Short Fire Forms. I often wonder whether the classical view of language is the right one or, at least, the only valid one. Once more to the bar, my friend, to ponder short words and lost souls.
Tag Archives: philosophy
Sometimes when I can find a quiet place in a bar I examine the causes and effects of the things that surround us, of the things that we so often take for granted or which take place over a length of time such that they are beyond our possibilities to notice. How could we tell, for example, back in the 1960s and 1970s, that the eventual result of buying those refrigerators would be the endangering of our atmosphere through the release of the gases that allowed them to work, or that we would become nations that wasted up to forty percent of the food we buy?
It is the same with education – at the beginning of our working life we may only guess what we will need to know in our jobs in fifty years’ time, as all that we know for certain now is that by then the world will have changed. Well, one thing will not have – there will still be people moaning that the beer is not as good as it used to be.
In the teaching of foreign languages we often start out by learning phrases that allow us to exchange names, and for English we might learn ‘My name is Jan’. As we then rise through the schooling system we get handed from teacher to teacher, teaching material to teaching material, yet there is no one in full control of our education path. If someone in the teaching system does notice, for example, that graduates cannot do basic math then questions get asked and the basic math teaching may even be reassessed. However, if no one notices such an effect, then how can we seek out the cause?
We know what we know, and we know what we do not know, but we do not know what we do not know.
So, students of English here in Poland get their early bite of vocabulary in the word ‘name’, and then at a later point in the curriculum this is joined by ‘surname’ amongst a whirlwind of other words and structures. Eventually the words ‘name’ and ‘surname’ arrive together in a single phrase: name and surname. No questions are asked, because no one knows that there is a question to ask.
The word ‘name’, though, is a general word, on the same level as ‘beer’. If someone arrives in a bar and asks for a beer and a brand-X lager, they should not share the barkeep’s surprise. ‘Surname’ is a specific noun, on the level of ‘Brand-X lager’, one designed to describe a specific product.
Beer and brand-X lager.
Name and surname.
Logically, we might think, this error should not happen, for the usage of name will be explored many times in the curriculum, as well as appearing in other sources, such as general culture.
My name is Bond, James Bond.
If we were a university lecturer and we somehow failed to comprehend this information in the blizzard of information that is a second language, although a fraction of that collected by a native as part of his or her life’s experience, then the error may start appearing in our work. The result of our failure could be whole generations of students becoming teachers and repeating it in their work, as some kind of truth. This is not untypical in a classical world where we value repetition over observation of unharnessed raw data, learning specific things by rote and then crying when too few people appear to create anything these days.
Those typical errors which do appear regularly in second language use are often there due to a lack of feedback from real life events. University lecturers continue to smile and teach, repeating their past to each new set of students without taking an effective part in actual language use. This failure goes unnoticed by the people who pay the lecturer’s wages – us.
As the effect of second language use is largely hidden to us in the mists engulfing the recipients, living and speaking elsewhere, it is very difficult to track an error back to its source. In foreign language study the connection between what someone does and the result is weak, and as a result the participants are often unwilling to accept that they have a responsibility to society to actively seek the failures. After all, they are doing what they were trained to do – why should what they do be queried? Even better, since the teachers attend the same courses as the translators then many errors in translation go unnoticed by other people in the nation as they have been taught the same errors by their teachers.
This sad lack of quality and quantity of contact with foreign natives does leave the lone translator, often working alone at home, in a rather difficult situation and under a great deal of pressure when required to produce work that is ‘native’. One could compare language teaching to a bar in a village, where the villagers rarely venture forth beyond their borders, never tasting what the world has to offer, yet with no specific training attempting to deduce the world from an advertising card depicting a scantily clad lady, with the final two packets of peanuts still obscuring our vision.
I believe that one of the most terrible things that we can do to each other is not to understand what we each need. I, for example, have always tended towards that habit of leaving things not done, then trying to fix things at the last minute. That is bad, in many people’s books, criminal in others, rather like my tendency to spend a friday night in a bar drinking beer rather than doing something constructive. I am irretrievably lazy.
