How do you teach adults a foreign language?

Lauaxeta Euskaltegia, Getxo, Spain--the school I visited
Lauaxeta Euskaltegia, Getxo, Spain–the school I visited

Ever since I planned on going to the North of Spain, to the Basque Country, aka Euskal Herria, I was on the lookout for where I could learn more of the local language, Euskara.

Euskara is a language unique to the North of Spain and Southwest of France, unrelated to any other language (though many theories exist regarding its unlikely relationship to other languages). For more information about the language itself, I would direct you to its Wikipedia page. I will focus here on my own experiences with the language.

When I went to the North of Spain in July, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class of Basque for adults at the Lauaxeta Euskaltegia in Getxo, Spain. This school offers classes to locals who want to become better at this language. They offer various levels of courses, and I sat in on the basic class.
What I learned

Teaching Spanish as a US language

How do we help kids love language?
How do we help kids love language?

Following up on last week, I don’t think we should focus on teaching or learning “world” or “foreign” languages. From an ecolinguistic point of view, we observe Spanish spoken all over the place. Let’s focus on how you would teach languages as if they were “local” and not “foreign,” that is, if kids in our school, people at the mall, were speaking those languages.

The example of Spanish works best. In the US Spanish is, in fact, not a foreign language. Since the US became the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, we should no longer teach Spanish as a language spoken “over there.”

Yes, people speak the language in lots of other countries, but that doesn’t make it a “foreign” language. If you lived in Panama would Spanish be a “foreign” language? Of course not. If you lived in Bilbao, would Basque be a “foreign” language? It would be a “local” language.

In reality, we speak many languages here locally in my town, even in our suburb and in our school. What would we need to do to fashion our language class to fill this role for language, especially Spanish?
Learn Spanish for what you’re doing

Stop teaching kids “foreign” languages

They'll do what they have to to hang out--even learn languages.
They’ll do what they have to to hang out–even learn languages.

By raising the prestige of the languages spoken in our schools, we augment the ability of all of our students to learn languages. Children figure out how to do what interests them, and when language is a part of that, they will learn the language.

I was recently listening to an episode of the “I will Teach you a Language” Podcast, entitled, “How can we change language education in schools?,” in which the host, Olly Richards, interviews Lindsay Dow of Lindsay Does Languages. They talk at length about what motivates school kids to learn languages. Good teachers understand these motivations, and, in the ideal school, would help kids discover and plug into the areas they find cool to encourage their language-study.

While the discussion brought in many topics and hobbies to offer kids, they missed an obvious area where they could plug into with their language:

The other kids in the school.
Languages under our noses

Loving language to save your life

Friends who do not know loneliness.
Friends who do not know loneliness. How do we learn from them?

Loving language can save your life. Some talk about languages helping you get a better paycheck or offering cognitive benefits. If you aim to make yourself richer or smarter, learning a language gives you marginal benefits. They will not save your life, though.

Or will they…?

Our society in the US—and more and more in the first world—is developing a serious, deadly condition, that is, loneliness. Note, though, that this is a problem of the first world. It does not afflict those of the third world nearly as much.

By learning a language, especially one of the immigrant groups living near you, you may have a chance of dodging the deadly bullet of isolation that is literally killing people in our society.
Our neighbors have the answer

Love and language

When two come to the table, they must submit to the other in love.
When two come to the table for a dispute, they must submit to the other in love.

I’ve recently been attacked as a “cuck” for being a “pro-diversity pro-immigration liberal.” Another person, described as a “liberal and a first amendment fan,” respectfully disagreed with me. (I appreciated the latter much more than the former, I have to say.)

What was the position that got me stuck between two sides? I believe that dialogue between opposing sides has to take place as a prerequisite for the two sides to come to an agreement. The winner can’t be chosen ahead of time according to ideological criteria. We can’t decide ahead of time that the immigrant is right, or the person of color is right, that the anti-immigrant or racist is right. They have to sit and work it out.

Tyranny of the majority is just as bad as tyranny of the minority or even of the one. The majority, even the “just,” may be on the side of one or the other, but it doesn’t matter when the two are at the table together. Might does not make right.

