Reasons to learn

25th April 1997 at 01:00
In the first of a series, Margaret Tumber, president of the Association of Language Learning, recalls a book that proved invaluable at the start of her career. Nuovi metodos pour apprende uma fremde glossa or New Ways to Learn a Foreign Language by Professor Robert A Hall Jr of Cornell University is a paperback I bought for 95 cents in Canada in 1966, the year of its publication.

My own experience as a language learner was fairly typical and traditional. My start as a language teacher was anything but. As a graduate student at the University of Alberta, I taught one hour a day German beginners. The course book was American and the on-the-job-training a weekly meeting with the other language team members.

I discovered there were questions to be asked about foreign languages which had never seemed relevant before. It had not occurred to me to ask "Why learn foreign languages?" or "How do you teach foreign languages?" Suddenly it became necessary to try to find the answers.

In New Ways to Learn a Foreign Language, I found sections dealing with Learning Another Language, Building New Language Habits, The Nature of Language, Language in Context. I became familiar with the characteristics of Eight Major Languages (useful ammunition when promoting diversification) and from the bibliography was enticed into further reading.

Above all I read that: "Our native language-habits are only a pair of spectacles, as it were, through which we view the world around us. People who speak other languages have different pairs of 'language spectacles'". And that: "It is not only helpful, but necessary, for every person to have some knowledge of at least one other way of talking, in order to realise that his or her own way of talking and living is not the only or even the most reasonable one. This . . . is the most valid reason for extending second-language-learning to as many members of the population as we can reach."

New Ways to Learn a Foreign Language helped me to look more closely at the rationale for learning foreign languages, to question established ideas and practices and to be ready to search for new ways to make modern foreign languages accessible and acceptable to all.

New Ways To Learn a Foreign Language. By Robert A Hall. Bantam Books 1966

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