Learning or using?

What comes first: Learning how something works or using it without really having a clue? It’s always using, for me. And it’s getting worse (or better, depending on your perspective) every day. I can hardly sit still long enough to hear someone out or live through the whole experience without wanting to apply that new bit of information or skill. I had fun trying out iphone applications today and learned a lot from fooling around with the interface. My favorite applications are the steamed up interface and silly stuff like iBeer. My least favorite are the language apps that try to be CBT (computer based training). Quizzes are ok, and I particularly liked the ones set up as group games, but the contents are boring. Clearly a lot of opportunities out there.

This took my mind off a rather unpleasant episode this morning: A reader complained about an exercise about taboo language. I felt bad, because I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone, so I thought maybe the way I had worded the exercise was too “out there”. But in fact it is a really big world “out there”, and you just can’t please everyone all the time.

All you can do “out there” is to keep on using and learning.

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Trainer/ coach from Washington, D.C. based in Berlin. Enthusiastic gardener, sailor, reader.

2 thoughts on “Learning or using?”

  1. Interesting debate. Good for class discussion. But do we need to actively teach this vocabulary? If students want to they will pick it up anyway, won’t they?

  2. Hi Tim,
    Welcome, thanks for dropping in ! 🙂
    Yes, you’ve definitely got a point. I wrote an email to the teacher who complained, who said very much what you are saying about us not needing to teach this language. Let me write here what I wrote to her:

    “Dear …
    I’d like to apologize for having caused you offence and to assure you that you will find the more beautiful sides of English presented in our upcoming exercises.

    As a teacher of students and people in business, I have in fact needed to deal with the issue of taboo language. And not only with students: My husband, who is German, recently used the F-word the way a German might use “Scheiß-“. I don’t know where he got it from, but I explained to him that while it might be something you hear native speakers using in certain situations, coming from him it sounded completely wrong and was not at all OK.

    The Spotlight Taboo! booklet explains these things carefully and lucidly. On page 18 of the booklet, we point out that “All the language on these pages is vulgar and should not be used by learners of English.” As well, in her introduction, Dagmar Taylor writes: “In this booklet, we aim to explain when and where taboo language may be acceptable, and when it is best avoided.” In the online exercise, you’ll find we also warn readers to proceed with caution.

    I know the topic is controversial. However, one of the most respected authorities in grammar, Michael Swan, has devoted several pages to taboo language in his volume on Practical English Usage.

    That said, I agree with you that we do not need to teach all aspects of a language.

    Thank you for writing.”

    So, you see, Tim, I felt uncomfortable with this particular exercise, especially because any interactive exercise does mean you are actively using language, even if it’s just virtual. I still think it was ok. But I’m open to more discussion!

    Hope to see you at one of the next MELTA workshops 🙂

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