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Ideal systematic training in polyglottery

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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609 posts - 2102 votes 

 
 Message 1 of 43
09 December 2007 at 6:13pm | IP Logged 
8th Revised Rough Working Draft: 9 April 2008


A proposal for an ideal program of study at an ideal academy for the ideal systematic fostering of Polyglottery


Background: Reflections upon my own ongoing education

As a student at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, I myself received the best quality education available in our day and age, but I know that I was shortchanged when compared to standards that prevailed in other days and ages. We live in an increasingly homogenized and “dumbed down” era, and I know that I, with all my years of study, would only make a run of the mill philologist if were transported back a century in time. As a student, I clearly recall feeling a constant sense of frustration at the slighting of substance in favor of theory. I also resented the constant pressure to limit myself to a pigeonholed specialization. I am sorry if I sound like an ingrate, but I do not recall learning anything of particular value from my classes, but rather only from reading on my own in the magnificent libraries at those institutions. I clearly remember always wanting to transfer to a more satisfying program for learning, but never knowing where such an alternative might exist.

I was a student in the higher education system for a dozen years, and now I have been a college professor for another dozen years, throughout which I have felt the same continuous sense of wanting something better than the existing system. I must say that I have also always felt that I have only been called, only been allowed, to give a small pigeonholed portion of myself to my students—and that portion is not the best that I have to give. The best I have to give is in the area of guidance in foreign language learning, and I am blocked from giving this guidance for a number of reasons. First and foremost, foreign languages in our day and age are not given anything like an appropriate role in the educational process. Indeed, I often justify my own admitted obsession with them as a counterbalance to the flabbergasting degree to which they are ignored elsewhere. My quest may be Quixotic, but I know that I am not all alone when I reread the comforting words that, in Il Nome de la Rosa, Umberto Eco twice articulates through Guglielmo da Baskerville: “Bacone aveva ragione a dire che la conquista del sapere passa attraverso la conoscenza delle lingue... ...Aveva ragione Bacone che il primo dovere del sapiente è studiare le lingue! » « [Fraciscan philosopher Roger] Bacon was right to say that the conquest of wisdom passes through the knowledge of languages…Bacon was right that the first duty of a scholar is to study languages! »

The current academic environment as I have experienced it on four continents is not in a healthy state, even in the best of circumstances. The hard sciences may be thriving, but the humanities are quite sick, for although they are inherently interrelated, they are everywhere fragmented into slots that are specialized to a degree that defies description. Under the current system, a “scholar” is defined as an expert in the specific narrow field in which he has been specifically trained and written his dissertation. He is not allowed to step outside of that field, but must rather defend it in polemical terms using the most current theoretical jargon for politically correct causes that all too often have little if anything to do with the actual subject matter. In this environment, foreign languages are seen either as a problematic to be hacked at by applied linguists or as mere tools to be acquired (often in the most nominal fashion) and used only on an individual case by case basis to get at “real” research matters. Not only is this the general mindset regarding foreign languages, but the overwhelming majority of college students are only involved in the educational process because it is now the normal rite of passage for their age group, and indeed it is a required step in job training; in the main, they have no interest in learning languages at all, and if they do, it that interest is circumstantial and directly practical. Gone utterly is the quaint old notion that a person could not be considered educated without foreign language abilities, and gone utterly is the general desire to acquire those abilities.

Over and against all of this, I have lived out and given substance to one of the most popular of buzz words, namely life-long-learning, by continuing to learn all of my life. Most people believe that it is simply impossible for anyone to learn many languages well, but every morning I drink at the etymological wells of Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, and Chinese. Have I achieved the impossible? No, but I have proven that it is not impossible after all. Because I did this on my own, I floundered about quite a bit, but as a result, I believe I am now in a uniquely privileged position to guide others to similar goals more effectively. I believe I can provide guidance not only for those who want to learn lots of languages well and as the main focus of their scholarly energies, but also for those who want to balance a more moderate number of foreign languages with other intellectual pursuits. I would do this by offering, as a more substantial alternative to any other program currently available, an educational curriculum consisting of what I call “Polyglottery” (the systematic study of various logical sequences of culturally significant languages) plus the use of these languages to read and discuss texts from a “great books” curriculum of classic texts. Because Polyglottery is my own innovation, let me treat it in greater detail in this proposal after first reviewing the extant notion of great books education for those who may not be familiar with the term.


Great Books Education

Great books education is hardly new—indeed, in most times and places, the highest quality education consisted precisely of reading the classic texts of the civilization in their original languages. In the West, this kind of formation lost ground throughout the 19th century, such that by the 1920’s it was necessary to come up with lists of “great books” for American college students to read and discuss in seminars in an effort to impart the level of cultural knowledge they would formerly have received by reading these kinds of texts at an even earlier age. “Great books” education had many converts and practitioners through the 1950’s, but it has been losing ground since then as the general mental decay progresses at an ever greater pace. Still, there are a number of “great books” organizations, and a sequence of such courses is given as part of the general core curriculum at some colleges, while still others offer them as part of special honor’s programs, and St. John’s University has its entire educational curriculum based around them. I imagine that I would be happier teaching at St. John’s than I would be just about anywhere else, but even there languages receive very little emphasis, for they offer only stabs at French and Greek, and nothing more.

