« AnteriorContinuar »
Reading aloud—now too much neglected in the mother tongue— should be a favorite exercise. With large classes no drill is so effective in teaching pronunciation as reading in unison after the teacher. In later work intelligent reading aloud is helpful in fixing the foreign language in the memory; it may take the place of translation where the simple character of the text and the manner of reading give sufficient evidence that the meaning is clear; and the practice is enjoyable and useful to those who form the habit of reading aloud in their own study.
Writing from dictation has always been much employed in French schools for French children learning their own language, and it is much to be commended. While less difficult than reproduction or paraphrasing, it is an admirable test of the care with which a passage has been studied, and the dictation of unseen passages is an excellent criterion of the pupil's ability to understand the spoken language. Dictation may begin early in the course, and until the very end it will be found useful both as a test and as training.
Conversation has been alternately praised and condemned. Some regard it as enlivening, stimulating, and instructive—the most enjoyable and profitable of all exercises. To others it is futile, inane, productive of no valuable results, and terribly wasteful of time. It seems clear that not all teachers and not all classes can use conversation to good advantage in high-school work. The teacher must be inspiring and perfectly at home in the language; the class must be alert, responsive, and homogeneous; the work must be systematically planned and followed out swiftly and directly to a definite end. Otherwise the time can be spent better in other ways. With large classes the necessary conditions rarely obtain, and unfortunately most high-school classes are too large for the best work. Although conversation as a formal class exercise is apt to be a failure, there is no class in which a competent teacher will not find many opportunities to converse easily in the foreign language, now giving a simple explanation, now asking a question and getting an easy answer, all so naturally that no one seems aware that the foreign language is used. The more of this the better. Conversation of this kind is the straight road to effective possession of a language; neither strained nor forced, it is good work.
Translation, too, has its warm friends and its bitter enemies. Reformers have worked as hard to drive it out of the class as they have done to drag conversation in; but theme and version are still neither dead nor moribund, and there is no prospect that an exercise which has maintained itself since the beginning of language study is going to vanish in the next generation or two. The difficulty is that the meat in the sandwich has a tendency to drop out and leave only the bare bread—voces et inter eas nihil—in other words, that translation comes to be a mechanical substitution of the words of one language for the words of another, with little or no thought in the process, while translation ought to mean the study of a passage until its thought is clearly apprehended, and then an effort to put that exact thought into the other language with all the force and beauty that our command of the second language makes possible. This, of course, is translation of the ideal sort, but it is the kind of translation at which all translation should aim, and the only kind which will contribute effectively to a command of the foreign language and an appreciation of its qualities. With the other more common kind of translation the pupil never reads French and German, but only the shabby English into which he has more or less correctly paraphrased the original; he never writes real French or German, but only English with a foreign vocabulary. Such translation is rightly condemned as vicious and demoralizing, a veritable hindrance to the learner; but only the most vigorous and persistent efforts will keep the beginner from translating in just that way. Among helpful devices for preventing it we suggest oral translation of sentences heard but not seen, the translation, with book closed, of a sentence that the pupil has just read, or other ways for avoiding the mot a mot and securing a grasp of the word group as a whole with a complete meaning.
"What do you mean?" "So and so." "Then say that!" will sometimes get a real translation instead of the monstrosity that has been first offered by the pupil.
Underlying all the discussion for and against translation is the inevitable fact that not one student in a thousand can expect to gain such control of a second language that he can frame his thought in it as quickly and effectively as in his own; hence, whenever a thing is to him real and important, he will think it through first in the vernacular, after which any expression of the thought in a second language can not fail to be more or less consciously and directly a translation. The foreign correspondent must translate when he communicates the information received from abroad; he must translate when he writes in a foreign language the instructions received in English from his employer; the engineer, the lawyer, the physician, the scientist, the philosopher, the author must all translate when they proceed to use in their business the information gleaned from foreign sources. Even the teacher must translate when he tells his associates what our colleagues in France or Germany say of the direct methods. The practical thing, then, is to train the pupil to translate as he ought, and to depend for his expression in the new language, not on dictionary substitutes, but on the treasure of foreign words and expressions which he has acquired and learned to associate with their correct meaning. And the time to teach him this, which is no easy thing to learn, is while he is learning the language, for practice in doing it must be long and careful if it is to be successful.
In the give and take of conversation the rapidity of the process often excludes translation, but there are comparatively few who will ever converse enjoyably in a foreign tongue, and the long practice which is an essential condition will usually bring with it the power.
To read and understand a foreign language without translation is much easier than to speak or write in it. Until, however, one can give in his own language a swift and accurate rendering of what he has read there is good reason to doubt whether he has understood clearly and completely or whether he has been satisfied with the vague sort of semicomprehension which, if unchallenged, sometimes passes for understanding when our pupils read the mother tongue. Inability to translate rapidly and well must imply either failure to understand clearly what has been read or else a poor command of English. If the latter, the American boy or girl needs nothing so much as just the kind of training in English which this translation affords; if the former, we need to try the pupil by the test which most swiftly and certainly reveals the weakness. Hence translation of the right sort, both from and into the foreign language, must not be omitted from high-school courses.
