Monday, January 25, 2016

How NOT to Learn a Language!

I just tried out a MOOC from that college west of Boston famed for a Presidential Candidate. It was Italian. Now being raised on Staten Island, Italian was a second language, Spanish a third. You see Italian was very important. The best priests to go to for Confession were the Italian ones down the street, not the old Irish guys at the local parish. But you had to speak Italian. At least enough.

Then I for some reason had to take Italian with a US State Department group. Then I took Italian from a woman from Trieste; try that accent on after Sicilian. Then I was in Italy. Fact, there is no one Italian and on Staten Island it is like Sicily. So do not try it in Florence.

Now how does this relate to the Italian MOOC. Well, it was the worst possible course ever to try and teach any language. It was literally all over the place. It was high Italian, Milan most likely, and in my picking up five other languages the key is simple:

1. Get the 100 most important words; here, there, numbers, please, thank you, my name is, where is the bathroom, how much is it, etc. You can survive a little,

2. Learn the present tense of about 30 key verbs including to have and to be.

3. Learn 20-50 new words each day. Get index cards and walk around memorizing them.

4. Read the newspaper each day.

5. Watch 2 hours of television each day in the language. Watching the Sopranos in Greek or Sex in the City in German really adds to your insight. On the other hand French TV is all intellectual stuff, like Sartre on steroids.

6. Speak to cab drivers. You can even do this in New York.

7. Try it out on waiters. This may work sometimes.

8. Shop, shop, shop. Read the signs. Find a restroom. It was amazing in Greece, Anthropos, Gynekon, yes anthropology and Gynecologist. Limbic valence on the spot.

9. Never waste time on a MOOC!

The course was almost cartoon like. The exams forced you to answer in a specific way. No one speaks that way. You learn to use phrases to express ideas, requests etc. My favorite experience is that French uses subjunctive, je voudrais, English uses I want. You never say I want in French, unless you do not want it. Language is culture, culture is expression, that is what a language is. Not what this MOOC does.