Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

are expected to do the same work whether or not they have any taste or natural ability for these languages ; 2, that the time assigned to language instruction is ridiculously inadequate in view of the results expected and demanded.

The result of forcing pupils into a class for which they have no interest, has already been indicated, so let us pass on to the second point.

A certain number of pages can be ground out and a certain number of grammatical rules learned in the time meted out for language instruction, but that is not learning the language, and cannot be so considered. If the aim of language instruction is to give the pupil fluency in the use of the spoken language, a novice can easily see that this cannot be done in three or five hours a week, when so and so many pages of German must be read to “finish the course." If ability to speak the foreign language is to be our goal, and if we are always to be criticized because our pupils fail to show that ability, then the courses of our high schools and colleges should be rearranged. Less reading (translating) and more of the intensive study and drill in the use of the language should be the plan. It seems as though the courses have been arranged so as to preclude any possibility of reaching this goal. This arrangement dates from the time when pupils were not expected to use the spoken language. It is hopeless to expect the learner to express himself fluently in German on a subjecteven connected with the reading—if he is in a German class only three or five hours out of 168 (one week), or about 90, or 150 hours per year, unless he is vitally interested in learning to speak. In each class, the teacher will consume at least 15 minutes in explanations and class directions. That leaves at the most only 45 minutes for the pupils to use their German. As the average number of pupils in a class is between 20 and 30, each pupil will use his German actually not more than two minutes a day! To be sure, he will hear some German from the teacher, but probably more English, because some things have to be explained in English—and some poorer German from his classmates. If the pupil speaks German only ten or fifteen minutes per week, how long is it going to take him to learn to converse fluently with a native German? O sancta simplicitas! When are the powers that be going to realize that the teaching of modern languages must be put on another footing, if our school boards are to expect the pupils to really learn to use the languages ? The wonder is not that the teachers don't accomplish more, but that they do as much as they do. It is obvious that more time must be given to the individual pupil, if language work is to be undertaken in earnest, for when there are so many in a class, the poor students hold the good ones back until often the latter lose interest because of the slow progress, and only when the student is really interested can anything of value result.

The fourth point, faults of our teachers, has been too often discussed to need further discussion here. Any one can tell what is the matter with the teacher, as the long list of articles on methods and preparation for teaching will show.

If I have been able in the foregoing to show that circumstances over which we have little control prevent us from teaching our pupils to converse freely in the language which we try to teach them, you may ask what solution I have to propose. A new method ? No. A rearrangement of courses? If it were possible to so arrange the courses that all those who begin the study of a language would continue it several years, then a new arrangement might well be worked out; but under the present conditionsespecially as such a small percentage of high school pupils enter college-no. The only solution seems to lie in the recognition on the part of the general public as well as teachers, that the conditions which at present prevail necessarily throw the stress on reading, on the literature, the history, the culture of the people whose language is studied, and that under the circumstances the complaint made because the result is not an ability to speak the language is entirely unwarranted. Would a housewife make a batter for a sponge cake and then wail when it came out of the oven because it hadn't turned out to be doughnuts? And yet the modern language situation is analogous.

Let us recognize frankly that we cannot reform our system so that it will turn out finished conversationalists in foreign tongues. Indeed, why should we want to ? How many will ever be called upon to use the foreign tongue? We here in America are so far removed from Germany, France and Spain that there is little practical use in trying to make all our students speak one or more of the foreign tongues. If we lived in close touch with neighbors speaking another tongue, the case would be different. Such a small percentage of our pupils can cross the ocean that it would be nothing short of a crime to force all to devote their time to conversational exercises, when they might better be improving their minds by reading and studying the master minds of other countries as expressed in foreign literatures.

Of course I am heartily in favor of devoting at least a part of the period to practice in conversation* and of making the foreign idiom as far as possible the language of the class room in order to stimulate the interest of the class and develop their feeling for the language, but I do not believe that an ability to speak German is necessary to an appreciative reading of the masterpieces of German literature. Nor has it been my experience that the student can, under our present system, do himself justice in a literature course when compelled to recite wholly in German.

