« AnteriorContinuar »
or because his individual powers or lack of power make it advantageous for him to use his time in other ways. Such a pupil can expect neither to read nor to speak the language; a mere parrot-like knowledge that a German calls "die Tiir," and a Frenchman "la porte," a thing known to the pupil as " the door," is likely to be soon forgotten and to have no value either "practical" or educational. He can not hope to gain either skill or power in most phases of the subject, and for him we must choose work in which the field is so restricted that diligent study for even a short time may secure some satisfactory achievement and in which the training received will extend to other interests and develop the child along lines not directly connected with the language itself. Yet this work must also be profitable for those who expect to go further, and must therefore be a good foundation for future advanced work.
Three aims of modern language instruction seem to meet perfectly these requirements, which at first appear so hard to reconcile. They are:
(1) To secure a reasonable degree of phonetic accuracy and lead the pupil to feel its importance.
For the child, speech has been a more or less unconscious process. With the study of a foreign language he should discover the necessity of making sounds and their formation the object of careful attention. He should gain thereby a conscious control of his speech organs; should develop his power to use them as he wills; should learn to feel the significance of sound distinctions, and to enunciate clearly whenever he speaks. The slovenly mumbling that so often passes for English speech sufficiently emphasizes the need of this.
(2) To teach precision in the use of words and to give a clear understanding of grammatical relations and of the common terms which state them, showing why such terms are necessary.
The child's own language has been so much a part of his very being that it is extremely difficult for him to look upon it as a proper object of study. The normal child feels competent, without any rules, to speak in a perfectly satisfactory way. And if well born and reared he ought to be. To learn to employ the terms of grammar seems to him a most unnecessary and foolish thing. After reading or hearing that John struck James, he gains no further information by being told that John is the subject of the sentence; and he can not conceive of any human being so stupid that he must be told that John is the subject before knowing which boy struck the other. When he knows offhand how words go together, why should he learn strange, odd-sounding terms to explain relations which to him need no explanation? That is the puzzling mystery which very often befogs the boy who " can't understand grammar." He is confused by the attempt to explain to him by mysterious vocables what seems perfectly clear without any explanation. In the case of a foreign language the child comes easily to see the need and the use of grammar, if from the beginning it is made what it should be, the handmaid of the text.
Vagueness of the thought associated with a word is even more common than faulty enunciation. The study of the foreign language shows the importance of knowing the exact meaning of words and of using them with care.
(3) To stimulate the pupil's interest in the foreign nation, leading him to perceive that the strange sounds are but new ways of communicating thoughts quite like his own; showing him by the close resemblances in words and viewpoints that the German and the Frenchman are his kinsmen, with interests, ambitions, and hopes like his own; revealing to him that their tales can give him pleasure, their wisdom can enlighten him.
For every sort of pupil this work can be made profitable, and in most cases entertaining. Affording an excellent foundation for future study, it is valuable alike for the pupil who drops out early in the course and for him who is to make a specialty of language work. These aims, moreover, do not imply the completion of any definite amount of work before the child can profit by what he learns, nor do they require the application of any particular method. While keeping them constantly in mind, we may stress the substantive with the "natural" and the "picture and object" schools, or we may attack the verb first with the followers of Gouin and the " psychological" method. The same ends may be sought with a class that can rapidly acquire a large vocabulary and attain a considerable command of inflectional forms and with a class of immature beginners whose progress must be slow. The closest application to these aims is compatible with a very great variety in details of method.
The end of the first year should be marked by the elimination of those who are unprepared to continue modern language study in a somewhat serious and determined way. The most moderate achievement in learning a foreign language implies persistent application to tasks not wholly pleasant, alertness of mind and retentiveness of memory, the building of a unified structure, each part of which must rest on previous work well done. In a modern language such achievement must include at least the power to read an ordinary book rapidly, intelligently, and without too frequent recourse to the dictionary. Attainment short of this is practically useless, and the pupil who is not to reach this stage had better drop his French or German at the end of the first year and use his time for other things. In a well-rounded course satisfactory achievement should include also the ability to understand the foreign language when spoken distinctly and the ability to express simple thought orally or in writing. In general, after the preliminary year, two years of further study will be needed for acceptable results.
In his fourth year of study the high-school pupil is mature enough and should have had experience enough in dealing with abstract notions to profit by a somewhat careful consideration of the fundamental principles of grammar and composition, as illustrated in both the foreign language and his own. Attention may be called to the literary quality of the texts read, and the development of an appreciation of good literature and of a taste therefor is a proper aim of general value.
The texts of the fourth year may be chosen to give particular power in the rapid reading of special material: Commercial texts and business correspondence for the pupil who expects to enter commercial life; scientific French or German for him who expects to go to a technical school. In general, however, the work will be merely a continuation and extension of that of the preceding two years, introducing more difficult texts and more rapid reading; adopting a more scholarly and critical attitude toward questions of grammar and style; making the foreign language largely, perhaps almost entirely, the language of the class; demanding more initiative and a larger independence on the part of the pupil, yet being ever mindful of Goethe's line, " Bedenkt ihr habet weiches Holz zu spalten."
