White Boy Learning Burmese

The journey of an average white guy trying to learn a non-Indo-European language

Why You Can’t Depend on What You Learned in School

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Although I would have to agree that school is quite useful and you do learn many things, especially logic, group-think, and other really useful topics that nobody decides to use outside of school (qué lástima), I would have to say that many language-learning skills you do learn in school, should stay there.

Let me explain:

So, in school, there is this thing called a curriculum, which must be followed.  The curriculum without a doubt, was created by a bunch of old white dudes who are part of the 1% in America, who have not been inside a public school’s classroom since the one-room schoolhouse days.  Okay, maybe that was a little harsh, back to being serious, now.  Curricula are okay for a lot of things, even with language, because the whole “don’t fly before you crawl” principle does apply.  When learning any subject, you must learn the grammar (meaning foundation) of the subject before you can start getting creative.  I certainly hope a biochemistry major learned about the characteristics of C before (s)he started messing with atoms in the lab.  Grammar is very important for any subject.

Flashback to your high school Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, or whatever other language was offered in your well-funded school system (ours was not well-funded, so we were just stuck with the first 4.  And then the Chinese teacher retired).  You were there mostly just to get that darn credit for your honors diploma and then get the fudge out.  Most of you, minus a select few, were not there to learn the language, and even if you were, most-likely you were doing extra-curricular things to help you learn.  In class, although you learn a lot of the grammar and vocabulary (how to conjugate -AR -ER and -IR verbs, what do say when you go to a restaurant, etc.), you don’t really learn how to use it!  Sure, the teachers will tell you “this is what you do when you need to go to the bathroom.  This is what you say if you want to sound polite when asking a question.”  But the truth is, there are manydifferent ways to say everything in a language.  I can say the word “But” in English, or I could say “However”.  And sure, a teacher many tell you that “however” sounds a bit more formal than “but”, however (lol, see what I did there?) someone had to find out one day that the meaning is the same, but the formality is different.  Which leads me to my point:

Learning a language in a useful way is different than learning a language in a “classroom way”.

It is true when people tell you that there are things school can’t teach you.  School certainly didn’t teach me how to learn Burmese and it certainly didn’t teach Katzumoto how to learn Japanese!  I kind of had to figure out how to do these things on my own, but it is true that I learned Spanish, German, and some bits of French from school, and each language had helped feed me ideas to how I should study Burmese.  I suppose the biggest advent that I got from Spanish was being forced to make Flashcards (even though I’m lazy and don’t run through them as often as I should).  However, let me tell you some things that school did not teach me in learning languages.

  • How to find people to talk to.
  • How to maintain a proper accent (and what does “proper accent” even mean?)
  • How to remember vocabulary and grammar if your textbook and flashcards are nowhere to be found.
  • How to love a culture.
  • How to be loved by the culture.
  • How to love learning.
  • How to remember words if you can’t write them down.
  • How to figure out the meaning of things that can’t be explained within a grammar.
  • How to speak a language well.

I know that last comment seemed pretty harsh, but in all of my respect for the many teachers I’ve had in school, this is a true statement.  Of course, when you have 150 students per-subject, you can only hope that at least one of them will totally benefit from your teaching.  Especially with the recent decline in respect for teachers.  However, with a curriculum, you simply can not teach an individual how to speak a language well.  Reason being: that is simply up to the individual.


One thought on “Why You Can’t Depend on What You Learned in School

  1. ဒီ Post အေၾကာင္းအရာနဲ႔ မဆိုင္ေပမယ့္ ဘယ္မွာေျပာခဲ့ရမလဲ မသိတာနဲ႔ ဒီမွာပဲ ေျပာခဲ့မယ္ေနာ္။ ၀င္းဟိန္းBlog က Banner ေလး သေဘာက်တယ္။ ငယ္ငယ္က သင္ခဲ့တဲ့ ျမန္မာစာသင္ပုန္းႀကီးဖတ္စာ စာအုပ္ကို သြားသတိရတယ္ 😀 ေျပာခ်င္တာက ဒီလို… ဆရာလုပ္တယ္လို႔ မထင္ပါနဲ႔ေနာ္။ အၾကံေပးတယ္လို႔ပဲ သေဘာထားေပးပါ။

    “ျမန္မာစကားသင္ေနတဲ့ အျဖဴေကာင္” ဆိုတဲ့ ေခါင္းစဥ္မွာ “အျဖဴေကာင္”ဆိုတာ နည္းနည္းရိုင္းသလားလို႔… ဘယ္လိုေျပာမလဲ “ေကာင္”ဆိုတာ လူကိုမသုံးဘူးေလ။ ဥပမာ- “ဒီအေကာင္ မေကာင္းပါဘူးကြာ”… အဲ့လို ရိုင္းရိုင္းေျပာခ်င္မွ “ေကာင္” သုံးတယ္။ လူကိုဆို “ေယာက္” သို႔မဟုတ္ “ဦး” သုံးတယ္။ ဥပမာ- “ျမန္မာစကားသင္ေနတဲ့ လူတစ္ေယာက္/လူတစ္ဦး” သို႔မဟုတ္ “ျမန္မာစကားသင္ေနတဲ့ အျဖဴတစ္ေယာက္/အျဖဴတစ္ဦး” အဲ့လိုဆို ပိုယဥ္ေက်းတယ္။ ေအာက္ဆုံးစာေၾကာင္းက သဒၶါကို ျပန္ျပင္ေပးရရင္ “Indo-European မဟုတ္တဲ့ ဘာသာစကားကို ႀကိဳးစားေလ့လာေနတဲ့ သာမာန္အျဖဴလူမ်ိဳးတစ္ေယာက္/အျဖဴလူမ်ိဳးတစ္ဦး ရဲ႕ခရီး” ဆိုပိုေကာင္းမလားလို႔။ ကုလားျဖဴလို႔ သုံးခဲတယ္ 🙂

    Hope it’s helpful ^_^

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