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"Learn Mandarin in two days" - Paul Noble laments teaching of MFL in schools

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by Natrap, May 21, 2011.

  1. "The mistake with language learning is that it's seen as an academic
    subject, but it isn't; it's a practical subject. What you need is to be
    trained in them." Paul Noble, MA, BA, PGCE.
    Did anyone read this?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/may/18/speak-mandarin-in-two-days?INTCMP=SRCH
    According to Noble "One of the worst things you can do with language teaching is teach
    someone a massive number of words" and yet in his two-day £299 courses "Writing anything down is banned, as is all technical jargon – talk of
    participles, perfect tenses and the subjunctive makes Noble wince". So his approach is apparently based on pre-teaching set phrases for specific circumstances...
    At school, apparently Mr Noble was "naturally particularly good at languages but [...] did German and I was utterly confused by it. I spent about
    eight years trying to learn and failed".
    I wonder if he actually learned Mandarin in two days himself?
     
  2. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    Charlatan. Teaching a few structures doesn't get you to fluency, as the journalist clearly demonstrated at the end. It's the equivalent to buying an iphone app that speaks a few sentences in the chosen language, and hoping you'll only need those. It's nice that it gets you started quicker than learning numbers 1-10 and I agree with the principle, but you still need the time to learn the rest of the vocabulary and most importantly, to practise (again, as highlighted in the article).
    We already teach set phrases and verbs. Our Y7 SOW, for instance, starts with 3 weeks on "je suis" and "j'ai" and things to say with such items, then moving on to "il est" and "il a". Not rocket science. Would I send them off after 10 lessons to France on the pretence that they are now fluent? Would I heck!
     
  3. Language learning is both an academic subject and a practical subject. Because it's a practical subject you need lots of practice. In this respect learning a language is like learning to play a musical instrument.
    Mandarin in two days? No way! Years of research by the Council of Europe indicates that around 350-400 guided learning hours are required to achieve Level B1, the threshold of communication level, as defined in the Common Europe Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages.
    Whenever I visit a new country I always teach myself the basics of its language - essential vocabulary, courtesies, numbers, etc. I can learn around 200 words in 2-3 weeks prior to travelling. This can be useful, but I would never describe myself as "knowing" the language, and I certainly cannot sustain a meaningful conversation after such short exposure. And 2-3 months later I have usually forgotten most of what I have learnt.
    Regards
    Graham Davies
     
  4. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

  5. I'm fairly interested in all of this myself. There has been a fair amount written about the similarities of the methods and their roots.

    The link you have posted is an interesting one and there is another interesting one here:

    http://www.lesjones.com/2005/02/23/that-lying-old-fraud-michel-thomas-has-died/
     
  6. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    Yes, interesting. Particularly the last comment.
     

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