Know what it takes me all of 10 minutes to learn? These suck. Why does every language lesson start you out on Hello, GoodBye, Yes, No, and then “I speak German. Do you speak German?” No I don’t speak German, I know how to say Hello and Goodbye. How about some actual vocabulary or grammar? I don’t want to learn this language to have a polite but shallow conversation about the weather, I want to learn the language to actually learn the language. I would rather speak like Tarzan and be able to get my point across than to be limited to polite shrugs and repeatedly saying “I didn’t understand you.” They say that it’s easier for children to learn a foreign language, and I think I know why. It has nothing to do with our brains, it’s because children don’t know what they don’t know, and they have no fear of sounding foolish because to them it’s the only way to communicate. We as adults are so worried about speaking properly right away that it takes us way too long to get any sort of foundation in what we’re saying.
So, here’s my idea. I don’t have the skills to run with this, but maybe somebody out there does. I think it could be a winner. I know I’d jump all over it:
Take a completely different approach. Start with a classic work of literature (I’d say “…for Shakespeare Geeks”, but why limit it?) For each lesson take a snippet of some piece of literature that the English-speaking student is expected to have some familiarity with. Now, teach that snippet in a different language. Work through the translation. Explain word choice, grammar choice, and even cultural significance if it’s necessary. My German friends are quick to point out that the complete works have two entirely different translations. Perfect. I would like a lesson that compares them and explains to me, as an English speaker, how and more importantly why they differ. You wouldn’t have to explain Shakespeare, though, and that’s the best part. We’ve already come into it knowing what the other person intended to say. It just so happens that he said it differently, and you’re explaining to us why he chose those words to express himself instead of the ones with which we are more familiar.
Bonus, since Shakespeare in particular is so well-suited to performance, this approach lends itself wonderfully to both written and spoken lessons. You could go either way. I can see text side-by-side on a page, or I can hear somebody recite “To be or not to be” in German. I’d expect that the best solution would be a combination of the two.
I’d be willing to bet that a student of this method would be able to read documents in their new language must faster. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to hold much of a conversation, true. But people have different priorities. I don’t know anybody who speaks German, and even if I did chances are that they probably speak English as well. But on the other hand there’s all sorts of literature written in German (including German web pages?) that I might want to read. Now what?
If a German-language speaker out there wants to give this a shot, I’ll volunteer as first student.