The problems of
1.) students being afraid/unable to ask questions
2.) teachers misunderstanding questions and offering unrelated answers
(答非所問, as the Chinese say)
are serious enough in native language classrooms. How much more serious are these problems in a foreign language classroom? Most importantly, what can be done about them?
Travelers in foreign countries may have encountered the situation where they make the mistake of asking for directions in a yes or no format. “Is the museum this way?” Upon hearing “yes”, they proceed, only to discover that the museum is not that way at all. After experiencing such a situation too many times, one may realize that it is better to ask, “where is the museum?” even if one already has some presumption. If the informant answers “yes” to “where is the museum?”, the traveler safely concludes that the informant has not understood and proceeds to ask someone else. From the other perspective, informants who wish to be helpful don’t just answer “yes”; they answer “yes, the museum is that way” so that they can endow the traveler with complete confidence.
When a teacher loses a student’s confidence the educational endeavor is essentially lost. What use is a question if one can’t believe the answer? (there are uses, but not ones the teacher should strive towards!)
While failing to offer any concrete advice, I can only say, I wish that teachers would strive to ensure that they fully understood students’ questions before answering them.
Regarding the first issue, it is often up to the teacher to ask students questions to determine their comprehension and their ability to delineate it. The question, “Does anyone have any questions?” is often useless. Targeted questions may intimidate students but only insofar as they reveal their weaknesses. Shouldn’t that be sufficient indication that one needs to slow down and back up, until students have sufficient basis, and confidence, to ask their own questions?
One major problem with common implementations of the immersion method in foreign language education is that teachers continue to explain rather than exemplify.
Let me first address reasonable justifications for immersion:
2 major dangers in using the source language in a foreign language classroom are:
1.) Over-use, by both teachers and students, so that the amount of practice actually listening and speaking the target language becomes unjustifiably diminished.
2.) Over-identification of target vocabulary and patterns with source conceptions, such that the student remains uninformed of the way in which target items may slice up conceptions (or syntax) in ways quite different than their source language.
Banning source language in the classroom resolves the first issue, except in so far as some students may then simply not say anything. The question I wish to address is whether it resolves the second issue.
When a teacher hopes to explain A by saying “A means B” in the target language, then this definition is certainly no better than the students’ understanding of B. If the students’ understanding of B is a direct translation into the source language, then the problem of over-identification has certainly not been resolved.
Without dismissing the great challenge of freeing our minds’ from our mother tongues’ assumptions, I would like to suggest that a plethora of examples is a more suitable way to utilize the immersion method to free the student from over-identification.
Concise, comprehensive examples populated with maximally simple (relative to the students’ level) partner vocabulary can help a student identify both syntax and semantics, as well as offering phonetic repetition. Concise simple examples insure the students comprehension. Comprehensive examples should allow the students to recognize where their source identifications may be in error.
Explanations may describe proper social context but are only as good as the students’ familiarity with those contexts (as implied above). Furthermore, they typically fail to demonstrate permissible syntactic contexts and rarely advance auditory familiarity.
Thus, I argue that examples more than explanations provide the benefit that immersion intends to offer.
Finally, regarding the immersion method in general, I would claim that absolutes are for the simple-minded. Black and white demands are primarily justified when one can not trust others to strike an appropriate balance. However, when one’s mind is focused clearly on the goals on maximum target usage and maximum target comprehension, then why wouldn’t one use all available resources to these ends? Thus, I would argue that source language has justifiable usage in the foreign language classroom.
Brain localization, as a topic of inquiry, has certainly had its ups and downs, and the topic of “lateralization”, in particular, has been subjected to so much gross generalization that even the wikipedia page on this topic devotes a section to “Pseudoscientific exaggeration of the research”. Most of all, I would like to suggest that we need to find a sufficient degree of sophistication in talking about these matters so that we can recognize both the significant predisposition to brain lateralization and the conversely marvelous plasticity of the brain.
That said, it seems undeniable that most people show preferences for certain sides on different tasks. However, questions of lateralization become more complex when we ask whether such preferences correlate with other tendencies and/or whether such preferences are genetic. Wikipedia also claims “In more than 95% of right-handed men, and more than 90% of right-handed women, language and speech are subserved by the brain’s left hemisphere. In left-handed people, the incidence of left-hemisphere language dominance has been reported as 73% and 61%” (see wiki for the multiple citations).
There is also a growing body of interesting research which attempts to explain lateralization from an evolutionary perspective. That is to say that there are a growing number of studies which attempt to show that lateralization provides certain advantages for survival (though a priori the converse just as well might seem true). For instance, “Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (Suppl.) 271, S420–S422 (2004)” shows that lateralized chicks were better at “finding food and being vigilant for predators”. That paper also cites numerous studies indicating that lateralization derives from light exposure during egg incubation, and could be suppressed by incubating the chick eggs in the dark. Careful geneticists will also note that separated twin studies may not properly consider the significance of long-term prepartum developmental effects.
Stanislas Dehaene’s “Reading in the Brain” also makes much of the left hemisphere region usually dedicated to reading (and the puzzle of its evolution in the face of the brief existence of reading on an evolutionary scale– leading to the conclusion of what he calls “recycling”, but which I believe SJ Gould called “recruitment”*), but ultimately mentions briefly a young girl’s normal reading development, regardless of the necessary early removal of this region from her brain (her brain activation during reading focused on the mirrored location in her right hemisphere).