Let us by all means recognize that the second of the two aims of modern language teaching is by far the more important and the more practical, as well as the one attainable goal. Let us then, allow the stress to remain on the reading—not necessarily, and indeed preferably not, translation, but on the other hand let the critics awaken to the fact that such is our intention. Let not our eyes be blinded by advertisements of new methods, valuable though they are, but let us rather face the situation as it is and agree that it is better to devote the little time that we have alloted to the teaching of German, to making the students acquainted with the masterpieces of German literature, with the customs and ideas of the German people, for surely that is more broadening than learning a certain number of phrases, a certain quantity of the spoken language. I, for one, believe that we Americans are not in any great need of a method of producing conversationalists, moreover, I am convinced that this is impossible under the conditions that obtain in our teaching at present.

If then, we turn our eyes from the alluring but deceptive prospect of teaching our pupils to converse in the foreign idiom, let us see what can be and actually is accomplished in our modern language instruction. For the sake of brevity, let us distinguish merely between elementary and advanced courses.

. Lest I should seem to attack the so-called "direct method", I will say that I have always been and am still an advocate of this method.

[ocr errors]

In the elementary courses—one to three years—the average pupil gains a certain ability to read the language, he gains a more or less accurate knowledge of the life and customs of the foreign country and possibly comes to realize that America does not possess all that is desirable and attractive, that his native land can learn something from other countries. Thereby he is broadened and prepared for more intelligent citizenship. He becomes less bigoted and hidebound. Another positive gain is the mental discipline which results from conquering the difficulties which the study of a foreign language offers. The extent of this gain depends greatly upon the pupil and will vary with each directly with his mental stamina.

The tangible results of the advanced courses are similar to those mentioned above, differing chiefly in quantity. To be sure, there is one other quite evident result from the advanced courses, namely the ability to earn a living by teaching the language to others.

But the less tangible results are certainly not less valuable. To my mind, they are of the greatest importance for the growth and prosperity of our country. Probably the most important of these is the awakening and the deepening of the finer artistic sense which comes with the enjoyment and appreciation of the work of a master mind, read and understood in the original. The intelligent study of the development of a genius like Goethe or Schiller cannot fail to leave a well-defined impression on the mind of the student. Who can read and feel the beauty of German lyric poetry without a definite esthetic gain? Who can read the poems that inspired the Prussians to the War of Liberation and not love his own land the more? Who can read Schiller's Kabale und Liebe and not rejoice in the great strides that public morality and civilization have made? Or who can study Lessing's Nathan der Weise and not feel a broadening of his religious horizon and a deepening of his feeling for true religion and the brotherhood of man?

Such results are not so tangible, so self-evident as the ability to make a jardinier-stand from a soap-box, but if we believe that the mind-soul, spirit--is the highest part of our being, why not study some of the masterpieces of the mind, in which the feelings of great souls find expression ? If we teachers of languagesancient or modern—can help those who come under our direction to develop their finer feelings, to use their minds and to think noble, beautiful thoughts, we surely ought to be able to persuade the world that the time devoted to language instruction is not wasted. Heaven forbid that the time should ever come when the education of the youth of the land is confined entirely to “practical” subjects, useful though they are. Whence would come then the power to rise above the petty things of everyday life, to forget the pursuit of the dollar-mighty and necessary as it is to give at least a little time to the cultivation of that something within us, that subtle unknown part of us, which we call our soul and which we expect to endure beyond this life?

To an Artist

Smooth out the furrows of discontent,
Change the lines by sorrow bent.
Replace that style! A pleasant smile
Disables none, but lifts the while.
Enlarge the nostrils! They must show
A fuller life. The glow
That tints the cheeks should ever bear
These signs—endurance-contact with the open air.
It is but fair—to raise the eyelids—There-half closed ?
One wishes he had never posed !
So much is told by eye and lid. Disclosed
Are fragments of a thousand souls in that orb's glare
A thousand souls-Now, artist spare
My ancient thought, and paint
Eyes of a sinner-like a saint.
You, who have painted faces
Of men and women of all races,
Yield! Now at the close of a year's mad rush
Retouch us all-Raise the magic brush!
Give us an atmosphere-Sublime!
You are an artist, Father Time!

MINNIE E. Hays.

« ForrigeFortsett »