Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Niche Market

So, first off, apologies.  This blog has quickly stopped being relevant to the FS as a whole, and has instead become largely relevant to the very niche population of FS candidates learning Turkish in the hopes of turning your "passing" OA score into a real passing score.  In short, you're doing the same thing I'm doing.  More specifically, you're probably looking into Immersion Programs in Turkey vs. Immersion Programs in the U.S.  

Odds are, you're going to land on Turkey, and here's why:  There's only 1 immersion program in the U.S. I'm in it right now, and I don't know you.  (Unless I do, and if so Hi!)

Seriously, though, there are 4 people currently studying Turkish immersion in the United States. 4.  The University of Chicago has more grad students working on revising their Hittite to English dictionary than the U.S. has people immersing themselves in Turkish.

There are probably a number of reasons for this.  Turkey's a nice place to spend a summer, and Immersion programs in Turkey are plentiful.  Flights aren't exactly cheap, but the opportunity cost of spending a few months away from your own language is significant enough that most candidates for Immersion programs aren't terrifically daunted by prices.  I was, but I'm also starting to get a little desperate.

If you are considering an immersion course, know this:  everything these days subscribes to the "communicative" language approach, which roughly translates to "learning to swim by dying if you drown".  

The communicative approach begins with the observation that language learners tend to acquire language much quicker when they are forced to conduct all interpersonal communications in that language.  This is the same reason that the military trains soldiers by shooting at them the moment they sign their paperwork, and the US Olympic Training Center only feeds athletes who improve day to day.  Oh, that doesn't happen at all? That is because it is insane.

It is pretty easy to convey the word for, say, "tree" in a foreign language.  Say the word, then draw a picture of a tree or point to one, then say the word again.  See, it's like magic.  Now consider how you, as a communicative language teacher, might teach the word "idea".  Would you teach it by pointing at a chair and then pointing at your own head?  Would you cock your head slightly, as if you were thinking about a chair?  You probably would, because both of my teachers did exactly that for a combined total of 20 minutes.  They then abandoned the notion, having resigned themselves that none of us were even capable of knowing what an idea was.  

That's what you might call a "best case situation", as it turns out, because as a teacher you quickly tire of spending 20 minutes trying to explain things this way.  Instead of really putting your heart and soul into the "thinking about a chair" reenactment, you instead just describe whatever you're teaching in even more florid language.  I imagine an FAQ in a communicative language teaching manual:

Q) My students don't understand the word "whole".  How can I convey it to them quickly?  
A) A "whole" is essentially the summation of a series of small parts which, when added together, form the entirety of a given thing or concept.  Your students will basically be able to infer the words "essentially, summation, series, part, add, together, entirety, given", and "concept" from context.

Q) My students aren't fluent enough to understand me.  How do I tailor my speaking to their level?
A) They probably can't hear you, or they're bored.  Try shouting at them very quickly.


I'm learning, and probably quickly, but it's at the expense of my sanity at the moment.  Here's hoping it all turns out to be worth it.