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Ideal systematic training in polyglottery

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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 Message 9 of 43
15 December 2007 at 11:37am | IP Logged 
May I know how would the training be carried out practically? According to the teaching plan, students would receive abundant materials, but how are they going to be presented? I am quite interested to know how students may be instructed in the classroom to experiment with different methods or follow guidance to reach learning aims (and often on one’s own). Also, I guess writing logs, whether as part of assessment or not, could be quite helpful for evaluation purposes.

Regardless of personal thoughts, I am still wondering why French and German are important and how they are. Is it because of the “Great books”? It might be natural to establish both as an integral part of the Western language track (and so are some representative languages like Irish), but both would be (much) less relevant to non-European languages.

Then, it makes me think of what “Great books” are. I do not know virtually anything about comparative literature or cultural studies, in relation to the study of multiple languages; but it sounds like for students to read a lot and, particularly, try to compare different civilizations from a linguistic perspective, i.e. one of the classical languages from another track.

Now, suppose I become a (Chinese-speaking) student of this program. By taking the East Asian track I would be studying much less with one (perfectly) known language, save for Classical Chinese (if there is), which would normally not be the case if I take a track that is “remote” from my own linguistic background. I personally know quite little about Classical Chinese, as an average student; Classical Chinese, with all its complexities, would require intensive reading as much as learning a brand new language as Latin. So, I guess there would be different learning schemes. It also seems that there would be some basic language requirements, like… knowing English. Well, it may not be a problem in the very learning environment I myself am facing...

Also, I am pondering about some “sub-groups” of the 4 groups, like: Romance languages, Chinese languages… I understand that one might not be able to find enough teachers and tutors for this. I am just curious about some in-depth study about more specific areas of study, since you have included “historical analytical sequence of Teutonic languages”, which I guess to be about Germanic languages (or something related?).
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 Message 10 of 43
15 December 2007 at 1:13pm | IP Logged 
Andy_Liu wrote:
Regardless of personal thoughts, I am still wondering why French and German are important and how they are. Is it because of the “Great books”?

ProfArguelles suggested in a very early thread that there is a lot of important learning materials (for other languages) written in French and German. In a way it is like studying French and German in order to get access to several others.
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 Message 11 of 43
15 December 2007 at 9:08pm | IP Logged 
Dear Professor Argüelles;

I read with interest about your plans for a polyglot academy. I have several questions and requests for clarifications. I apologize for any overlap with the questions of other posters, and if my curiosity has led to my post becoming excessively long. Before I begin, I must say that I think your outline of a first year is excellent, and all 4 of your proposed tracks look solid.

Content and scope:

What led you to favor the current geographic system of language tracks? How much flexibility would students be allowed to choose courses, mix tracks, or design their own curriculum out of the offered courses, possibly with the guidance of the faculty?

What is your opinion on possible alternative tracks? For instance, offering one or more tracks on more minor (in terms of historical written material) language families, such as Tai-Kadai, Niger-Congo, Austronesian, Afro-Asiatic, aboriginal languages of specific regions, etc, possibly with one or more elective courses open to anyone interested on linguistic fieldwork?   Have you considered a track on linguistic diversity, which discusses the range of languages, and studying a number of languages with relatively exotic features, such as polysynthesis, in depth?

What about tracks of wider or narrower focus? A wider track could be a study of "major world languages", including, Chinese, Russian, and some combination of French, German, and Spanish, among others. A track with narrower focus could go into more depth studying the history of one or two specific language families, such as the Romance and Germanic families (expanding on the material of the proposed historical sequences for the Teutonic languages, and adding the equivalent for the Romance languages), or Chinese, including Classical Chinese.

Have you considered a historical track, either within one of the tracks already outlined, or among the languages with the most historical material? This track could reduce the role of literature, in favor of reading historical documents in the studied languages. I would imagine this track being composed of some subset of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Old Irish, Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Classical Chinese, Old Church Slavonic, Old Norse, and possibly other languages, with suitability considered with respect to the extent of their written remnants, whether a close modern language can be used to approach the historical form, the amount feasible to study within the three specialized years, and how related the selected languages and cultures are.

It looks to me as though the current language tracks all include relatively diverse languages, where cultural similarities will be of more help than vocabulary and grammatical ones. Would you agree with this statement?