The “literature” of “great books” reading lists consists not only of imaginative fiction, but also of philosophical, theological, historical, and scientific texts. There are very few works on the standard canon of “great books” reading lists that I myself do not value. However, I find the general canon to be unbalanced in the weight it gives to Greek antiquity, the French Enlightenment, and the Anglo-American liberal tradition. Thus, when systematically revising this classification, I have expanded it beyond the usual 100-150 texts to closer to 500 texts for Western Civilization. I have also expanded the canon in systematic ways beyond Western Civilization. With this many classic texts in the library of my ideal academy, advanced students would certainly have free range and choice, but for the didactic purpose of language learning, it would make sense to keep the number of texts read and reread in the seminars to a smaller common core. In Lebanon, I designed and taught eight sequences of “great books” courses, whose reading lists were:

Western Civilization: Antiquity (Homer’s Odyssey, Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, and Plutarch’s Histories, Plato’s Phaedo, Aristotle’s Categories, Cicero’s On Duty, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations)
Western Civilization: The Middle Ages (The Nibelungenlied, The Mabinogian, Chrètien de Troyes’ Lancelot and Yvain, Dante’s Inferno, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica)
Western Civilization: Renaissance & Enlightenment (Erasmus’ Praise of Folly, More’s Utopia, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Rabelais’ Gargantua,   Montaigne’s Essays, Descartes’ Discourse on Method, Spinoza’s On the Improvement of the Understanding, Leibniz’ Discourse on Metaphysics, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hobbes’ Elements of Law, Montesquieu’s Spirit of Law, s).
Western Civilization: Modernity (Turgenev’s Lear of the Steppes,, Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych,, Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, , Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarasthustra, Marx & Engels’ Communist Manifesto, Spencer’s First Principles, , Darwin’s Descent of Man and Origin of Species, Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Jung’s Psychological Types
Middle Eastern Civilization: Arabic Texts (Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddima, Al Ghazali’s Mysteries of the Human Soul, Averroes’ Incoherence of the Incoherence & Harmony of Religion & Philosophy, the Fables of Kalilah and Dimnah, Nagib Maghfuz’ Midaq Alley,
Middle Eastern Civilization: Persian Texts (The Shahnameh, Zoroastrian texts (Kârnâmag î Ardashîr î Babagân, Chidag Andarz i Poryotkeshan, Zadspram, Arda Viraf, Menog-i Khrad, Shkand-gumanig Vizar,), Sa’di’s Golestan,, Hedayat’s Blind Owl)
Indic Civilization (The Mahabharata, selections from the Vedas, the Upanishads, Yoga and Vedanta Sutras, the Dhammapada, the Bhagavada-Gita, stories by Tagore and Premchand)
East Asian Civilization (Confucius’s Doctrine of the Mean & Great Learning, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Lao Tsu’s Tao de Ching, Yang Chu’s Garden of Pleasure, Kakuan’s 10 Bulls, Korean Buddhist Legends & Tales of the Zen Masters, Kim Man Jung’s Cloud Dream of the Nine, Natsume Sosei’s Kokoro)


In my ideal academy, I would offer my systematically expanded canon in various groupings, so that students would read and discuss the world’s most important texts several times and in several different contexts, not to speak of several different languages, throughout their stay, as the use of translations as an introduction to reading in the original is a time proven method. This caliber of text inherently deserves to be reread in any case, as only in this way can one get the most out of them. Given the importance of reading in such a curriculum, it seems only logical to combine it with a program of learning multiple languages so that the languages learned can be put to immediate use in the cogitation and digestion of the most significant class of ideas. Just as importantly, blending “great books” education with Polyglottery makes perfect sense because I have always maintained that knowing the “literature” that a language has given voice to is an inherent and integral part of knowing the language.


Polyglottery

Returning to the primary language-learning aspect of the ideal academy, I must stress that acquiring skills in specific languages would be the means, not the ends. The primary goal of the program is not to teach students the set of languages of their track; rather, it is to provide them with an optimal environment in which they can learn to teach themselves languages. One can get a great running jump from being taught languages well, but Polyglottery is inherently an autodidactic enterprise. Thus, the main purpose of the academy would be to be a venue for students to learn the skills and gain the experience they need in order to continue to teach themselves languages throughout their lives after they leave the academy.


The Undergraduate Program

The program is based on a 4-year plan with time broken down according to a quarter-system analogous to that of a university program. Thus, every three months students will enter a new stage or cycle of each of 9 foci of study for that year. Each focus represents 1 hour of study time, so there is an expectation of residential full-time engagement requiring a commitment of 9 hours per day.

The first year would be deliberately intense in terms of formal study, and there would be high academic standards of grading and testing. In this first year, students would be evaluated based on:
a) their ability to make substantial progress in the simultaneous study of two different foreign languages;
b) their ability to absorb and digest challenging quantities of factual information;
c) their ability to demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the important ideas and sensibilities contained in the great texts; and
b) their ability to adapt to and function according to a disciplined and systematically regular division of the day into allotted time slots.

Those who are unable to do all of the above would have to leave the program. The objective would be to establish an institute where the collective energy of serious study would be of maximum intensity. Thus, frequent drop quizzes are preferable to periodic announced larger exams, and the most important criterion for evaluation will be the keeping of study logs and log books.

Students who remain after this first year will choose from among four tracks or emphases of study: European, Central, Indic, and East-Asian languages. Other options and more flexible programs for the study of African, Native American, etc., languages would be reserved for the graduate degree programs. Even in the ideal planning stages, a practical problem raises its head here. Obviously, this program would hope to be international in its scope, drawing students from all over the world. Among the first growing pains for such an institution would clearly have to be the developing of two sub-tracks within each track, e.g., European languages a) for those of European linguistic background and European languages b) for those of non-European linguistic background, and likewise for each of the three other tracks. Thus, on the one hand, students with no previous knowledge in the languages of their track would be able to develop them here, and, on the other hand, students from any of the 4 major cultural circles would be able to both delve into their own tradition and gain their polyglot commission at the same time.

