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style? What is it intended to be? How abhorrent it is logically to attempt to judge which is best among products that are intended to be in different classes ! We should under such conditions be comparing for instance, the faithfulness of one piece of work with the originality of the other. This kind of thing would follow an attempt to make practical use of an objective scale in English composition.
This study was undertaken in the belief that errors could be graded, that if teachers knew the conditions under which they were committed there would be substantial agreement as to their seriousness. The method of describing the types of error presented would reveal something of the basis of judgment. How widely after all individuals among those who judged the errors differ is evident from the results. The sum-total of judgments comes to something like a reasonable conclusion. But when it was attempted to extend the study into the content of answers to examination questions, it was soon found that it was vain to hope for any positive conclusions. The attempt simply proved that no objective standard of excellence, no easily applicable rule of procedure could be laid down as a guide to those who judge examination papers and other school exercises; that obedience to a mathematical formula can avail nothing; that a scale of undefined degrees of excellence in composition made up of the average judgment of thousands, an average whose constituents are unknown and perhaps unknowable, ignores the actual conditions of the teaching process. The important question is not which of a number of school products is the best but how is the judgment of a best derived, what are its constituents ? Every examination result, as indeed every answer to any kind of school assignment depends for its position in a scale of excellence upon the nature of the question or assignment, the instruction that preceded it, the nature of the subject-matter, the student's grade of advancement at the time, the mental processes involved, and perhaps on factors which the teacher by virtue of his position alone is able to consider. Now, all these things are not a revelation of anything new. But yet these things forgotten, it was expected to reform examinations by means of the probability curve and evaluate composition exercises by means of an objective scale; these things remembered, we see the limitations of the one and the wholly impractical character of the other.
In Defense of Our Modern Language
the teachers of languages on the ground that they accomplish little, if anything. But how many of those who feel called upon to offer criticism un
derstand the situation in its entirety? How many mumu
take the trouble to look at the problem from the standpoint of the teacher? Usually the critic takes
the position: the teacher and the pupil have been brought together, that should suffice to engender in the head (brain+tongue) of the pupil a practical knowledge of the foreign tongue. But one may bring hydrogen and oxygen together and still get no water unless the proper procedure be followed. So with the teachers of languages and their pupils. No one tries, for instance, to take H 30 +0 and get water, but the formula, Pupil 30 + Teacher is supposed to produce ability to speak, read and write a foreign language. Nor is the proper proportion the only essential to H,0. The attendant circumstances must be right. The same holds true of modern (or ancient) language teaching.
Let us examine briefly the seeming failure of modern language teachers and see whether their efforts are so void of results as many people would have us believe.
First of all, we must define our terms and recognize that language teaching may have two aims and not one, as might be supposed at first thought. They are: 1, to teach the pupil to use read, write, speak—the foreign language, a purely utilitarian aim; 2, to acquaint the pupil with the best thought, the literature, the history, the culture and the customs of the people whose language he is studying, an aim not so “practical” as the first, and yet of vastly more benefit to the average individual and the whole race. Most of our schools attempt more or less of a compromise and combination of these two, the present tendency being to accentuate the first aim in order to placate our critics.
Let us look at the problem first from the standpoint of the critic who demands that the teacher teach the pupil to use the language for practical purposes. Now let us sum up the difficulties which lie in the
of the teachers of languages. These may be said, roughly speaking, to be of a fourfold nature: 1, the nature of language itself; 2, faults of the pupils who are to be taught; 3, the present system and arrangement of courses; 4, faults which lie in the teachers. These points are all closely bound up in each other, but I shall try to consider them separately.
