Two Articles: How to Teach a New Language
& A Technically Satisfactory Language
by Prof Bruce M. Beach
Director of the World Language Process, of which LangX is a part
How to Teach a New Language
Dr. Prof. Stephen Krashen (University of Southern California), has pointed out that languages are best 'acquired' from other speakers. Unfortunately, at least initially, many of those who will need to be taught the Universal Auxiliary Language will not have mothers who speak it and perhaps not even personal interface with 'native' speakers from which to learn the language.
There may be such an initial need for masses of people to learn the Universal Auxiliary Language, that it cannot be rapidly spread through 'traditional' language teaching methods, or by 'professionally trained teachers' who have spent several years acquiring it and even more years in being trained as teachers.
Fortunately, new technology, advances in pedagogical method, and new understanding about the nature of language itself, make a solution possible.
Technology in the teaching field, as in most every other field, has advanced rapidly in the last century. In that period we have advanced from lanternslides to 16mm film projectors; to analogue video tape recorders; to a variety of digital delivery formats. Because of cost of delivery, not every technology is suitable for mass education and because of differing situations no one technology or method will be suitable for all situations.
Key considerations in selecting technologies will be performance / cost, the latter represented by ease of replicability and cost of delivery. Experimentation over several decades has found a key consideration to be the need for presentation material to be 'evergreen', that is to say amenable to repeated easy modification. Three great technological boons finally appeared in this regard. The first was digital non-linear editing and storage and more recently the development of highly realistic computer generated voices and talking head animations.
Computer generated voice permits perfect standardization of pronunciation and talking head animations permit evergreen production.
Some technologies, while producing excellent results, simply are not economically feasible. Interactive computer programs, high-speed delivery via the Internet or fibre optics, and many other modern advances, while marvellous in their attainments, will probably not be sufficiently universally available in an optimum time frame. Unfortunately, for many of the more deprived parts of the world, systems that require electricity, no matter how inexpensive, will face severe hurdles in achieving delivery.
Advances in pedagogical method
In the last century, there have been millions of experiments, hundreds of thousands of researchers, tens of thousands of books, and many thousands of systems devoted to developing new methods for language learning. Some have been highly commercialized but aside from the promotional propaganda associated with them have not shown any real breakthroughs. Others, such as the Montessori method in which writing precedes reading, and the IBM's Dr. John Henry Martin 'Writing to Read' system, proved to have real merit.
One of the foremost language teaching theoreticians, Dr. Prof. Stephen Krashen has emphasized five principles, the first and most importantly being, as mentioned earlier, 1. Language acquisition versus language learning. Unfortunately, as also mentioned earlier, direct interactive language acquisition from accomplished speakers may not be an approach readily available in the initial spread of a Universal Auxiliary Language.
A second principle pointed out by Krashen is what is referred to as, 2. The Monitor function. This is the necessity of the learner to find a balance in correctly applying learned rules and simply speaking as well as they can.
The third principle is that of, 3. The Natural Order Hypothesis. We shall have more to say about this in the section on language selection and development. Krashen's fourth principle is that of, 4. Input Hypothesis. One expert states that, "According to this hypothesis, the learner improves and progresses along the 'natural order' when he/she receives second language 'input' that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence. Natural communicative input is the key to designing a syllabus, ensuring in this way that each learner will receive some 'i + 1' input that is appropriate for his/her current stage of linguistic competence."
And finally there is Krashen's, 5. Affective Filter Hypothesis, which says that the learner is affected by a number of variables such as motivation, self-confidence and non-anxiety. To these we might add native intelligence and native language learning ability. The inverse of positive variables will create a filter that impedes language acquisition.
Developers of a teaching system will do well to keep these principles in mind and assure that the system will accommodate a spectrum of variation in student characteristics.
Even with all the foregoing insight, the actual nature of human language and the manner of human language acquisition remains one of the great-unsolved mysteries of the human mind and the relationship of the mind to the brain and nervous system. Recently, substantial advances have been made in the field of split-brain studies that provide theoretical basis for some of the observed facets of the learning processes. These support some of the proposed practices such as 'writing to read' and substantiate a number of the observations of Dr. Prof. Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) (University of Toronto), as to how we process information.
One particularly fruitful area of this physiological approach to learning has been in what we call the TPR or Total Physical Response Method where the student responds to verbal stimuli by actually manipulating matter (objects) in time and space. There are substantial philosophical reasons for mapping the learning process from the concrete to the abstract.