There will be increasingly little formal instruction per-se after the first year. Rather, resources for study will be available in abundance and variety, and there will be a correspondingly wide range of facilities in which to use them.

In the pedagogic role, polyglots will answer questions and model effective auto-didactic habits as they further their own more advanced linguistic studies. They will also be available for tutoring as needed, and lead seminar-like discussions of “great books” reading sequences of classic texts. However, in order for learning to take place, the burden will be on the students to observe, to explore, and to question rather than upon the professors to teach or instruct them.

Although objective testing of factual material should not be necessary after the first year, a condition for remaining at the academy would be continued progress in the course of studies. Obviously, students are expected, after two years of study, to be able to function on an intellectual level in their languages, and those who are unable to do this would not be able to continue on at the academy.

This undergraduate program could easily accommodate two different types of students. In the first place, the program is really envisioned for those whose appetite for learning languages is unlimited and who might thus aspire to continue on at the academy through the graduate level and even to remain beyond in increasingly responsible instructional capacities. In addition, there would certainly be room for those who aspire to acquire a sold foundation in 6 or so core languages as a basic criterion for considering themselves respectfully well-educated, but who thereafter will wish to go into fields of endeavor other than Polyglottery.


The program of study for the 1st common year would comprise:

1. English composition
2. French
3. German
4. Comparative Philology
5. Language Overviews or comparative systematic sampling of those languages of the world for which adequate study material is available
6. World History or diachronic comparison of both factual details and intellectual trends
7. “Great books” classic texts readings and discussions
8. Logical training by means of mathematics, music theory, natural philosophy…
9. Focus training by means of physical exercise, concentration exercises, meditation practices…

Here follows a short discussion of these common year components:

1. English composition
The need for this as a foundational element in any educational program should be more than self-evident.

2 & 3. French & German
A main purpose of this first year would be to determine if students have the capacity to study several languages simultaneously through shadowing methodology in regular and systematic 15-minute increments evenly distributed throughout the day. French and German are given first because they are the most beneficial general scholarly languages for those who might ask or opt to leave the program at any time. However, what to do about incoming students who already know either or both of these in addition to English? This takes me out of the ideal planning stage into the actualization stage all too swiftly but there would obviously have to be alternate tracks available, such as Spanish.

4. Comparative Philology
Here linguistics would return to what it ought never to have left off being, and, as a basis for their upcoming actual study of languages, students would learn how languages are related to each other, influence each other, and change over time according to laws that can often be clearly identified.

5. Language Overviews [comparative systematic sampling of those languages of the world for which adequate study material is available]
In order to study a language thoroughly, one needs to have access to a good handful of different descriptive teaching manuals, at least some with decent audio materials, as well as a reference grammar or two, several good dictionaries, and a variety of texts (“readers,” bilingual, translations) suitable as introductions to reading. Fewer than 100 languages have this kind of documentation, and fewer still (not more than 50) have it in such abundance that would-be learners can select from among it according to their preference for styles and qualities of material. In the course of this first year, students would systematically be led through an examination of all of this material in a survey that would proceed through language families and geographic regions. In other words, students would actually sample both the languages and the materials available for learning them. Thus, they would spend several hours on several successive days actually working with the materials for, e.g., Swahili, in the context of similar overviews of other African languages, and they would then have a solid basis for knowing if they ever wished to go off in this direction.

6. World History [diachronic comparison of both factual details and intellectual trends]
Systematically studying and becoming intimately familiar with the contents of a work such as Peter Stearn’s Encyclopedia of World History or Werner Stein’s Kulturfahrplan. More than any other aspect of the first year of study, this component is likely to require the most “homework” or external supplemental or integral study on the part of the students, who are obviously expected to hereby develop the necessary mental framework for profiting from the general expansion of mental and cultural horizons inherent throughout the program. Thus, here more than elsewhere, students who felt a need for it might expect to be given guidance in various methods of study.

7. “Great books” classic texts
Discussed in principle above; here in the first year, the “greatest” works that will be read and discussed afterwards in French, German, and other languages, and ultimately in the original tongues, will be broached for the first time in English.

8. Logical training [mathematics, music theory, natural philosophy…]
There are several purposes for this sequence. First and foremost, engagement in the world of numbers simply provides balance and variety for those immersed in the world of words. More to the point, in this kind of program, students who have internalized other systems of laws and categorization should have less trouble simultaneously studying multiple languages as distinct systems that are yet variations upon a single theme. As an example, in a given year this sequence might take the form of three months of calculations with pencil and paper followed by three months of transposition and other musical theory, then three months of Aristotelian logic, and finally three months of Linnean botany.

9. Focus training [physical education, concentration exercises, meditation practices…]
Endurance sports such as lap swimming and long-distance running, relaxation-inducing breath-control and other concentration exercises, even forms of meditation, are integral elements in developing the habit of regular and systematic serious study. What many if not most students will really be learning in this first year is how to study for 9-hours a day, and this will probably be demanding at first, although I myself am living testimony to the fact that studying all day, every day, when there is deep interest in a rich subject matter, can become 2nd nature as a veritable lifestyle. When I reflect upon the way I have developed and refined this ability over the years, I have to analyze and evaluate the path of the polyglot as a means of systematic mental development, a means that I do believe I can teach to those whom it interests. In the first year, for at least the first three months, each day would dawn with an hour of lap swimming, giving way to long-distance running in the second three months. In the third three months, they would spend an hour a day practicing breathing and concentration exercises and, in the final three months, be given instruction in forms of deep focus-inducing meditation-like practices. It would be expected that students would swiftly integrate at least one of these practices into their waking hours outside the 9 “class” hours, and in the 2nd year, they will further have time set aside for continuing their experimentation and/or mastery of various practices from this and/or the logical training exercises. The “meditation” mentioned here must be understood in this context, as a part of focus training only, for in no sense will any form of “spiritual” direction ever be pushed any anyone!


