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    A provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Hard to Understand
July 21, 2013 - 9:20pm

My younger daughter was fine in England. We loved being there. The accent was strange to her but people were talking English and she had no trouble communicating. Communicating was not a problem for me either and I was also smart enough not to drive a car and adjust to driving on the "wrong" side of the street. We next took a side trip to Disneyland Paris. English was in frequent use and almost everyone understood and was willing to talk in English. Some of the rides and shows were primarily French but there was always an English version, even if it was abridged. Once again my younger daughter had no trouble understanding or being understood, especially since many of the rides were simply irresistible and required very limited communication skills.

And then we came to Paris and we loved being there.  But English, not surprisingly, is much less common in Paris. And in no time at all, my younger daughter said how much "she hated it" when people didn't understand or speak English.  And I must admit, when walking through the Louvre, that I would have had an easier time if I had remembered more of the French I studied in middle school (which in those days was called junior high school) and high school. So much of what I studied was mostly memorization, which probably did little to increase either my interest or my mastery of language. What has stuck the longest is a French poem about a grasshopper and an ant.  Hard to believe that this was a major part of my grade.  Now, I'm not criticizing this fable or moral, just its stage center role in my language instruction.

Neither of my kids seems inclined to study language until they reach the point of proficiency even though I know that language instruction at all levels today is much more relevant and interactive. I will keep lobbying them to continue their study of Spanish. I actually think that this trip has helped my cause. Nothing is more frustrating than not to be understood.  English is a dominant language but not the only language that matters.  We should all be fluent in at least a second language and my preference would be that the language be a world language.

 

 

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