The actual techniques for implementing the above principles involves the creative development of pleasure driven systems such as games and drills and psychological motivators such as rewards and recognition systems.
In practice, some of the systems that we have experimented with and have developed to date have resulted in a curriculum of many short segments involving speech modeling by realistic computer generated animated talking heads with realistic computer generated speech, accompanied by workbooks to take advantage of the 'write to read' techniques.
Group peer reinforced activities in games and rote drills also are very beneficial especially when they involve TPR. For this reason a number of physical objects such as a small pail, a lai, a pencil, and so forth, which are particularly suitable for manipulation through time and space, are distributed to each member of a class and as a group all go through drills of performing the correct responses.
A goal is to have the student to become so motivated that they will take the initiative to practice the language on their own. This is accomplished through pleasure driven systems, one of the main ones being captioned video. Because it is easier for a learner to read a language than to hear it, this latter has proven to be an excellent tool.
Within the last decade many board language games have been developed that induce a learner to practice (in Krashen's terms we could say 'acquire') the language in participation with peers.
Comic books and simplified texts on subjects for pleasure or interest are another proven source for beneficial practice. Those learners specifically interested in language acquisition have often found pictionaries, books with grouped pictures and nouns, as a means for rapid acquisition of vocabulary.
These and many other such tools are now available to knowledgeable and creative curriculum developers and they can be used with any Universal Auxiliary Language that may be selected.
A Technically Satisfactory Language.
While children can learn any language, and appear to have a special facility for doing so in their pre-teens, there are some languages that are easier even for them to gain literacy in, than others. It is difficult for Chinese children to master a large literacy in Mandarin Chinese (few do), and there is even a very distinguishable difference regarding the learning curves for literacy between those Romance languages that are phonemic - and those that are not.
While we would like to say that all natural languages in the world and any proposed constructed language may be a candidate, there are definitely differences between languages and some are more suitable to being considered as a candidate for a Universal Auxiliary Language, especially when we consider that they need to be suitable for teaching to adults also.
It has been said that Chinese is the language spoken by the most people in the world. This is not exactly true, because there are fourteen different Chinese dialects, to a degree mutually incomprehensible. Mandarin is the most widely spoken Chinese dialect and while Chinese script is somewhat comprehensible over all the dialects it is not read by all Chinese and a relatively small number, compared to the number of Chinese that there are in the world, are able to read a sufficient number of traditional Chinese characters to be able to say that they are highly proficient in that area. It is possible that some alternate script, and there are some that are used now, could be assigned to Mandarin Chinese, and that it could be a feasible candidate as being the Universal Auxiliary Language.
English is said at present to be the most widely used 'second language' in the world. However, English in its present form has a number of drawbacks - the most obvious being its orthography. Most-all existing languages have some deficiency. Some of the 3500-8000 languages in the world (depending on who is counting) do not have a written script. Many do not have a vocabulary dealing in depth with modern technology. Some, such as for example the 'click' speech in parts of Africa, have what would be a very difficult pronunciation system for adults to learn in the rest of the world. Still, it would be better for the world to take and implement any of these languages as a Universal Auxiliary Language than to not have one.
One of the considerations is which language, or what sort of language, can be best implemented. We have determined some criteria. For example - a universal language needs to be willing and able to accept words from different languages. Some advocates of languages like Latin and French have insisted, that to maintain the purity of their languages, that words from other languages be translated in meaning of concept. Such a practice frustrates common usage of the word as used from its source.
Another principle is that a universal language should be governed by simple rules because the intent is that it should be easily learned and used by the masses, including adults who have to learn it rather than just naturally acquiring it. One of the problems of linguistic rules is that they are often complicated by exceptions - and exceptions should be avoided.
There are often completely unnecessary complications in languages such as gender for nouns that in themselves have no sexual connotation, and this is then often combined with requirements for matching noun and verb endings. For sake of simplicity, a basic Universal Auxiliary Language should also avoid synonyms, and all unnecessary redundancies such as extra and silent letters in words.
Any constructed language should embody these principles and any existing natural language that might be chosen would probably need to be modified in some ways to conform to them. Living languages have a natural dynamic, and a Universal Auxiliary Language should have a mechanism for both maintaining and restraining such dynamics.
To gain the dynamics and colour that come from a natural language it is possibly best that the Universal Auxiliary Language be developed from a natural language. Whatever language may be chosen or constructed, we have determined that special consideration should be given in three areas to how its constructs fulfill the needs of a Universal Auxiliary Language.
