22 August 2007

Language teaching: plus ca change

This is a piece I wrote in 1978 about a BBC language course. Apart from the fact that there is no longer an "East Germany", it could apply equally well today.

Listening to the BBC's Sixth Form German broadcasts, or trying to find something one can bear to listen to, may or may not improve one's German, but certainly gives an insight into the modern mind.

In a programme on the educational adventures of a German girl, great contempt was expressed for old-fashioned language teaching based on unrealistic literary narratives and grammatical rules. (The same programme, incidentally, in which we were given to understand that the offspring of the workers are at a great disadvantage in the West German educational system, but much better treated in East Germany.)

So, plainly, modern language teachers think they have a vastly superior product to purvey. It probably does have the advantage that it repels even the most colossal linguistic voraciousness, unless combined with a devotion to collectivism. Parking meters in West Germany, visits to a sewage farm and an old people's home, town and country planning, social security and the examination system, immigrant workers and juvenile delinquents.

Next term a passage for comprehension is to be broadcast, after which we will be privileged to answer the following questions:
- What have the employers tried to communicate to their work force?
- What are the first three reasons that the employee lists, which make him sad about the state of affairs?

Personally, I'd settle for Goethe any time.