Mandarin immersion or an Academy of Romance culture.

What about an immersion school for Romance languages, a modern Latin Academy?

At the recent reception to launch the conversation with Asia, I met a gentleman from Alberta who is Chinese, married to a Canadian, and whose kids go to a Mandarin-English bilingual school in Edmonton. He said he is really having trouble with his son who is in grade 7. The son claims to have real trouble understanding what is going on, especially in maths and science, and it is difficult to ask questions, since most of the students are Chinese, and he feels like a fool. He wants to quit and his Dad does not want to allow him. The family speaks English at home. The son wants to learn Spanish.

I told him to let his son quit?? and learn Spanish. He can always go back to Chinese later if he wants to. Then I thought about the wisdom of these immersion schools in general, and all the hype surrounding learning Chinese, the “future language of business”. Why not just let people learn what they want for more basic human reasons, like their interest in the culture??? The Chinese speakers are probably suffering in terms of their English development, and few of the non-Chinese, if they survive the program, will use it for business.

I think that an alternative to an immersion program would be a school program focused on a certain culture or language. So a Chinese academy would offer a heavy Chinese culture, history, geography, modern culture etc. program, all in Chinese, however all the normal curriculum items, maths, science etc. would be covered in English or the native language of the majority.

One variant of this could be a Latin Academy, where the focus would be a rich program on the literature, culture, history etc, of Rome and Romance culture up to modern times, including all the modern Romance languages, with some options for focusing on one or two of them.

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National Conversation with Asia

I was at a reception the other evening to launch the National Conversation on Asia campaign in Canada. A lot of hype and an opportunity for various organizations to access funds for all kinds of activities, the net effect of which will be rather limited. The usual slogans are there, combining the genuine promotion of intercultural exchange with more self-serving agendas; “Canada is falling behind”, “we need to focus more on Asia”, “we need to embrace the idea of foreign state owned corporations buying up our resources” “we all need to speak more Asian languages” and the like.

It seems to me that we have a problem with a lack of “conversation” between recently arrived Asian immigrants and the rest of the Canadian population, but that is another question.

For a real conversation on Asia, or, at least, with Asians, join and build up LingQ!!

Thinking of moving this blog to Posterous and shutting down Typepad, any thoughts?

I have been posting on my blog through Posterous with the result that the blog appears both in a Typepad format and a Posterous format. I am thinking of moving it all to Posterous. Does anyone have any comments or suggestions on the wisdom of doing this? I think it is confusing to have the blog in two places. I would appreciate hearing from any of you on this.

Universal grammar ?

I have always felt that Chomsky’s universal grammar hypotheses made no sense, that humans were just good at identifying rules. Therefore children identify the rules that govern the language that they hear, and that these rules can be quite different in different languages. I never accepted the idea that there are language rules built into our DNA. Here is a study that supports this skeptical view of Chomsky.

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Grammar rules or patterns

We have an interesting discussion going on at a forum at LingQ on whether we need to learn grammar rules or patterns. Here is my latest comment on this subject, but there is quite a variety of views there.

I agree that correct usage is all about mastering patterns that are generally accepted in the language as spoken by the natives. Of course the patterns may vary according to which tribe of natives we want to emulate, but language mastery is still about patterns.

I believe that massive input, with a little help, whether from teachers, the odd correction, grammar books, self-help tools like LingQ or Anki, is the shortest path to the mastery of these patterns.

I find the explanations of the patterns using a lot of grammatical jargon hard to follow. I prefer, “in Japanese they say things this way and it more or less means this”. Then I watch for the pattern and gradually get a clearer and clearer sense of what it really means, the more I come across it in my reading and listening.

The US consumes 25% of the world’s resources and has 5% of the world’s population.

I often see this statement, and it is usually meant as a reproach. But what would happen if the US stopped consuming so much of the world’s resources. Would the third world be better off? In all likelihood, exports from third world countries would fall, prices for these products would fall, third world economies would suffer, poverty would increase, income and health levels in those countries would decline.

Is it not a good thing that the US, and the developed world in general, creates a market for the world’s resources, many of which come from the third world. In addition the rich developed economies create new technologies that benefit everyone. Life expectancy just keeps getting longer and longer, health and education levels improve, and expectations everywhere increase. Is that a bad thing?