What American English Sounds Like & a Good Boogie Too!

Prisecolinensinenciousol, a parody by Adriano Celentano for the Italian TV programme Mileluci is sung entirely in gibberish designed to sound like American English.

Confession: having not read the description when I first watched this, I spent ages trying to figure out what he was saying. D’oh.

Guest Post: Online Resources Get the World Talking

Today’s guest post takes a look at online education’s contribution to the world of language learning and the possibility of turning kids into hyperpolyglots capable of speaking an enormous number of languages. Despite the hyperbole, the access to instruction does have huge potential to teach kids languages, something often discussed on MultilingualMama, while they are young, the best time to learn them. The author, Jennifer Jenkins, is a freelance writer and researcher at http://www.onlineuniversity.net/, a resource for any student considering taking online classes.

 Online Resources Get the World Talking

Despite the benefits that come from speaking multiple languages, fewer than 1 in 4 Americans make the effort to become bilingual. Recently, however, a number of businesses have made language acquisition easy and inexpensive. As these new tools become common knowledge, Americans may start to feel some peer pressure to learn how to speak an additional language – maybe more.

Some people even learn dozens.

These people are referred to as hyperpolygots, or people who knows how to speak many languages. To break down the latin, it means literally more than (hyper) – multiple (poly) – tongue (glot). Until recently, hyperpolyglots, especially those outside of Europe and parts of Asia, were extremely rare, due to the sheer number of resources required to acquire such a vast number of languages.

Think about it.

The average price per class at a state university is $900 and most schools require two or three classes before students can graduate; however, this is far from learning a language. For the most part and most people, learning a language requires some degree of immersion and constant practice over an extended period of time. This means that learning a language through a university program, the way many in the United States attempt the endeavor today, can cost families thousands of dollars.

One reason few Americans to do it.

That said, something that cannot be overlooked when trying to understand why so few Americans are bi or multilingual, is the cultural and idiomatic dominance the United States and their native language English has had over the world for six decades. Americans simply haven’t needed to learn another language because the world uses their language, essentially, as the common tongue. However, as the Internet makes the world a much smaller place and emerging economies rise to power, the arrogance of English speakers is starting to diminish. Learning a second language is now a powerful asset in a sluggish economy and in some parts of the country, native English speakers are quickly becoming a minority.

However, technology has also presented North Americans a number of solutions to the problem it has caused.

The most formal of these is in the form of virtual education technology. There are now a number of teaching tools that can cut that cost down to an eighth of traditional brick and mortar classes. Rosetta Stone, for example, charges $1,000 to bring its students to full fluency. While many might think that learning a language from a computer program is impossible, these advanced teaching tactics actually seem to cut down on learning time. Apparently, knowing more about the brain and how it makes connections makes it easier to teach it things, like language.

Beginner lessons typically show pictures, write vocabulary words, and play a recording of a native speaker voicing the words simultaneously. Lessons introduce grammatical concepts, such as prepositions, by featuring pictures depicting the physical relationships between objects. For instance, the learner will see a picture of a plane with a boy standing underneath it. The phrase contains both objects and the relation between them. Although the lesson will not explicitly state what each individual word means, the student can recognize the objects and by process of elimination, can figure out what the abstract relation word/phrase is. Thus, language learners acquire grammar and other abstract concepts almost subliminally. This program also includes an opportunity to speak with native speakers.

Rosetta Stone is not the only low-cost tool out there, either. A competitor, Tellmemore, brings a similarly advanced product but focuses on accents. The company’s software includes advanced voice recognition tools that provide feedback on the learner’s speech patterns. This piece of software functions as an advanced-level speech instructor, but the website charges $390 per year for total access to its six-language database. Babbel is another inexpensive tool. It charges a low monthly rate for access to everything from beginner’s courses to a 10,000 word set of flashcards, which can be downloaded to mobile devices. For Spanish aficionados, the Instituto Cervantes has an online learning platform supported by a number of  offices in major cities around the world.