Three Areas of Consideration
For the Constructs of a Universal Auxiliary Language
A definite principle for the construction of a Universal Auxiliary Language is that the written symbols used to represent the language should have only one symbol for each sound and that each symbol should represent only one sound.
What the sounds (phonemes) of the Universal Auxiliary Language are - or should be - is the open question. The human vocal apparatus may be capable of producing in excess of 4000 possible sounds about 800 of which are presently used in the world's languages. In actuality just one hundred of those make up all of the sounds of most of the languages. Some languages use as few as twenty-five sounds and probably no language more than seventy-five so, in point of fact, most human languages are very similar.
English, as an example, uses between 39 and 54 sounds, depending upon who is counting. Any basic Universal Auxiliary Language should probably start with fewer. Say in the neighbourhood of 25. What is being proposed here is that the sound system of the Universal Auxiliary Language should be somewhat opened ended. There should be various levels of the language, a concept that extends unto the constructs in the following two sections.
Additional sounds (phonemes + tones and/or other mechanisms) might be used in conjunction with larger vocabularies, or be required of more sophisticated speakers such as public broadcast announcers, or for certain specialties such as singing, chanting, or sophisticated theatrical presentations such as used to be the case in English when thespians spoke in Oxfordian, Shakespearean or even Chaucerian oratory. Such a schema of sounds, developed around particular groupings, would probably still be understood by the average listener although they would not have the capacity to reproduce them.
Standardization of pronunciation will be very important. There are aspects of speech such as ‘speech song’ and intonation, which cannot, or at least are not, expressed through writing. Those seeking certification that they speak the language with appropriate clarity in some particular category could have their voices recorded reproducing standardized text. Panels of judges could then individually, independently judge the recordings without knowing the sources or the other judges evaluations. Standards could thus likewise be established for the judges. It is mechanisms like this, for both the development and the spread of the language, to which we will need to devote our efforts.
Phonemization is to be distinguished from phonetization in that phonemization sets a standard for speech while phonetization simply represents whatever happens to be spoken. What is being suggested here is that there may be numerous different standards for specialized presentations but that they should grow out of basic and extended standards.
Proper representation of phonemization for the masses also needs a convenient universal script such as possibly does not exist today, or at least is not widely known. We have recently been doing research on a phonemic system based upon the I-Ching that may be called Chinese Binary. The point of inquiry at the moment is whether this particular script has specific benefits based upon split-brain theory. Aside from that - it is composed entirely of straight lines and would be much simpler than most for a child to write and thus would lend itself to the 'write to read' concept. Whatever language is chosen - there must be a suitable script in keeping with the phonemic principles listed above.
Regularization has to do with simplifying syntax to as simple and consistent a level as possible for the basic Universal Auxiliary Language. There could also be implemented higher levels of the language with more advanced rules.
Dr. Prof. Noam Chomsky (M.I.T.) has deduced that there is in human beings a natural language faculty. While this faculty is particularly active in young children and there has considerable effort gone into determining its nature, it is still very poorly understood. One of the basic concepts is that children are exposed to speech in which they are able to observe an order of basic syntactical rules for what may be called ‘Internal’ grammars and that these lead to the creation of ‘External’ grammars.
The key is that these grammars are rule based and that a child does not just speak from example, in what is called the ‘poverty of stimulus theorem’. Indeed, it is assumed that there is a ‘UG’ (Universal Grammar) common to all human beings, and perhaps also a ‘wired in’ TLA (Triggering Learning Algorithm). Actual languages may have a variety of distinguishing structures such as verb/proposition or proposition/verb syntax but linguistically they all contain compositional phrase determiners that permit any child to learn any language to which it is initially exposed.
All grammars appear to contain nouns and verbs and more particularly what Chomsky calls form and function words, about which we will have more to say later under the topic of elementalization. It appears that much of comprehension of the structure and syntax of a language revolves around the comprehension and use of the function words; those sometimes called ‘glue’ words, which hold sentences together.
Both Chomsky and Krashen identify probable orders of acquisition of grammatical morphemes for language learners. One expert has observed that, "Krashen however points out that the implication of the natural order hypothesis is not that a language program syllabus should be based on the order found in the studies. In fact, he rejects grammatical sequencing when the goal is language acquisition."
We may make a distinction between language learning and language acquisition and there needs to be some sequence in which curriculum material is developed. Curriculum designers may use this insight as something of a guide in making their decisions about order of material presentation. The study of this facet of language learning is too new to say that it is universal to all languages, or even all learners, but still it is a matter to be taken into consideration in the construction of curriculum.
