Today’s show is devoted mostly to language learning. This is partly because intercultural awareness is tightly linked to language learning but also because there has been an explosion of new internet sites to help you learn various languages. This is not new of course. What is new is that these sites work on the premise of building a community of people interested in helping each other out by offering help in their native language while trying to learn another language. This means that you can exchange messages and meet up live using text, audio or video so that you can practice in real life situatons. Social networking for a purpose, if you want. You’d be amazed at what language learning websites like Babbel can lead to!
So often those of us interested in intercultural matters are looking for differences but in this case not only has Professor Mitra come up with a surprising theory, that children will actively organise their own learning if left to their own devices, but also presents some amazing evidence to show that this applies not only in India but all over the world.
It all started with an internet enabled computer with touch screen, installed in a public area in an Indian slum area and I really recommend that you take a look at some of the movies available about this experiment to really appreciate what is going on. The children taught themselves how to use the internet and a basic English vocabulary because so much of the Internet is in English. But in further experiments Mitra showed that the children could also teach themselves complex biological concepts and even French when they were presented with a graphics editing program which was available only in French! That’s the clever link to this show’s language theme by the way! Mitra described this particular feat as a double positive. The children wanted to use the program therefore they needed to learn the language whereas adults would tend to have the attitude that because they didn’t know the language then they wouldn’t be able to use the program. So how does Mitra explain children’s ability to organise their own learning like this?
One of the key findings from Mitra’s observations is that it is the working in small groups which is key. So perhaps it is no coincidence that the newest internet language learning sites such as Babbel or iTalki, rely heavily on the social aspect for their attraction. So let’s ask Dr Elizabeth Hanson-Smith why she joined Babbel when she wanted to improve her Spanish.
So that was Spanish. Now what about Chinese, or more accurately, Mandarin, is that easy to learn? Well it seems it depends on what your goals are according to Ken Carroll in Shanghai who is the man behind Chinese Pod, a learning system based on the spoken language rather than the written language. In fact you can try out much of the Chinese pod materials for free to test for yourself.
A great deal of language learning these days is purely functional. You do it because it’s on the school curriculum or you need it for your job. But there are still people who learn a language for it’s own sake. One such person was Gloria from Hungary who is using iTalki to learn English and Turkish. The English is for work but the Turkish is for pleasure.
Now we’ll return to Ken Carroll in Shanghai to discuss the thorny problem of writing Mandarin. He reckons it’s absolutely impossible. I am amazed that Ken says he can always find someone to write Chinese for him. I must say that I haven’t found that to be the case for me here in Denmark, so many people have to suffer my poor written Danish.
absolutely impossible (part 2):
Our final segment was a last question to Professor Mitra who has just moved from New Delhi to Newcastle where they speak with the strong Geordie accent. Does he understand it? I must just say that I love the Geordie accent but it does take some getting used to.
So don’t complain to us about that but if you do have any other comments or suggestions then you can always leave a comment on our blog at www.absolutely-intercultural.com or send us an email or even an audio file to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next show will be coming to you on 26 December from Dr. Laurent Borgmann in Germany.
So long…stay tuned!
The host of this show is: Anne Fox
Editor: Jan Warnecke