Short of immersion, natural conversion is the best tool someone can use when using a language and technology is making this much easier as well. Low cost options for face to face chatting like Google Chats and Skype make it possible for language learners to have actual conversations.There are also more free-form and community generated tools. Sites like italki and livemocha give you a chance to connect with learners around the globe keen on practicing their languages. As English speakers, North-Americans have a huge advantage as it is easy to find someone to barter conversational time in English for any language that catches your fancy. You can also ‘hire’ a formal teacher through the sites at very affordable rates. Additionally, people have begun to join language learning groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, another way in which learning a language has been facilitated on the Internet.

And if you are still not persuaded, remember that Alzheimer’s is rarer in people who have learned to speak another language, particularly during their mid-life. Researchers believe that learning a language at this point prevents brain decay and increases the ability for learners to multitask in all areas of their lives.

With so much value in language acquisition and such small cost to receive the benefits, Americans should start to see how learning another language is a cheap investment in the brain.

Guest Post: Why Educational Leadership Needs to Stand Behind Language Education

Adding to this blog’s discussion about language education is Roslyn Tam. This post discusses the importance of language education for students. Roslyn is a regular contributor at www.educationalleadership.com.

English is the worldwide language of business and academics. Even though there are more native speakers of Mandarin Chinese than native speakers of English, English has more non-native speakers than any other language, and Mandarin is not used as a lingua franca between nations in the same way as English.

Due to this fact, many people in the United States and other English-speaking nations have become apathetic about learning languages other than English; and educational institutions have become lax about teaching world languages. This problem is compounded by the fact that many educational leadership programs are preoccupied by falling test scores and reorganizing districts after school closures.

The general attitude is that, since students in the United States already speak the most valuable language in the world, educational institutions should focus on helping students to develop skills in other areas, such as mathematics. However, this misconception is hurting the prospects of young people in the United States and educational leadership must try to find a way of reversing this trend.

One of the first things that critics of language education efforts in the United States need to realize is that the primacy of English as the global language is waning rather than waxing. This can be seen in the meteoric rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and MIKT (Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey) economies. These are all non-English-speaking countries with large populations and rapidly growing economic strength. With the United States having become a country that produces MBAs instead of engineers, it would only make sense that education in the United States would focus on teaching these future managers and world leaders to communicate in other languages.

However instead, MBA graduates go out into the world with the expectation that everyone in these rising markets will speak to them in English. While the arrogance of this expectation has been largely understandable in the past, it will not remain so for much longer. According to one British Council report, by 2050, Spanish will have overtaken English for the #2 slot after Mandarin Chinese, and English will be on about the same level as Arabic. With the rise of other economies, particularly China,  to challenge the United States as the world’s chief economic force, English’s place as the world language of business will be seriously challenged.

Something that educators and policy makers in the United States need to bear in mind is that virtually every nation in the world with a respectable economy outperforms the United States when it comes to multilingualism. For instance, according to a 2006 report by the China Post, 40% of all students in Taiwan start learning English from preschool age. In South Korea, students are required to start learning English during their third year of elementary schooling. People in the United States may see this as a flattering example of the importance of English in the world sphere, but they must remember that as these countries gain global clout, the fact that they have already fostered a culture of multilingualism will make it even more difficult for the United States to compete with them economically in the future.

Many of the arguments against better language education in the United States center on resources. Critics feel that teaching students Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, or German from a young age is a misuse of resources. However, one thing that we should bear in mind is the fact that the advent of computer-based and Internet-based education has taken much of the cost out of language education. Schools do not necessarily even need foreign language teachers, they can take advantage of software tools such as Rosetta Stone and Fluenz or get students involved in language exchange programs with students overseas.

To keep the United States competitive in the world sphere and help American students become competitive personally, educators must consider new methods and approaches if necessary,  but foreign languages must be taught.