Simplicity of syntax is certainly a primary consideration when evaluating between candidates for a Universal Auxiliary Language. English is noted for its simple syntax compared to some languages, but as simple as English is, regarding word endings compared with other languages, still it presently permits about 44 different combinations of verbs with auxiliaries such as have, can, may, or must.
In English most monosyllabic and some disyllabic adjectives are inflected for degree of comparison, such as large, larger, and largest or happy, happier, and happiest. Other adjectives express the same distinction by compounding with more and most, as in more beautiful and most beautiful. There is much room for simplification in this scheme. It can, for example be reduced to having more happy and most happy.
As another example, the past tense of verbs can be reduced to using 'did', as in "I did work" for "I worked". 'Does work' for 'works' is a similar example of how English syntax could be reduced as well. Possessive modifications and plurals can be eliminated while the concepts are retained and expressed in simple standard structures of ownership and number.
Pronouns are the most heavily inflected parts of speech in English. They have objective case forms, such as me or her, in addition to the nominative (I, he, we) and possessive forms (my, his, hers, our). The examples of syntax given here for English, is meant by no means to be exhaustive, but rather to simply show how greatly, what is already considered a relatively simple syntax, can be further simplified. While English is taken here as an example, syntax simplification may well be the most difficult part of development of a Universal Auxiliary Language from any language. To many people the simplification of any language is to them the definition of a pidgin.
In searching through all the natural languages there appears to be no limit as to what may be found to be grammaticality correct in some language or other, and there need be no limit either regarding a Universal Auxiliary Language, so long as there is a clear distinction as to what is grammatical at various levels. Therefore, in the manner that has been described, it is possible for a Universal Auxiliary Language to be modified, expanded and enhanced in an unlimited manner. There simply need to be standards published recognizing the varieties and levels and standards maintained for the more basic levels.
Elementalization applies in a sense to the previous two areas of language development in that it is the recognition of ‘levels’ regarding the Universal Auxiliary Language. Here, however, we specifically apply it to the subject of vocabulary. One of the most revolutionary insights regarding language has been Chomsky's division of words into the form and function categories. Most words are form words, generally what we might call nouns or the names of objects, whether physical or not. In the Oxford English Dictionary there are over 750,000 entries, almost all of which are form words, and only a few hundred of which are function words.
Most people who have thoroughly learned a language know less than 20,000 form words in that language but they generally know all the function words. Therefore we can say that knowing a few hundred function words plus the basic syntax of a language, plus possibly the form words for some common general subjects is all that is required to say that one knows the language. The degree that they will be able to discuss advanced ideas depends upon their acquisition of other form words and concepts regarding those ideas.
Once again, then, we have the concept of 'level attainment' in regards to a Universal Auxiliary Language. Indeed this might be most evident in regards to a hierarchical structure of language specialization. Picture a tree shaped structure. From the basic trunk there could be many branches and any one individual may progress out on several different branches to various levels. They might progress out to a median level on a branch that we could call general knowledge and they might progress further from a basic branch of science onto a branch of basic medicine to basic dentistry to ever-specialized levels such as orthodontia.
Every specialty and sub-specialty would have its list of terms. This would be equally true whether we were discussing engineering, music, agriculture, or many hundreds, indeed thousands, of other disciplines. It is this structuring that is key to elementalization.
Word processing and databases make it possible to determine what words are anticipated as being understood at any level, or combination of levels such as the general level of a particular category plus higher levels of specific disciplines branching out from that category, and then marking / high-lighting words that are outside those lists, both for the writer and the reader.
One consideration in language selection may be the size of the existing vocabulary and the literature currently available in the language. A present international language like English contains hundreds of thousands of words and has over 98 percent of the world’s scientific literature as well as much of all the other world literature already translated into it. A Universal Auxiliary Language based upon such a source could certainly have a schema that would permit direct computer translation of any document in the source language into the orthography, script and, at some level, the syntax of the new Universal Auxiliary Language.
This combination of varied levels in all three areas of constructs of language organization will make possible a wide spectrum of diverse speech and conversation. One example might be that of 'sacred speech' such as represented by thee, thou, and 'est' endings in English. All the varieties of speech will have their base in the Universal Auxiliary Language and will be comprehensible to any individual willing to make the effort to comprehend the vocabulary, sounds, and syntax of that specific combination of levels. The key will always be to use the levels and elements that are appropriate to the audience that one is addressing.