The Tyranny of the Textbook
25 Aug 2009
Lately I’ve been working with Nick Kruse of Reign Design on a new project at work called OpenLanguage. Much of our discussion has centered on teachers and students, and the language-learning experience in general.
Nick related to me a story about taking the very limited Chinese he had learned in the classroom back in the States, and then traveling to China and applying it extensively. He discovered that some of the language they learned from Practical Chinese Reader, besides being outdated, was, well… not so practical.
Specifically, when Chinese people encouraged him over and over with the same sentence — “你中文讲得很棒！” (“you speak great Chinese!”) — he didn’t understand what they were saying because he hadn’t learned two of the key words.
When he got back to the States, he had a conversation with his Chinese teacher that went something like this:
> Why didn’t you teach us 讲 [speak] and 棒 [great]?
> It wasn’t in the book.
> But those are useful words!
> We have to follow the book.
I’m happy to see the overall attitude toward language learning changing, and I’m even happier to be a small part of that change.