After completing this first year and opting to stay on at the academy, students would choose from one of the above mentioned tracks (Western languages, Central languages, Indic languages, or East Asian Languages). It must be stressed again that the purpose of this academy is NOT to produce area specialists (although those following one of these tracks could certainly enter graduate programs as area specialists in normal graduate schools), but to produce polyglots, i.e., individuals who have cracked the code of learning languages and can continue to do so at will for the rest of their lives. In order to the best start, it is advantageous to begin learning in a systematically logical fashion; hence the tracks, which are organized not mainly according to genetic or other structural principles, but rather principally according to cultural circles, for the greatest hurdle in developing abilities in foreign languages does not lie on the level of phonetics or of grammar. Although these may present great challenges, they are never anything compared to the challenge of developing lexical width and breadth, and thus it is always best to study languages together they draw from the same etymological sources.

Because we will now embark on a discussion of learning languages, I want to stress that I conceive of the whole endeavor of Polyglottery as being a life-long quest for increasingly greater mastery and understanding. I find the use of testing scales of specific practical levels proficiency to be the antithesis of this mentality, and all I would require would be the ability to begin functioning fully on an intellectual level in any language 24 months after beginning a relationship with it, i.e., reading texts in them and then actively participating in discussions about those texts. Again, this expectation is based on my own experience, both as a student and as a teacher, in “normal” college programs, and if it can be done there, it should comparatively easy to do here. Of course the ease and the fluidity with which students will be able to do this will vary according to the language in question, particularly those in the subjectively more difficult tracks, and according to the student’s individual talents. However, I firmly believe that focusing on developing practical abilities is, paradoxically, an inefficient way of attaining them, and that studying languages in the holistic fashion that I propose—which always necessarily includes diachronic developmental study of the language to whatever extent this is known—imparts these abilities as a matter of course. In other words, students who focus upon learning how to speak stand a good chance of failing in this endeavor, while those who focus instead upon getting to know the essence of a language will naturally come to be able to speak it where it is being used.


The Western language track:

Year 2:
1.     French
2.     German
3.     Latin
4.     Historical analytical sequence of Teutonic languages
5.     Exotic language 1 (Arabic, Sanskrit, or Chinese)
6.     Exotic language 1 (Arabic, Sanskrit, or Chinese)
7.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
8.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
9.     Practicum in logical and/or focus training

Year 3:
1.     Latin
2.     Historical reading sequence of Teutonic languages
3.     Greek
4.     Russian
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)

Year 4:
1.     Greek
2.     Russian
3.     Irish
4.     Free choice of 1 additional new language
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using Exotic 1 texts and in discussion)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)

In response to the readers questioning the inclusion of Irish and the seeming-absence of Spanish, Portuguese, etc.: once again, the goal is not to teach students a particular selection of widely-spoken or otherwise useful language, but rather to give them the best preparation for a life-long ability to teach themselves languages with ease, pleasure, and scholarly profit. The spread of languages I propose covers at least one from each of the four main families of European languages. Spanish will inevitably have a presence comparable to its status as a world language, both in alternate tracks and as additional languages are added.



The Central Civilization language track

Year 2:
1.     French
2.     German
3.     Arabic
4.     Arabic
5.     Exotic language 1 (Latin, Sanskrit, or Chinese)
6.     Exotic language 1 (Latin, Sanskrit, or Chinese)
7.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
8.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
9.     Practicum in logical and/or focus training

Year 3:
1.     Arabic
2.     Arabic
3.     Persian
4.     Turkish
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)

Year 4:
1.     Arabic
2.     Persian
3.     Turkish
4.     Free choice of 1 additional new language
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using Arabic translations, & in discussions)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)


Note on the change of name for the track: a good and universally recognized, recognizable, and acceptable cover term is lacking for this grouping. “Central Civilization” seems more geographically and historically accurate than the “Islamic languages,” which I originally proposed.


The Indic language track

Year 2:
1.     French
2.     German
3.     Sanskrit
4.     Sanskrit
5.     Exotic language 1 (Latin, Arabic, or Chinese)
6.     Exotic language 1 (Latin, Arabic, or Chinese)
7.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
8.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
9.     Practicum in logical and/or focus training

Year 3:
1.     Sanskrit
2.     Sanskrit
3.     Hindi
4.     Tamil
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)

Year 4:
1.     Sanskrit
2.     Hindi
3.     Tamil
4.     Free choice of 1 additional new language
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using Sanskrit translations, & in discussions)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)


The East-Asian language track

Year 2:
1.     French
2.     German
3.     Chinese
4.     Chinese
5.     Exotic language 1 (Latin, Arabic, or Sanskrit)
6.     Exotic language 1 (Latin, Arabic, or Sanskrit)
7.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
8.     Great books (beginning to incorporate original texts in discussions)
9.     Practicum in logical and/or focus training

