Speaking of learning and practice

Ken Carroll notes that ChinesePod has posted its 1,000th lesson.  I think the count’s off (looks like more to me), but you can see for yourself.  Its companion site, FrenchPod, which launched earlier this year, isn’t just loafing on the Left Bank, either.

Ken doesn’t post often at his blog, but in the last week or so I found a lot in two posts.

In the first, he discusses CLIL (content and language integrated learning), “where language is taught through subject areas — math through English, for example.”  Although the term’s a bit wordy, it’s a sharper focus than its synonym, immersion.

As Ken says, team teaching is a hallmark of ChinesePod, FrenchPod, and the other Praxis language sites.  When I first visited ChinesePod, I listened to a lesson on buying a train ticket.  I was struck by the depth and range of sound teaching in the lesson — including the interplay between a native speaker of Chinese and a skilled non-native speaker.  Among things I found useful:

  • A quick overview in English
  • A plunge into a short, Chinese-language session
  • “Post-game” discussion between the hosts
  • Variations and extensions (e.g., “So how would  you say…?”
  • )

And, along with the native/nonnative voices, I thought there was value in pairing male and female speakers. A wider range of examples of how people speak the language.

Ken’s post touches on other key points: learning needs a context, and mobile is the new immersion.  Perhaps the most striking statement:  Ultimately, the object of study on ChinesePod is culture, not language.

The second post I wanted to mention, The lexical approach revisited, goes further into the theory of how to teach language.  In a way, learning a language at one of the Praxis sites is much messier than learning French at St. Louis High School — though I think that’s only because the typical high-school approach is more formal, and more formulaic. (I do realize there are many variations — I’m generalizing.)

It’s not always apparent that self-directed learning means you have to do one of two things:

  • Direct yourself, or
  • Find someone else’s direction that suits you.

Taking control of your learning sounds great, but it demands a sort of cognitive infrastructure.  My analogy is with physical health: you have to have the infrastructure of diet, exercise, preventative care, etc.  You have to learn what questions to ask, what sources to consult, what factors to weigh — and in many cases, the farther you go, the less clear it is that you’ll find the answer.

The alternative, though, is expecting someone else to do it all for you.  That can happen, but it doesn’t seem likely.  The golden mean may lie in taking charge of what you feel competent to manage, and “outsourcing” when you find the skill and expertise of others appropriate to your goals.

學而時習之 �亦說乎
Is it not enjoyable to learn
and practice what you learn?
— Confucius

2 thoughts on “Speaking of learning and practice

  1. I actually disagree with Ken on the “culture” not “language” front. The object of language study is studying language. Claiming otherwise involves either a disconnect from student needs, or a pretension on the part of the teacher that they are not offering a basic service to the learner: helping them communicate in service of their own needs and interests.

    To its credit, I don’t think that Praxis engages in this or even really believes what Ken is saying in practice. At the least, I don’t see any classical poetry, or Chinese literature, or calligraphy, or folk music, or Beijing rock, or anything else that would traditionally be considered Chinese culture.

    But why should they? Culture is amorphous and it is the connections between people that matter, and the ability to actually help students that count. If students are going to learn best from a lesson on Cyndi Lauper, that is the sort of thing they should be producing.

  2. Thanks for jumping in, Trevelyan. I’m not Ken, so it’s my own reading here: I saw “culture” in the larger sense — almost a milieu, a context. So a specific poet, or poetic form, might fit — but again, it might not.

    In a discussion on FrenchPod, the moderators were asking about music suggestions. My vote was for Georges Brassens — unknown to me until six months or so, and I’d guess to most Americans. The analogy that came to me: my not knowing something about Brassens is like a French person not knowing something about Bob Dylan. They’re not equivalents in style or their period or their influence — it’s a sort of musical/cultural metaphor.

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