Two come to the table to work out their dispute on equal terms. This assumes that neither sees himself as greater than the other, but each seeks to submit to the other. This is the ideal that I aim at, one where each seeks to become wise by loving the other in humble service.

Language helps us achieve the goal of resolving disputes. The people at the table cannot come to an agreement without a common language.

As for me, I want to love others in wisdom. I submit to the other in order to love him, even my right to speak my own language. I serve the one I’m discussing with by conceding my language.
Language and loving

What do ISIS, the CIA, and the Mormons have in common? Languages!

How do you reach her? recruit her? Do you speak her language?
How do you reach her? recruit her? Do you speak her language?

People use languages to spread their own ideas. If they have ideas they believe deeply in, they gravitate towards learning languages and recruiting speakers of all different languages to further their message more quickly to a broader audience.

ISIS, US defense agencies, and the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or “Mormons”) all look to spread ideas. I am not discussing the validity of their different ideas or overall tactics, but the post compares how they use language to reach their objectives. Most institutions with an important idea or object can learn from what each of these organizations is doing.
Recruiting through language

Best ways to learn to hang out in Spanish

What do you need to know to enjoy hanging out in Spanish?
What do you need to know to enjoy hanging out in Spanish?

The main reason people want to learn a language is to hang out with new, cool people. This week I asked myself, is that what our schools are teaching? I wanted to interview my children to see how well school Spanish helped them do what was most important to teenagers: socializing.

My kids just got back this week from Spain. We went as a family for 10 days, and then they stayed for another couple weeks. They stayed with two families. One was the family of our former exchange student. The other was the grandmother of my daughter’s friend.

Of my two daughters, the older had taken a year of standard high school Spanish. The younger had no formal Spanish other than a few weeks of Duolingo practice.

I interviewed them to see how it went.

  • How well did they feel prepared? What could they do successfully in Spanish?
  • In attempting to learn Spanish, what worked? What didn’t?
  • If they could spend the next year learning Spanish, what would they focus on?

What works in the classroom

¡Euskara es una patria! Language as homeland

The Basque people continue to use their language to define themselves.
The Basque people continue to use their language to define themselves.

When I visited the Basque country this July, I was amazed at how this minority language had survived centuries as a minority language. At a historical moment when people declare with gloom the end to most languages on earth, Basque is spoken by fewer than a million people, and this number is growing.

I spoke to a Basque teacher for adults in the Basque country. He told me that the Basques have always fought to keep their language alive in the face of competing languages. The language survives, he believes, because of the way that Basques conceive of their language. While many peoples consider their territory, religion, or bloodline as the foundation of their home, the Basques consider their language itself as their homeland or, in Spanish, their patria.
Language as homeland

Peace comes from speaking another language…or does it?

Is language enough to bring peace between peoples?
Is language enough to bring peace between peoples?
 I’m a bleeding heart when it comes to language. In post after post, I write about how learning your neighbor’s language will help bring more understanding and peace.

Let’s be honest, though. Does learning the language of another really bring peace? Young Palestinians know Hebrew. Almost all Ukrainians are bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian. Most Ethiopians and Eritreans speak mutually comprehensible languages, as do many Indians and Pakistanis.

This week I had to rethink some of my rhetoric, to tighten it up.

To achieve peace and understanding, learning a language will not be enough. We language-learners must submit and become the students of those who speak other languages. Listening to them, not imposing our view, not manipulating them, must be our goal so that we can challenge our assumptions and gain wisdom.
Don’t just learn—listen

Loving Sign Language in coffee shops: Could we do more?

The staff of DIB Coffees of Hawaii signing
The staff of DIB Coffees of Hawaii signing

We now have an example of retail establishments that cater to speakers of other languages.

Coffee shops are beginning to train personnel to serve members of the deaf community. They learn sign language so that customers who are deaf can have the same experience as customers who hear. Among these, Starbucks has received a lot of recognition. They are not the only one, though.

Can we use this step forward to introduce more languages? Since we know that these baristas can learn sign language, they can clearly learn other languages, like Spanish or Chinese or Somali, so that speakers of those languages can have a great experience in their stores.
How they accommodate