What is the nature of the difficulty which the language itself offers to the teacher who would impart it to another? What are we to teach? We are asked to bring our pupils to that stage where they will converse freely in a foreign tongue. Can they
get this ability from the study of books ? Of course not. The study of language is not the study of facts, and here it differs
from the sciences. The teachers of language as such cannot give the pupils a certain number of facts, and after insisting upon their being mastered, know that the learner has made just that much progress. To be sure, the grammar is full of facts, which may be drilled into the pupil, but the grammar is not the language, is not what we are asked to teach. The language is a living organism which must be created anew each time it is employed, created to be sure, according to certain rules and formulas, but nevertheless created, and it is just this act of creation which is the stumbling block. How can the teacher implant in the pupil the ability to create? That is the point too often overlooked. The teacher cannot pick it out of a book and implant it, the teacher can only prepare the soil, sow the seed and look after the young shoot. If there is no nourishment in the soil, the teacher's work is in vain, just as the work of a music teacher amounts to nought when the pupil has neither ear nor feeling for music. Granted, however, that the pupil does have the necessary natural qualities, a feeling for languages, then the responsibility for advance must still rest almost entirely upon the learner after the teacher has shown him the way, has explained the formulas and has encouraged him to make the attempt. Nothing but constant, conscientious and whole-souled effort on the part of the pupil can advance him beyond that point. This is a fact that is for the most part lost sight of by the public at large, a public only too willing to criticize the results of a teacher's efforts. Yet very few people would be so short-sighted as to complain that their children made no advance with their piano lessons if the children didn't practise. It is time that some of the criticism be directed toward the pupils and their parents, so many of whom no longer insist upon discipline in the home, on the child's actually putting his mind and attention to some definite problem. The modern child, as Professor Arland D. Weeks* remarks, lives in a machine-made age. Everything in practical life has been made easy. People don't have to think any more, instead they press a button. Because the modern language teacher cannot press a button and inject a knowledge of languages into the head of his pupil, the teacher is condemned. He is not "efficient!" How about the pupil? Just what is his mental efficiency? The royal road to learning a language has yet to be discovered in spite of all the new "methods” and short cuts. The growing child does not learn his mother tongue in a month or a year, although he has to hear it and use it constantly.
This brings us to our next point, which to be sure has already been touched upon—the faults of the pupils who are to be taught. Much less has been written upon this point than on the faults of our teachers, and yet it is a factor well recognized by every teacher, if not by others. Every teacher knows from personal experience the lifenessness that is often present in a class, the deadly dragging inertia of the pupils who won't make any effort unless forced to do so or amused in some way. Our critics tell us that we teachers are to blame for this, that if we were lively, interesting teachers, we could overcome this difficulty with ease. To be sure, there is the sort of teacher who takes all the life out of the subject and the class, but certainly the primary purpose of the teacher is not to amuse and interest. The pupil should bring interest to the class. The point is well summed up in the old saying: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.” We teachers are asked to force the pupils to take something they don't want, supply the sugar coating for the bitter pill of knowledge. That is of course not the proper relation. If the
• The Crisis Factor in Thinking in the American Journal of Sociology (Chicago) for February.
pupil came eager to receive, anxious to learn, there would be no more talk about the failure of modern language teaching. * If the pupils are in the course because it is prescribed, if they are there because they have been “sent,” if they do not actually want to learn, there can be little progress in language work, although, to be sure, there can be plenty of grammar drill, a frequent solace of the weary language teacher who wants to make sure that there is some definite, tangible result of the hour. What good does it do, though the teacher make every effort in the classroom and out, if the pupils forget as soon as possible all that has been said and done in the school room? What good does it do for the teacher to fill the ears of the pupil full of German, if that pupil will not hear or utter another word of the language the rest of the day? Of course the lesson should be assigned to be studied aloud at home, but how can the teacher see to it, that this is done faithfully and conscientiously, if the pupil chooses to slight it? Flunk him? How does that teach him the language? We are living in a materialistic age. The pupil says: “What's the use of German to me? I'll never have to speak German." True enough, , and that is another point that our criticst overlook.
How can we teach German to pupils who have that attitude of mind? Usually the answer is: “Amuse them !” or as it is put: “Interest them !"
We can, and, I hope, quite generally do, arouse the interest of the pupils in the life and customs of the people whose language we are trying to teach, but really that is not teaching them the language, as the critic demands. On the other hand, it is astonishing and gratifying to see how some pupils, who really want to learn to speak, do grasp the language and make rapid progress. It depends entirely upon the pupil's mental qualities and his attitude of mind.
Closely connected with this side of the problem are the faults of our system and arrangement of modern language instruction in our schools and colleges. The two greatest of these mechanical faults are: 1, that all pupils who elect a certain coursei in school are thrust into the modern languages as prescribed studies, and
* Of course this lack of interest does not apply alone to our branch of learning.
† Many of those who criticize the results obtained may recognize that this was their own state of mind when they were "studying languages.
* Here I would understand by "courses" the various groups, one of which the high school student must elect when he enters: classical, Latin-mathematical, modern language, etc,