Clearly, it is not possible to offer everything discussed, but I would be interested in hearing your reasons for the tracks your initial post proposed, and your thoughts on the ones I have asked about.

What level are students required to reach in each language studied? How much does this vary from language to language, and between tracks? How much student selection will there be in which great books to read, especially at the higher levels? How important is the study of older forms of the languages and/or how they have changed over time in the proposed tracks, and how much does this importance vary between them?   

What is the focus of this program? It is clear that all proposed tracks involve studying a number of languages and reading literature. I do not find it clear how strongly the focus is on aspects of the languages themselves (including correct production of grammar, ability to communicate using the spoken language, etc) vs that of literature; is the former ('practical/pragmatic' active use) a criteria at all for the less central languages, and if so, how important of a criteria? Is the reading of literature largely meant to solidify knowledge of the languages and for evaluation, or is it the primary goal to reach, during the 4 years, in most/all of the languages studied?

How do you propose to do evaluations, grading, and testing? Specifically, what are the main objectives and criteria?

What are the entry requirements?

I saw no reference to phonetics. Given that you have previously said 'Certainly I concur that a grasp of phonetics is an integral component of effective foreign language learning. However, I do not believe that getting something like a solid base or foundation in phonetic principles is all that difficult. So, I do not quite know what is implied when the first writer asks if a “systematic study of phonetics” is worthwhile for language learning. A serious language student would certainly do well to study several different volumes on the subject and then to immediately put what he learns of the International Phonetic Alphabet, as well as other phonetic concepts, into conscious practice, but I do not think one would need to take any formal course of study in this such as a class or classes in it - unless, of course, one finds it interesting in its own regard.', are students expected to learn this on their own outside of class?

What other integral topics are students expected to study on their own, especially within the first two years? Will study methods ever explicitly be discussed, and if so, to what extent?

What amount of breaks do you imagine during each day of study? Would there be one between each topic, one every 3 hours, only one for lunch, or none whatsoever? How long would these breaks be?

What would the actual time commitment per day look like, given the necessity of studying integral topics (and, likely, at least some study related to the content of the classroom hours) outside of the classroom, as well as breaks? How much more than 9 hours would it be? How feasible do you consider this, especially for students in the first year, who likely have never done anything similar?

Would there be three quarters of study and one of vacation per year, or four of study?

How much flexibility will students be given in choosing their study methods? How heavy is the classroom focus of the proposed academy? If a large percentage of the time will be spent in the classroom, how can this be reconciled with students following their optimal sleep cycles?

What are your thoughts on having students spend at least part of the time during the program abroad, in countries speaking one or more of the languages which are being studied?

For descriptions, such as that found in the East Asian track, of the form 'Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)', what do you mean? Are students expected to read East Asian literature in French or German translation, and then discuss it in Latin? If this is not a misunderstanding, why do you consider Latin discussion appropriate for tracks other than the Western language track?

How much of a role, if any, do non-literary aspects of the studied languages and cultures play in this proposed academy?

What is your opinion about spending more time on language overviews? What about allowing students to design or heavily shape their own curricula on the basis of these overviews, rather than having predefined tracks?

Minor questions:
What are your current recommendations for meditation and concentration exercises? Do you currently do any?

What are the key aspects of the proposed mathematics course? What type of mathematics would be taught? Would the focus be on proofs, rigorous logical thinking, intricate and involved calculations involving extended concentration, some combination, or something else?

Do you know of enough polyglots who would be interested in serving as teachers to make feasible your idea of having teachers who are 'polyglots [who] will model effective auto-didactic habits as they further their own more advanced linguistic studies, be available for tutoring as needed, and lead seminar-like discussions of “great books” reading sequences of classic texts'? If not, how do you plan to fill this gap?

Do you plan to provide access to teachers with more specialized focuses (such as experts on one or more of the languages studied), for instance, if a track requires expertise that none of the principle polyglot teachers have?

Have you considered a course, or at least providing material to interested students, on the various approaches used by successful polyglots, including known advantages and shortcomings?

What size of academy are you considering? What is the minimal and maximal number of students that you would consider reasonable for starting it? How do you imagine adapting the courses offered and the amount of flexibility based on these numbers? What student:teacher ratio do you consider ideal, and how far are you willing to diverge from it?

Where are you considering hosting this academy: California, India, or elsewhere?

How much do you imagine it costing for students to attend?

