18 September 2013

Is the United States “Exceptional”

united states exceptional

Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest with his comment that the USA is not exceptional. Putin’s statement is a deliberate attempt to tease the US and garner support in his own country, but in the end probably quite banal. However, the reaction to Putin’s comments by some people in the US is hilarious. This Op Ed piece from USA Today, is a moderate example, one of many. Try googling “Putin US exceptional” and you will see examples of even more jingoistic reactions.

The writer admits that the US is not above reproach, but reaffirms the exceptional nature of the US with statements like:

“it was the U.S. military that turned the tide of the battles in World War I and World War II — and the American economic engine that fueled Europe’s recovery from the devastation wrought by Nazi Germany,”

or:

“in fact, as exceptional nations go, the U.S. ranks right up there with the Roman Empire and England during its period of colonial dominance.”

The facts are that all of the belligerents in the two world wars were exceptional to some extent. The Balkan ambitions of the Austro-Hungarian empire started the first world war. French losses in WW I were exceptional. The losses experienced by countries like Poland and Yugoslavia in WW II were exceptional. The heroic resistance of Great Britain in that war was exceptional. The role of Germany in both wars was exceptional. The Soviet Union played a far more exceptional role in “turning the tide of battles” in WWII, at least in Europe, then the United States. For that matter the whole history of the Soviet Union starting from the revolution in 1917, was exceptional. The US was certainly a positive factor in Europe’s postwar recovery, but I think that many other exceptional factors, including Germany’s response and the creation of the European common market, were equally responsible for this remarkable resurgence.

From a historical perspective, I think it is a little early to rank the US right up there with the Roman Empire. Perhaps it is useful to consider other exceptional countries and empires in history. China, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, India, the influence of France from Louis XIV to Napoleon, and the Ottoman Empire come quickly to mind, and Egypt, Sumeria, Persia, Ancient Greece, and I am just getting started. The dramatic expansion eastward to the Pacific of Czarist Russia is another example that is quite exceptional. For that matter, the techniques developed by the Inuit to survive in the conditions of the Arctic are exceptional.

I think every nation is exceptional. When I study the languages of different countries, even smaller countries like the Czech Republic, I am always impressed by the unique and fascinating nature of their history and traditions. Some countries are large and some countries are small. Some countries are powerful and exert that power. Other countries have frequently been invaded by their neighbours. To me, they are all exceptional.

Maybe what is truly exceptional about some of these Americans (certainly not all) is that they consider themselves to be so exceptional.

17 September 2013

Can introverts learn languages?

One often hears that extroverts make better language learners then introverts. I don’t believe this is the case. Success in language learning depends on the interest and determination of the learner, the time spent with the language, and the ability to notice what’s happening in the language. These factors are not influenced by whether the learner is an introvert or an extrovert. At least that is what I think. I would be interested in your views.

15 September 2013

When grammar instruction does not help

Despite a focus on French verb instruction in the school system, after ten years in school, most English Canadians speak French using the infinitive for all verbs, if they speak French at all.

15 September 2013

Listening comprehension, the core language skill

Far too much emphasis is placed on speaking in language instruction. If the emphasis were placed on listening comprehension, people would end up speaking better.

14 September 2013

Are we learning languages the wrong way?

learning languages

We are learning languages the wrong way says this article from the New Statesman. I don’t agree with everything in the article, but there are some important points.

I have always felt that the emphasis on teaching a few basic survival sentences, or correct usage, is largely a waste of time. I believe we need to emphasize the enjoyment of the language, and increased comprehension. The present emphasis in language class on producing the language, and on correct grammar, is usually counterproductive. Students graduate with little ability to understand the language, and still can’t produce many grammatically correct sentences.

What do you think? Are we learning languages the wrong way?

10 September 2013

Fluent Mandarin in 6 months?

I was asked to describe how to achieve fluency in Mandarin in six months.

5 September 2013

Why do we learn languages?

I derived immense enjoyment from listening to audiobooks and podcast, reading books, watching movies and participating in the cultures of the languages that I learn. Undoubtedly the amount of time that I enjoy my languages in this way is far greater than the amount of time that I am able to use the languages in talking to people. The goal is to talk to people, but most of the enjoyment comes from these seemingly passive activities. Of course, learning the languages through these somewhat passive activities, eventually enables me to speak comfortably.

5 September 2013

All learning is self-learning

self-learning

We are conditioned by schools to think that our learning has to be directed by a teacher in the classroom. However, learning is inevitably a process of self improvement and personal growth. What matters most is what we as learners  do, whether in the classroom, or outside the classroom. A teacher cannot force learning on a student.  The teacher, or the classroom, are not the only resources available to us. The Internet is an amazing resource, as I have said many times. We can find language content, grammar references, and even articles about learning.

While surfing the web for articles on self-learning, I came across something I wrote three years ago, Six Steps to Effective Self Learning . My views have not changed.

On another occasion, while googling in order to understand the difference between the words “imparare”  and “apprendere” in Italian, I came across this interesting article called “Imparare a imparare” (Learning to learn).  The writer, Luciano Mariani, discusses the importance of setting one’s own goals and organizing one’s own learning activities, in order to become a learner for life.

Mariani’s blog,  www.learningpaths.org , in English and Italian, is devoted to issues related to motivation and learning, with specific reference to language learning.

3 September 2013

About learning German, some details about the language

Some people wanted more details about the language itself. Motivation is key and the rest will follow, but here are some observations about German.

31 August 2013

About learning German and other subjects

If you aren’t motivated to learn German, it is not difficult to get motivated. Anyone with motivation, can become a good language learner.