In any case, what mystifies me even more than lateralization is what I will call “transposition”: that is, the fact that the left hemisphere focuses on right side tasks and vice versa. I have yet to encounter any “explanations” for this phenomenon, though part of my problem may be not even knowing how to technically refer to it.
It strikes me as somewhat reminiscent of the fact that the image projected on our retinas is “upside-down”, but the basic physical properties that necessitate that situation are hardly analogous to the anatomical conditions that insure transposition. More similarly, I also find it surprising that the visual cortex is located far to the rear of the brain, while our eyes are located far forward.
For the moment, I’ll just have to keep wondering about it, and can at least keep my eyes out for any relevant, legitimate research.
*”Therefore, a large component of evolvability must be attributed to inherent structural properties of features that originated by natural selection for one reason, but also manifest a capacity for subsequent recruitment (with minimal change) to substantially different and novel functions”.
-The structure of evolutionary theory, Stephen Jay Gould, p. 1228
Perhaps that sentence mixes a bit the “spandrel” issue of “inherent structural properties” and “natural selection”, and maybe the ‘original’ functions of the reading region of the brain weren’t even that “substantially different” from their reading function, but I still think “recruit” sounds more appropriate than “recycle”; in fact that other term of his, “exadaption”, is probably the least prone to confusion, but may or may not also evoke other irrelevant associations.
waiting for the boat, these guys spotted a pair of puffer fish. i jokingly suggested the one might catch one with his hat. well he set right to trying. actually the hat didnt work but the other guy used one of those pieces of wood that you can see in the background, slipped right under it, and lifted it up just like that. then they put it in the hat just for viewing purposes.
the girls they were with were even nice enough to offer to take a picture of me holding it too.
it was starting to make sort of these horrible clicking sounds with its gills, trying to breathe, and i was starting to wonder if we werent keeping it out of the water too long, but apparently it wasnt that scared yet. presumably, it gets scared below:
once everybody got a few more pictures of that, they dipped it back into the water, and it seemed to swim away just fine, so fortunately, i can say that no puffer fish were injured during the taking of these pictures, though it fact, i had had the good fortune to dine on the delicacy of puffer fish skin just a few days ago.
on jibei, i immediately headed out to the famous “sand-tail” (吉貝沙尾), just a short walk from the harbor, where i planned to chill all day, and then find a decently secluded spot to camp for the night.
actually, there was this sort of confusing sign up that “prohibited water activities such as diving, snorkeling, jet skiing” with fines from about $500-$1500USD, for “running such activities”, though trying to read the chinese, made the english seem even less clear; i decided to assume that “water activities” didn’t include just swimming on your own. in fact from my reading of the map, the “forbidden waters” stretched up to the hill on the left, and there was definitely all kinds of “water activities” such as jet skiing going on up there in front of the hill. when i headed up there for lunch i also asked the people below if it was alright to swim, and they assured me it was, though i think they hadnt even seen the sign.
these girls wanted to take a picture with me, and i said only if i could get one too.
their guy friends even wanted to take pictures with my pack on.
on the way to look for some lunch, i found a perfect campsite.
just knowing that i knew at least one good place to sleep, i really think made the whole day better.
at the place with all the water activities, i ran into the puffer fish catchers, and they were all eating some kind of combined noodle rice soup. i went to buy some, but all i could find was drinks, corn, and tea eggs. finally i found the pot of soup, surrounded by the tour group leaders, and by asking them about where i could eat, was ultimately able to mooch a couple bowls of soup off them for free. it was delicious too.
it actually looked interesting further up beneath the hill so i decided to skip nap time and check it out. then further on, it still looked interesting, so i decided to keep going. though i really could have camped almost anywhere, i was still thinking about the perfect campsite back by the spit, so i started getting it in to my head that i could probably walk all away around the whole island.
the kinds of fish traps shown below are pretty common all over here. but the only people i saw out collecting stuff where just collecting little sea snails. i started hypothesizing that in earlier times when the seas were more full of fish, the traps were more useful, but now there weren’t enough fish. however, at dinner, i asked these kids about them, and they told me that they use them in July and August. i also had snails for dinner so as to sample the local delicacies, though i’d previously been a little hesitant about them, and even the old lady running the place was insisting that i probably didn’t really understand what i was ordering and was pretty funny explaining that i was going to have to suck the snail out of the shell. actually they were pretty good too.
i recalled at some point that overexposure can sometimes be a fun way to get some trippy effects from a photo. some of the above photos might have used that, and i particularly figured this wreck could benefit from washing out the details.
I was going to say that I was sure that it was less than 10km around, and might not have even been 5, but i’m just out of shape, and walking in sand is extra tiring, but Taiwan’s tourism bureau actually says the coastline is 13km.
i made it back to town perfectly in time for dinner, and back to my perfect campsite before it got too late. it hazed up over the night so I only ever so one star, and couldn’t find the moon even when i woke up at 3am. the temperature was perfect, the breeze was mellow, and there was only one little mosquito trying to get inside my netting. the sun came out for a bit in the morning, but then the fog took over. i still went for one more swim before i headed back to the boat to baisha.
parts of a work in progress on the relationship of temples and playgrounds:
more international, less multinational markets:
farm and scarecrow:
i gotta get some of their stuff!
(should I check ebay or gmail?)
gotta get back
to the nature groove soon.