Year 3:
1.     Chinese
2.     Chinese
3.     Korean or Japanese
4.     Korean or Japanese
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, & in discussions)

Year 4:
1.     Chinese
2.     Korean
3.     Korean & Japanese
4.     Japanese
5.     Exotic 1
6.     Exotic 1
7.     Great books (using Chinese translations, & in discussions)
8.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)
9.     Great books (using French & German translations, Latin in discussion)

In response to reader questions that came in regarding this track:
1.     Study of Classical Chinese should always be an integral part of the study of “Chinese.”
2.     No detail of this program attracted more critical questions than the fact that I initially seemed to privilege Korean over Japanese. This is not the case. In the abstract, I do believe that while a prior solid acquisition of Japanese will also enable Korean to be acquired at a great discount, a prior solid acquisition of Korean will enable the acquisition of Japanese at a slightly greater discount. Thus, as a matter of economic strategic planning, I would recommend that course of action. Furthermore, in practical terms, at least in the early years of this academy, I myself will want and need to play an active role in most of what is going on, and I can provide infinitely more guidance in Korean, so on these grounds, too, I would put it first. However, anyone who prefers to begin with Japanese should be free to do so.


The Graduate Program

As the program I described is on par with an undergraduate one, I would grant a B.A. to those completing it, although keeping this program on the same terms as the established educational system will be difficult. In point of fact, I see no reason why mature home schoolers could not enter this program well before the normal age of 18; on the other hand, I believe many students would probably be more mature and more experienced than that age, perhaps already having another B.A. in hand. Graduates of this program will receive a general education far superior in substance to the average college experience. Thus, students who determined at this point that they were more interested in any traditional discipline should have little trouble entering doctoral programs in just about any field in the Humanities or even the Social Sciences. Indeed, although I would hope for a preponderantly scholarly student body, those interested in such careers as the diplomatic service could probably also get their best formation through such an experience. Yes, this would be a very demanding program with a correspondingly high attrition rate, but still I would naturally hope that significant numbers of the kind of student attracted to this program in the first place would want to stay on for their graduate studies.

I am obviously basing this program on my own experience of having spent 12 years as a university student in American institutions. I am certainly aware that a Ph.D. can be earned in less time, and that, e.g., in Great Britain this might appear to be unduly long. However, given the nature of this program, I certainly see only advantages in protracted years as a “student,” recalling that Plato recommended this, that Aristotle stayed his student until he (Plato) died, and that Ignatius of Loyola thought one could not possibly be fully educated before the age of 36, all of this back in a time period when life expectancy was much less than it is now.

As described above, after a first highly structured year, even undergraduates would be expected to become ever more independent in their learning process. In this environment, graduate course of study would have to be made on an individual basis. Indeed, permission to study for the M.A. would be based upon a student proposal for a logical sequence of study for their continued acquisition and use of languages. Imagining the best of circumstances, students at this level should declare their intentions under one of two umbrellas, “depth” or “breadth.” Those who chose “depth” would continue their studies in the same track. Thus, e.g., someone who had a B.A. in European languages could do M.A. studies in the members of a single family. One could choose, e.g., Romance and propose a sequence for adding Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, etc. Someone who chose “breadth” would study languages from another track, so again someone who had a European languages B.A. could pursue M.A. studies of Central, Indic, or East-Asian languages, probably but not necessarily in the direction of his Exotic 1.

M.A. studies would comprise 2 years of additional study along the same lines as the B.A., i.e., 6 hours a day of active language learning + 3 hours a day of actively using languages learned to discuss important ideas holistically. As an integral part of the graduate experience, students from this level on would be expected to play increasingly important formal roles as tutors for the undergraduates.

I would grant the degree of M.Phil. for a further 2 years of similar study during which students who had declared for “breadth” before sought “depth” now, and vice versa, and during which they took on greater roles of mentors and guides.

After this level, I would envision granting a Ph.D. for an additional 4 years of active collaboration in the development of the resource holdings of the academy. In the thread on pursuing linguistics, I not too long ago wrote that, in light of the impending mass extinction of languages, there is a pressing need for the documentation and preservation of languages. As of right now, although there may be up to 10,000 languages in the world, only something like 100 languages, and probably fewer, have adequate resources for their thorough study and thus are not immediately endangered (“class A” languages in this regard), although under present circumstances, many may not last another century. Another 100 languages may have some resources, although not sufficient for extensive study, and so are “endangered” (“class B” languages); and another 100+ may have some documentation, though scarcely enough for learning, and so are “critically endangered” (“class C”). All the rest are unknown (“class D”).

As part of my vision for an ideal academy of Polyglottery, I envision recording as many languages as possible in a systematic fashion so as to greatly facilitate the future study of languages, even if they be dead. How would I spearhead this? By developing a method, similar to those of the Linguaphone courses of the 1950’s and 1960’s, in which the lesson plan for each language is identical, although the specific cultural content varies as needed. Thus, e.g., lesson 1 for each language discussed “my family,” lesson 15 parts of the body, lesson 18 months and days, chapter 29 the country in question, chapter 42 sports, chapter 47 industry, and chapter 50 literature. These courses can be used in a similar fashion to Assimil courses, but they have the enormous advantage of facilitating the study of even non-related languages. As the course structure is the same for, e.g., Norwegian as it is for Japanese, the study of the former by this means is of incredible advantage and economy in the subsequent study of the latter, which is not normally the case.   Thus, as an integral part of my vision for an ideal academy, I imagine developing similar “universal” paradigms for language courses (as there would obviously have to be at least two paradigms, one for languages from the “modern” world, one for the disappearing) that would be even more substantial than these older courses were. Perhaps I need to stress that the notion of a universal method refers only to the lesson plan, and not to the preposterous idea of forcing all languages to conform to a paradigm that would ignore their individual particularities. This was not the case with the c.1950-c.1960 Lingaphone courses, and it would not be the case with any methodical project in which I was involved.