On the other hand the student must be trained to get thought directly from the original, and instruction in the foreign language is not intended primarily as instruction in English. So the wise teacher will give but a portion of his time to translation, and he will avoid too great use of spoken English by having a considerable part of the translation which he deems necessary written rather than oral.
The only safe use of a foreign language is that which imitates the expressions of scholarly natives. Hence all work of the learner must be based on good models and the stages of imitation seem to be: Exact reproduction; paraphrasing, with variations of persons, number, tense, etc., and substitution of other suitable words for those of the text; free reproduction or composition based on the text and closely following it; and free composition. The last is the highest and most difficult achievement, and it can not wisely be attempted until the learner has had ample experience with the forms of expression which the native uses in similar composition. Some excellent teachers refuse to attempt it before the fourth year of the course. Premature attempts at free composition are as bad for style as premature chattering is bad for good pronunciation. Both result in fixing wrong notions and bad habits which are very hard to overcome. It is better policy to make haste slowly and to be sure that the proper foundation is laid before we try to build upon it.
How far may we reasonably expect to go in the second and third years of study? Much will depend on how successful we are in overcoming the aversion of parents and school boards to the elimination of the incompetent at the end of the first year, and this must be done on the ground that for those whom we seek to eliminate further study of the foreign language is less profitable than the same time spent studying something in which they can get better results. If modern-language classes can thus be restricted to those who show a reasonable fondness and aptitude for the study, by the end of the third year the work accomplished should be about as set forth for the intermediate course in the Report of the Committee of Twelve It is probable that most teachers will prefer to read in class a somewhat smaller number of pages than is there suggested. There is a strong belief that a small amount thoroughly prepared and carefully studied leaves a larger permanent possession than is retained from reading hastily several pages, and some would reduce the amount required to one-half that specified by the committee of twelve. Others fear that asking a smaller amount will mean more dawdling, less work, and the same poor quality with only half the quantity. The solution seems to be a reasonable amount of honest work, at times so concentrated as to permanently impress essentials and at other times so distributed as to stimulate alertness, develop the power of swift vision and rapid judgment, and give opportunity for a fairly wide range of style and vocabulary. In either type of lesson the teacher must have a clear notion of just what he is working for and he must devote himself to getting it. The Report of the Committee of Twelve appeared about 15 years ago, and the improvement in the equipment of teachers and in the methods commonly employed at present should make it possible to insist more strongly upon the oral side of the instruction. If this is effectively done, the greater thoroughness of the treatment in class should more than compensate for a reduced number of pages read.
For the fourth year we may add to our general aims such special work in scientific or commercial subjects as may be required by particular schools. As to the amount of work, it is probable that the advanced courses outlined in the Report of the Committee of Twelve are rather more than can be expected of even the best high schools in a four years' course.
In the fourth year the foreign language will be generally used in class, and good pupils should develop considerable facility of correct expression. Nevertheless, in French, for instance, we, with our maximum of four years' (20 hours') study, can not hope for results equal to those attained by a German oberrealschule with nine years (47 hours) or of a realgymnasium, with seven years (29 hours) backed by nine years of Latin. To-day the work of our best schools is at least as good as the comparison of time allowances would lead us to expect; and if we compare the probable utility of a foreign language to the average American boy with its usefulness to his French or German cousin, his ratio of efficiency would doubtless be greater than his ratio of need. That, however, is no answer to the demand that an American pupil who wishes good instruction in a foreign language should be able to have as complete a course and do as good work as the French or German pupil. The committee believes, however, that this increased efficiency can not come through an increased time allowance in the present high-school years; nor can more be expected than our best teachers are now doing with the time and material at their disposal. Improvement must be sought first, from an increase in the number of well-equipped and efficient teachers, and, second, from an extension of the years of modern language study downward to the age of 10, at which time the boy abroad has begun it
V. TEACHERS AND TEXTS.
If the American public is about to insist on better work in the field of modern languages, it must recognize that the first essential is a body of well-prepared teachers and that the training of such teachers is long and expensive, including foreign residence of at least a year in addition to the usual equipment of an American teacher. Unless the schools will pay a teacher of French or German enough more than they pay a teacher of English or science or history or mathematics to cover this initial expense, the colleges must so plan the modern-language work for those who intend to teach that the youth on graduating may be as competent to teach French or German as he is to teach the other subjects. Perhaps he is so already; but while neither he nor his pupils are likely to be tested by the man in the street as to his knowledge of Latin or physics or algebra, in this cosmopolitan age he can not turn a corner, enter a hotel or a street car without facing some well-informed and pitiless critic who knows at once that his speech is not that of Paris or Berlin. The critic may, indeed, be a cook or a fiddler, but he hears with scorn our poor instructor's attempts to speak French or German and is not reluctant to express his derision. Nor will it do to hire the cook or the fiddler to teach for us, for they have already shown too often that they can not meet the other requirements of our high schools. We must have a large number of American-born teachers who know the foreign language too well to be ridiculous when they attempt to speak it. As school boards are likely to insist that a teacher is merely a teacher, worth so many dollars a year, without reference to what he teaches or what it cost to learn it, the colleges seem bound to face the problem of meeting the demand for young people better fitted to teach French, German, or Spanish. But just how they are to do this is a problem for the colleges and not for this committee.