Finally, I would be interested to hear about your thoughts for a graduate-level course. What would this entail?

Best regards;

Edited by Volte on 16 December 2007 at 9:42am

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 Message 12 of 43
16 December 2007 at 9:12am | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles,

Like many others here, I am interested in more detailed information on your proposed curriculum, including some details on proposed readings for example. I would also be interested in your thoughts on grad school studies.

I also would like to add to Athena's post, from a slightly different angle. Would you also comtemplate an "ideal systematic polyglot training for non-specialists" curriculum? You had mentioned in a previous thread that ideally all educated people could learn a half-dozen foreign languages or so; I would also be interested in your thoughts on how ideally to accomplish this while studying law, or science, or business, or for that matter being in the workforce in a different field.

Thank you,

Lleweilun Smith
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 Message 13 of 43
16 December 2007 at 9:40am | IP Logged 
Athena wrote:
Whew Volte! What a post! Don't you think some practical skills should be added? I would suggest courses in how money works, investments, and real computer skills...that is if you don't want to live a life of poverty in slavery to someone else whom you are helping to make richer.
(note from Administrator: I took the liberty of removing the post quoted above so as not to tax the Professor's patience)

No, honestly, I don't think that the skills you mentioned have any place in such a course. I don't deny that they are useful (given that I'm working as a risk manager, to learn about finance, and have a degree in computer science, it would be hard for me to do so). However, no course or institution can be everything to everyone, and attempting to be just results in mediocrity all around.

I think the idea of a specialized polyglot institution is a brilliant one: all the more so given the focus on reading great books, and Professor Argüelles ideas on broad education and building an encyclopedic mind. I think that individual study and thought, and wide reading are the best way to learn these topics. I learned significantly more about computer science on my own, as a teenager, than was taught during my undergraduate studies; I find interest tends to lead to much better and deeper learning than forced studies, which tend to become terribly watered down.

Anyone capable of completing the course as outlined should be more than capable of picking up the subjects you mentioned on his/her own, or finding out where to do so. I would consider individual students the best judges of how deeply or shallowly to explore these topics; different people have vastly different interests, needs, backgrounds, and capabilities.

I could definitely see there being a niche for people who want to master a small handful of languages (say, 2-6) to supplement other activities, rather than focus on polyglottery. I can't see this institute expanding into entirely general, non-language-related studies; I think it would be a waste. (I shouldn't need to state this, but this is only my personal opinion; I have no role in setting up the institution).

Edited by administrator on 16 December 2007 at 12:29pm

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 Message 14 of 43
16 December 2007 at 11:38am | IP Logged 
Greetings professor,

I really think this is a great idea, I have a query though. With such an institution, would one need a previous knowledge in the languages: would one need to be trained in any East Asian languages in order to start the East Asian track or will the student learn the languages from scratch at the institution ?

Thank you for your time.
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Scott Horne
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 Message 15 of 43
18 December 2007 at 6:59pm | IP Logged 
Documenting a Class D language well enough to enable people to learn it would be a major undertaking. If the person doing this work did not speak the language already, she would have to learn it without the benefit of any documentation. That alone could take years--not to mention considerable financial resources. Compiling an adequate dictionary could take many years more. A reference grammar and pedagogical materials would be needed. It might also be necessary to compile a large corpus of texts, perhaps also of speech.

I am not convinced of the wisdom of designing language courses according to a universal paradigm. The proposal might work well for vocabulary, but it would not be ideal for syntax. Even for vocabulary it could be problematic: for example, "my family" might be a good starting point for Hawai`ian, in which the terms for the various familial relations are few and easy to master, but not for Korean, which makes numerous distinctions (sex, generation, relative age, agnate/enate, degree of politeness [honorific terms for other people's relatives alongside humbler terms for one's own]). Months and days in Chinese can be learnt as soon as one knows the numbers, and they are easy to use as well; but in Finnish they all have to be memorised as lexical items, and using them for any but the most trivial purposes requires some knowledge of nominal inflection and tense.

Edited by Scott Horne on 18 December 2007 at 7:00pm

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 Message 16 of 43
19 December 2007 at 8:16pm | IP Logged 
Professor, many thanks for explaining the concept of “great books” education. I have had little contact with such works, having always been taught – although indirectly – to think them as inaccessible. I will soon begin familiarizing myself with selected pieces. Better late than never!

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