In seeking to attain the special ends for which any subject is peculiarly well adapted, the real teacher will ever bear in mind those general aims that are indispensable in all teaching that is worthy to be called education. Habits of industry, concentration, accurate observation, intelligent discrimination, systematic arrangement and presentation, careful memorizing, independent thinking so far outweigh the advantages gained merely by knowing something about a particular topic that they are perhaps too generally assumed to be universal, and, like the air we breathe or the water we drink, are sometimes forgotten or neglected. The personality of the teacher and the manner in which he works, rather than the subject he teaches or the method he uses, will make for those elements which, after all, are the great objects of secondary education, the business of which is indeed to impart knowledge that is likely to be useful, but far more to develop in the child those tastes, powers, and habits that fit for happy efficient living.
Only one reasonable explanation can be given for the persistency of the conflict among different methods of teaching foreign languages. It is that each method which has won any considerable favor has in it elements of good, and has secured results which seemed desirable to those who used the method; indeed, we may perhaps go further and say that the worst of a dozen methods, employed by a strong teacher with underlying purpose well in mind, will give a more valuable training and better results than any method when employed by an inferior teacher. It is probable, too, that one method is better than another for doing some things but less effective in securing a different end or ends, so that the aim which seems most important will determine the method to use in a particular case. Doubtless, too, the equipment of certain teachers makes it possible for them to work best with a method which a different teacher would not wisely choose. Instead, then, of trying to lay out in detail the " best method," we should consider various methods that have been found good, endeavor to see wherein their merit lies, and to decide what method seems especially well suited to various conditions and to different types of classes or teachers. In the Report of the Committee of Twelve of the Modern Language Association of America (D. C. Heath & Co.), Section III, entitled "A critical review of methods of teaching," has well outlined the chief methods and their characteristic features; and we shall assume that the reader is familiar with that report, which has been the guide and standard of modernlanguage instruction in the United States. It is thought, however, that improved conditions make it now possible to take a somewhat more advanced position than was advisable in 1898.
Methods may be classified as "direct," which seek to eliminate the mother tongue, endeavoring from the beginning to associate directly the thought and the foreign expression; and "indirect," that base their work on the child's knowledge of his own language and depend largely on preliminary grammatical instruction, translation, and explanation in the vernacular. Few advocates of direct methods are now so extreme as to reject all use of the mother tongue; nor would any good teacher who uses in general an indirect method fail to employ many devices for getting direct association of thought and the foreign speech. The grammatical and the reading methods may be called indirect; the phonetic, which has grown into the "new " or " reform" (often now spoken of as " the direct" method), the Gouin or psychological, and the natural, Heness-Sauveur or Berlitz methods, may be called direct. A hard and fast line could scarcely be drawn, however. Some teachers who begin with a grammatical or a reading method use the foreign language largely in their later work, while many of the best exponents of the reform or of the Gouin methods do not hesitate to employ the mother tongue freely at first in stimulating the pupil to the thought desired.
As aims suitable for the first year we have mentioned phonetic accuracy, grammatical comprehension, and interest in the foreign nation. To secure the first a very large amount of oral drill is essential. It is necessary, moreover, that this drill aim at accuracy and not at the slipshod approximations that make the results of some attempts to use a direct method as unsatisfactory from a phonetic as from a grammatical standpoint. As pupils grow older and their imitative faculties become less acute, more attention must be given to the vocal organs and to the theory of sound formation; the relations of sounds and the distinctions between them must be more carefully explained, and a larger amount of phonetic drill is required. Neglect of this is fatal. The unfortunates who are allowed to become fluent in ill-pronounced French or German never recover; their sound perceptions are blurred, instead of being educated; the only compensation is that they themselves are mercifully unconscious of the suffering which their vocal atrocities inflict upon others. The man trained by the grammatical method usually knows that he can not pronounce, and so does not attempt it; the badly trained victim of a superficial conversational method flays complacently the unhappy language. A teacher who can not pronounce well but is, unfortunately, compelled to teach does less harm, therefore, by omitting pronunciation as completely as possible than by teaching a pronunciation that is a bad habit likely to persist. Good teaching, however, implies a well-equipped teacher, and a good pronunciation is fundamental.
The care with which pronunciation is taught should extend to the English as well as to the French or German; the immediate result of the work will be well-spoken French or German, but the educational value in a wider sense should be an appreciation of the beauty of clearly enunciated, distinct speech in general, the habit of noticing sounds and inflections, and a desire to speak well.
For teaching pronunciation, some prefer phonetic texts, but a majority of our best teachers do not feel this to be necessary. Some would use them for French, but not for German or Spanish. Nothing like a course in phonetics should be attempted in teaching a foreign language in a high school, but, where mere imitation fails, a teacher with phonetic training can at times give briefly helpful directions for making certain sounds and for appreciating sound distinctions. There should be much distinct speaking by the teacher; repetition in unison and singly by the pupils; unwearying drill until the sounds are right and the swing of the word group well imitated. Most important are the vowels; consonants are more easily acquired. Separate sounds, syllables, words, and phrases must all be practiced. In time the foreign idiom should become the usual language of the class, and even seem a natural means of communication between teacher and pupil outside the class.
With the aim of accurate pronunciation always in mind, the particular material treated is relatively unimportant. As speedily and completely as possible, thought and sound should be directly joined, but whether the stimulus to the thought should be primarily an