Hence, the role of polyglots would be to play an active role in preserving the linguistic heritage of mankind for future generations to study, and Ph.D. students would play an integral in the development of this resource collection. First of all, they would be expected to contribute to the ongoing development of courses for their native languages and others that they have learned well. More importantly, they would be expected to undertake what study they could of a class B language while still at the academy, and then go out and actually encounter it and learn it well enough to make a course for it by way of their dissertation.

I would grant a Dr.Habil. to anyone who subsequently provided more adequate materials for a class C language, or who even went out and documented a class D language. Obviously these are extremely difficult tasks—hence the highest degree as a reward—but this kind of work has been done by missionaries and linguistic anthropologists with far less training over the past century and half, so systematically trained polyglots from this academy should be able to do it as well if not much better. As it has been pointed out that there are a few other projects on the planet already dedicated to linguistic documentation of those many thousands of class D languages that will surly die together with their last elderly speakers, I will stress that while I consider this a worthy goal, I think it far more important to provide adequate learning materials class B/C languages the likes of Bengali and Marathi, which have rich literary traditions and millions of speakers, but which also risk being subsumed under global homogeneity without a trace because there are so few adequate means for outsiders to study them.


General Description of the Learning Environment of the Academy

In my ideal academy, a language-centered education would be offered that consisted of acquiring abilities in specific languages through patterning and habit formation in a variety of autodidactic study methods, and then of honing skills in these specific languages by means of oral and written participation in great books seminars held in the languages learned. The course of study I offered along the lines of an existing undergraduate formation, was designed to give students a solid foundation in 6 to 8 languages depending on their track of study. A more important ability than the specific skills they would acquire in this first set of languages, however, would be the ability to successfully and efficiently continue to teach themselves languages throughout their lives. Furthermore, students educated in this fashion would acquire the mature breadth of perspective imparted by the study of the classic texts of all 4 major living civilizations. Hence, I believe those who left such a course of study would be better educated that those who currently leave even the best of undergraduate programs. A B.A. in Polyglottery from this ideal academy should be recognized as the best kind of holistic interdisciplinary degree in the humanities, and as such it should enable its holders to engage in any profession requiring a well-tuned mind. More than any other profession, students of Polyglottery would be qualified to become the academics of the next generation, and my hope would be that they, entering all the various and sundry disciplines of the humanities, would become catalysts for a general revaluation of the importance of foreign languages and for a subsequent renaissance of language learning. Thereafter, in the ideal scheme of things, many of the artificial boundaries that have been drawn between the various disciplines of the humanities would melt away, and scholars would once again be men of encyclopedic minds rather than highly specialized experts in specific sub-fields of fragmented knowledge.

As a focal point for research in such an academy at the graduate level, I proposed the systematic recording and preservation of languages. I honestly and firmly believe that the world stands on the brink of an enormous wave of linguistic extinction. The world seems to be indifferent to this, and even I, unfortunately, can articulate a convincing devil’s argument for why this extinction would not matter. Perhaps, however, it does matter a great deal, and at very least a modicum of preservation would be justified simply to provide the materials for study and analysis of a resurrected field of comparative philology. The documentation of hitherto unrecorded languages may be one issue, but ensuring that those languages that have been fulfilled through literary traditions are not lost is surely another, even more pressing one, but one that is nowhere to my knowledge being specifically addressed.

The core of the entire enterprise would of course be its resource center, containing every possible variety of manual, grammar, dictionary, and recorded material for all possible languages, and its general library, especially its collection of classic texts of world civilizations, translated into as many different languages as possible, and recorded as audio-books as well as traditional texts. As stated earlier, after a first year of rigorously formal education, students would be increasingly responsible for teaching themselves languages, learning not by being taught, but by observing and imitating their polyglot-professors, and determining what kinds of learning materials and what kinds of study strategies are best for them. In the “languages of the world” sequence of that first year, students would be actively exposed to all those languages for which adequate material for full study exists—languages that they could increasingly opt to study on their own as they made progress through the entire program. Thus, more advanced students, knowing what languages matter to them and knowing how to approach them, should have free access to all the materials that they need to learn them.

Just as important as access to the materials is access to proper environments in which to use them. I have always found the atmosphere of a traditional language laboratory to be uninviting, and although I can sometimes draw energy from a busy study hall or library reading room, I personally prefer the quiet of a private study space. Thus, I would provide the former setting for those who found it congenial, but I would also design a campus, both buildings and grounds, absolutely full of inviting nooks and crannies that would be perfect settings for small study corners. I believe this is not merely a matter of personal preference, but of actual necessity, for the study of languages is necessarily a rather noisy process due to the absolute need to read aloud. Furthermore, as I cannot overstress the need for motion while engaging in shadowing, my own ideal means of getting initiated in any language, the facilities should abound with tracks, trails, and spaces, both indoors and out, in which the physical side of language learning can be properly practiced. Finally, in order to provide settings for simultaneous socialization and language practice, I would have many spaces on the campus clearly, architecturally, and artistically identifiable as being “zones” of such-and-such a language, with the expectation that everyone in that zone should speak that language while in it.

