Improving language levels
The level of English of our students is still very low. Do we have to blame teachers for this or is it due to lack of institutional support?
There are all kinds of teachers in a scale of excellence, but the majority are good. I don't think they should be blamed for this.
As for material support, we should ask for more, but it's a fact that there's never been as much support as there is now. New technologies are introduced, there are training channels, scholarships, ... Maybe we should talk about the need for "relevant" support. And this is mainly a question of educational policy.
Can you explain this?
The most relevant factor in language learning is not age nor methodology. The most important thing is "quantity" and "quality" of language processing: lots of input and lots of output (production) processing. This means much more exposure and constant use of the language. We're very short on both counts.
We've been complaining about this for decades.
Want to hear an anecdote? Many years ago, three representatives from APAC visited somebody in charge of Educational Innovation in the Generalitat. We explained the absolute need for more frequent contact hours than the by then current bi-weekly sessions. His answer was more or less literally: "To play a cassette in class you don't need much time." I don't want to believe he was that ignorant. Maybe his was just a dismissive attitude towards what he considered a corporative demand. Luckily attitudes have changed, but not that much.
Is there a second factor?
Yes. The second thing that's absolutely necessary is much more learning by doing -you only learn to play an instrument by playing it (a lot and for many years), not by being explained by the teacher how it works. We cannot reduce language learning to a few lessons on form.
And a third one?
Yes. We need to remember that learning a language requires personal transformation, not just knowing a few things. Nothing is so unnecessary and at the same time so risky to the student as communicating orally in the foreign language in class. Confidence, determination to learn, and success are only possible with the support of the skilled teacher.
Still another important administrator wrote in the press: "There's too much talk about motivating the students. What we need is more discipline". I wonder how you make somebody learn if he refuses to do it, and what the opposition between motivation and discipline is. Aren't both necessary?
"Love teaching, love the language." Are you talking about loving the foreign language only? How about first languages? Is there a conflict around us?
Good question. We are in the middle of a language war, though not the one that is being hammered on us every day from certain areas. We live in a very special country ("Outside of the USSR, it [Spain] is the largest multilingual country in Europe and the oldest multilingual state in Europe", Linz). One would think that we should feel collectively proud of this richness, exploit it, protect our smaller languages at all costs. Attacking minority groups or languages, using them as scapegoats to divert attention from other policies, can only be described as a criminal attack against society as a whole.
I've been talking about love for "language" and "languages". All of them.
Why the distinction?
Let me quote words written by a great linguist and colleague at the University of Barcelona:
I call you all to love language and to love and defend languages, their deep unity and the magnificent range of their diversity. Perhaps because we are just languages and when one is lost, an essential part of ourselves also disappears. And when somebody tries to erase all the languages except his⁄her own, he⁄she wants to make us all less human and walks straight on a non-return path, not towards mutual understanding, but towards the inhuman world of silence. (J. Tusón 1987)