But is laziness, or ‘delayed response’ as I languidly prefer to call it, necessarily bad? Has all that swilling turned me into an underperformer at the trough of life? Does society even need the socially pungent at its table, forever forgetting to keep its trotters in its lap, on top of its napkin, or sliding its cutlery to the twenty past four position at the appropriate moment?
As a shy lad I was usually last to hand in my homework, possibly last to even do it, although sensible enough to regularly create situations where I must confront my social problem so that I do not finally shrivel away in a house or apartment alone, dieing and being eaten by rats. In much the same way I joined the Mountaineering Club while at university in order to confront my fear of heights. Or my shyness of heights, as I also like to describe it. Shyness means that if there is a situation where I have to go see someone, I will delay doing so until I can no longer avoid it or the need for it disappears. So we could say that my apparent laziness is really a response to my shyness, hence my use of ‘delayed response’.
My wife, bless her, is much different, she is a planner-actioner, she gets things done, and will even change channels on the TV 15 minutes prior to the start of a program that she wishes to see so in order not to miss it (so I miss the last 5 minutes of my program and get to see 10 minutes of advertising on her chosen channel instead of mine). She is wonderful, but not so innovative.
Consider the situation: we each need to write a 500 word assessment. She will write hers ahead of time, based on what is known, having plenty of time to plan and check references, go to the library, search the internet and pump her acquaintances for the low down on this type of test. I, on the trotter, will wait until the last moment, well past any opportunity to gather suitable materials, forcing myself to be inventive and draw on any resource that is to trotter – but my brain will have to light up like a Christmas tree (or whatever) and burn some essential energy very rapidly.
Do you see the difference? If we are the kind of person who is rarely late, then on those occasions we are then we will quite possibly produce something that is visibly hacked together, or is lacking somewhere. If, on the other hand, we spend our life stepping from one crisis to another, we should start to get skilled at producing something worthwhile from apparently very little. A minimalistic, hermetic response that optimizes what we possess.
If we took a course in doing the long jump, then would this make us athletes? If we took a course in beer tasting, would this make us a suitable candidate for a job at professional brewery? Sadly, no, our body and mind take time and effort to become expert, including the ability to understand what is successful behaviour and what is not.
Conversely, if we do put long term effort into something, then we should reap some changes. OK, not always profitable changes, such as what we might achieve slumped every night in front of the television, but does this mean that if we design an education system to suit a certain kind of mind then we might be missing the creation of benefits that could accrue from training minds in other ways? Whatever, I wish I had considered all this decades ago.
Imagine you are down at your favorite haunt, and some idiot manages to set light to the table next to you, and assuming that you have not been trained for just this kind of incident, what would you do? Too late, decision time is over, if you stopped to think, by now I would be already at the bar asking, hopefully, for a refill.
I wonder if we might make a comparison with the different forms of muscle fibre, and I found this excellent summary on Athlepedia:
Muscle fiber types can be broken down into two main types: slow twitch (Type I) muscle fibers and fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibers. Type II fibers can subsequently be broken down into two types: type IIA, which is referred to as “fast twitch oxidative glycolytic”, and type IIX, which is referred to as “fast twitch glycolytic”. Type I fibers are characterized by low force/power/speed production and high endurance, Type IIX fibers are characterized by high force/power/speed production and low endurance, while Type IIA fall in between the two.
Fast twitch and slow twitch brains, one type functioning optimally in sprint environments and the other in marathons? In which case my wife has the marathon sort – having had only the one job and gaining all the necessary qualifications, while I have the sprint type – having had many jobs and a series of more minor qualifications from a broader range of subjects.
In summary, if you see someone lazing in the sun with a beer in their hand, they may still be doing constructive, training their mind to relax and recuperate before the next time it needs to be engaged under pressure. Or they could be getting plain-old drunk. Who knows.