In my imagination I can see many specific settings, but I suppose I am most partial to the atmosphere of a somewhat overgrown and labyrinthine grounds. In the center of each zone on the grounds, a polyglot would be forever studying. Students would take their materials to the area to use them in their own corner of the space, from which they could observe the polyglot study and ask him questions about how to further their own studies. When the time regularly rolled around for a discussion of the significant texts they would be reading and rereading in various tongues, they could all gather together in that same space.

Clearly, a third critical element in this idyllic vision would be the caliber of the students. Ideal students should of course be motivated entirely by a pure desire to learn. I would truly hope and imagine that the description of this program would, in and of itself, serve to ensure that all students were of the very highest quality. By its nature, I do not imagine that this program would appeal to most people, but I hope and believe there are students out there hungry for an alternative with more substance than they can get elsewhere, and it seems probable that all those to whom it does appeal should have what it takes to succeed in it.


Appendix: Preliminary Practical Considerations

Independent body vs. part of larger institution: Do I conceive of my academy as being an independent body or part of a larger university? I can consider either possibility. There would be many advantages to being part of a larger university, and as that is the paradigm from which I come and in which I have always worked until now, thus it is also that I have cast this entire program in terms of undergraduate and graduate programs. In principle, there is no reason at all why this kind of program could not be accommodated within a larger educational institution, but I suspect that the kinds of reforms I am proposing are so thoroughgoing that, rather regrettably, there may not be many large established bodies that would be willing to host it. Still, if the kind of place that produced me—Columbia or the University of Chicago—were willing to take me back, then I do not see how I could reject the opportunity to take this program there. This would indeed bring many practical advantages, such as access to their libraries, their faculty, and other resources. However, I fear that it would be very difficult to maintain and develop the special features of my program in their environment, and so when all is said and done, I favor a smaller, independent body.

Indeed, starting as an extremely small private academy has a great many logistical advantages. If I were to start this whole endeavor as a solo venture with a handful of dedicated apprentices, then the project could grow organically, either towards an accredited academic program with links to the existing educational establishment, or as an utterly different type of learning environment. In either case, I would hope and presume that it would indeed grow so as to obtain the kind of facilities and campus I consider ideal, so at some point, I would need other well-read polyglot faculty members, and where indeed would I find them? What a good question! If this is to be a fully accredited university program, then of course all I can only consider colleagues who have an earned doctorate, but as polyglottery does not yet exist as a field, their degree could be in any area with their polyglot abilities acquired on the side. In this whole wide world, there may well be a number of such individuals who would be exited about such a prospect and who would respond favorably to such an advertisement in the Chronicle of Higher Education. How many of these, though, would have the global great books perspective that I seek to establish? I think that in the initial years I may have to compromise my ideals to the extant reality and hire, on the one hand, graduates of Great Books schools, and on the other, people who have taught themselves many languages in addition to earning their doctorates. Still, those who would be interested in this kind of educational endeavor should be truly committed to genuine life-long learning, and so if they avail themselves of the possibility to develop their academic careers by expanding in breath rather than narrowing into specialists, they will have unique opportunity to either become polyglots themselves or to become well-read, as the case may be. At any rate, I am still currently young and healthy enough that I could oversee a decade or so of such small-scale contingency teaching until the entering class graduates, for they themselves would make the most ideal faculty for the long term and after a “generation,” this should no longer be a problem.

The issue of cost has come up several times and so I do not want to ignore it, but I do not know what to say. If this were to be incorporated into an ivy-league caliber institute, then it would obviously cost the same high sum as any of their other programs. In that case, however, as I am aiming for the very highest caliber of students as well, they should indeed be able to get scholarships by playing within the existing educational establishment. If this develops as a smaller independent venture, on the one hand the cost could be less, but on the other, the students would have to be fully in a position to bear it on their own.

Turning now to the overt focus on producing academics and where this will leave students who do not ultimately follow that path. First and foremost, let me state again my Quixotic goal of producing not mere academics but a new generation of genuine scholars who will have a broad even encyclopedic mindset and range of abilities rather than a narrowly specialized focus of specific training. If I have not stated so openly before, let me now state that I aspire to establish the most rigorous and demanding program conceivable, and consequently the most rewarding. I want to set new requirements and standards that far transcend those in any extant program of my knowledge. When I myself was an undergraduate and a graduate student, I constantly craved to be given a challenge that I never received. I had to create that challenge of Polyglottery on my own after receiving my doctorate. Earning a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago is not generally regarded as an easy task, and the program I was in was internally regarded as being one of the most demanding of all. Still, what I had to do to get that degree was positively easy compared to what I have done on my own since then. It is the benefit of this last experience that I seek to convey to the next generation. Are there students who will want to rise to this challenge? There were when I was younger—I would have loved it, and I had friends and acquaintances who would have loved it. It is only worth my while to push forward with this endeavor if there are still such students, and I will turn my energies elsewhere if there are not. I trust that there are, but even so I know that not all of them will go on to become professors. What will become of them? I think that, when the demanding reputation of the program becomes known, its graduates will be quite attractive to a great many kinds of employers. I believe it is a terrible misconception to think that young people must be trained in some special skill while in college. Education is not job-training, and in fact a good education is the best training for any job really worth having—I was told something of that ilk during my own freshman orientation, where it was stressed that white-collar headhunters greatly preferred humanities majors to business majors. Indeed, I had a series of summer jobs and internships that led to offers of employment after graduation at Shearson-Leaman American Express, the US Council for International Business, Philip Morris, and IBM. I could easily have become a businessman with my major in comparative literature. When the reputation of this even more demanding program gets out, I do not think its graduates will need to worry about employability even if they do not continue on as scholars.


