand everything. It is indeed this passion for understanding that drives the young child to learn naturally and sometimes to survive even when her basic needs are not fully met.
Obviously, we won’t understand everything about the world or about life. But we also won’t understand everything of our first language. Let’s look at it from the vocabulary angle: how many anglophones know the definition of the 500,000+ words that make the english language? And let’s say there’s someone who does, this person will grow older and will miss out on the evolution of words’ meanings from generations to generations.
How do you live without knowing 100% of your own language vocabulary? Quite well actually. We can perfectly understand a text, its message and its author’s intention, even if we miss out on a few words. The same goes for oral comprehension: you can understand a vocal message on your voice mail for example even if you’re in a noisy environment and you can’t hear very well. We can always listen again, ask the person to repeat, read again, look for words in a dictionary… All things we don’t consider as failures in our own language.
The language learner tends to forget about this regarding his own language. So when learning a new one, he aims at 100% comprehension. But this 100% doesn’t exist. And this is what can be problematic about the C2 level from the CEFR*: it builds all sorts of perceptions about learning objectives.

But let’s go back to the identity: yes learning a new language changes us, it forces us outside our usual zone of comprehension. Learning a language is an acceptance act, a let go of our points of references. It is accepting that we won’t understand everything. Accepting to be in a world that we don’t understand, or less. But it’s also, as the Czech proverb puts it « getting a new soul »!

* CEFR stands for Common European Framework of Reference for languages. It establishes six levels of foreign language acquisition A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2, from beginner to advanced.


« La classe est finie »

décembre 13, 2012

Tout le problème de l’apprentissage en groupe quand on considère le groupe comme un tout, sans y voir les personnes, leur singularité, leur manière d’apprendre et leurs objectifs individuels.



What neuroscience really teaches us and what it doesn’t