Taking steps to found an academy of Polyglottery:

Stage 1: an intensive language school

As it clearly makes the most sense to attempt to actualize these dreams by creating a core or nucleus that can grow into a full scale academy, I have decided to do just that. Utilizing normal forms of publicity plus my alumni connections, I will soon begin advertising an intensive month-long course in foreign language study techniques. I will offer this not to compete with but rather to complement the existing intensive study options available at places like the Defense Language Institute/Monterey Institute of International Studies and Middlebury College. Those are the places in the USA where one can go to be taught a specific language intensively. I will offer, instead, intensive instruction in study skills so that students can better teach themselves. If enough of the most serious and dedicated type of student, the type who would consider going to this other kind of institute, will consider studying with me instead or in addition, then this will signal the success of stage 1. Pending that success, stage 2 will involve the acquisition of some type of retreat center or campus-like grounds so that the resource center could be installed and so that students who have taken the month-long introductory course could stay on for more advanced supplementary apprenticeship as they continue studying languages on their own in this conducive environment. When and if this kind of student forms a large enough contingent interested not only in intensive language study but also in great books education and the other ideals of Polyglottery, stage 3 will be to expand in terms of faculty, accreditation, and implementation of the overall study plans described above.

My thanks to all of those who have had the patience to read through these various revisions as I have developed my ideas (and I am certainly not done yet!) and not think that this was merely an idle fantasy. Objectively speaking, there is always a niche group of people who seriously need and want to succeed in learning foreign languages, even if they do not do it with the passion, interest, and love of subject matter that the members of this forum exhibit. My task now is to connect with these people so that a venue and a locus for really hard-core language study can take root, and from that, the tree of Polyglottery can grow. I have the credentials, the experience, and the expertise to do this, as well as a real product to deliver, this I know, but I also know that I am clueless about marketing, publicity, and all that kind of thing. So, if those of you who have a stake in the successful emergence of this discipline, of this academy, have any practical suggestions to make, now is the time to make them, as I would be very happy to receive them.


Edited by ProfArguelles on 10 April 2008 at 3:33pm

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gidler
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 Message 2 of 43
09 December 2007 at 7:23pm | IP Logged 
First of all, I must say that if this polyglot academy will one day be established, I will definitely be interested in studying there if I am judged suitable and financial and other matters allow.

I understand why Chinese is the primary language in the East-Asian language track, but what is the reason for allocating Korean more time than Japanese? Admittedly my main reason for asking is my love for Japanese, but I have been under the impression that neither is clearly superior to another in terms of literary tradition or other comparable factors.
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blackr00t
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 Message 3 of 43
09 December 2007 at 7:59pm | IP Logged 
The setup of this program is very interesting and I definitely agree with the layout of the common first year. Logical and focus training seem to compliment language study quite well. I would like to know, however, if you could go into a little more detail concerning the 7th, 8th, and 9th sections on 'Great Books'. It would be helpful, at least for the first year, to come up with a list of classics pertaining to French and German that would be appropriate to choose. If possible, sample books to use for successive years could also be determined. Right now I feel I can begin reading German literature, and I've started by buying 'Also sprach Zarathustra', but I am uncertain as to the direction I should take to explore more classics of this nature. I think it would be interesting to see how you would create a graduate equivalent program too.
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24karrot
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 Message 4 of 43
09 December 2007 at 8:51pm | IP Logged 
I really find this interesting and wish this kind of system existed. Can I ask, however, what this would look like for African and Native American languages?
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qwing
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 Message 5 of 43
10 December 2007 at 1:02am | IP Logged 
This is very interesting indeed. Here is my question: to what extent will this academy cater to polyglots who might want to spend more time on traditional academic subjects like literature or philosophy at the expense of acquiring range in languages (e.g. passing over the exotics)? I am thinking here of people like Edmund Wilson or Clive James, who might see languages as a means to an end (the literature), not the end itself.

To put it another way, different subjects have, as you know, different ways of looking at things; how much leeway would you give to students who might like to focus on say the philosophical implications of a text in its context, as opposed to its linguistic curiosities?

I do see that you have included some variety in the Common Year; but I am sure too that some students, finding a particular subject more interesting than others, may desire to continue down that path in subsequent years; what then?


Han Yongming

Edited by qwing on 10 December 2007 at 9:16am

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jeff_lindqvist
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 Message 6 of 43
12 December 2007 at 4:12pm | IP Logged 
At first, I too was a bit surprised to see Irish on the list, but after giving it some thought I see that it indeed covers a branch of the Indoeuropean languages spoken in Europe. Considering that this is a program for studying languages with a main focus on literature, I think Irish would be a great choice. However, there may of course be other languages that suit this idea better. Any suggestions?
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 Message 7 of 43
13 December 2007 at 9:02am | IP Logged 
Prof. Arguelles, this is a most original and attractive idea. Such an academy of polyglottery could appear to outsiders as part of a Science Fiction novel and yet it seems very much in line with the ideals of the Renaissance man and with Philology as it existed throughout the 19th century. You would be a most apt dean for such a Faculty of Polyglottery.
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Scott Horne
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 Message 8 of 43
14 December 2007 at 3:20am | IP Logged 
Students who didn't pull their weight would have to be kicked out mercilessly, or it would not be possible to maintain the intensity of a programme like this.

The use of literature in translation strikes me as odd. Surely a student of Chinese should read original Chinese literature rather than Chinese translations of Western literature?




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