Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning, guten Tag, bon jour, buenas dias, goed dag, kali mera, ni hao, dobr dan, buon giorno,these were greetings in 9 different languages to welcome you to this lecture.
You are about to become freshmen at our School of International Studies of Zhejiang University, one of China’s most prestigious universities, and I want to extend my heartfelt welcome to you.
Learning foreign languages seems to arouse the interest of many people, and our School of International Studies works very hard to fulfill the expectations of all of those, who want to learn and study a foreign language. Until now there are 5 languages offered to our students: English, French, German, Japanese, and Russian. Just recently we added Italian, and we are preparing to add Spanish and perhaps one or two other languages as well in the next years.
All students of Chinese universities, regardless of what their majors are, are required to learn a foreign language in addition to their other studies. In my opinion and in comparison to many other countries all over the world, this is a very great achievement of the Chinese educational system. This specialty of the Chinese educational system will be a great help to the further development of the Chinese economy and the Chinese society as a whole.
In a world that is marked by globalisation and an ever increasing internationalisation, China is on its way to become one of the most important global players. You, in some years, as the then highly qualified graduates from this prestigious university, have to be prepared to take your part in this process. That means, it is not enough to be qualified to understand and to speak a foreign language. What we, at the School of International Studies, aim at, may be shown in our question: ”OK, you know a foreign language – what else do you know?” In this “what else” the program of our School differs from many Schools of Foreign Languages at other universities. We not only want you to become efficient and competent in the use of foreign languages, we want to lead you to a deeper knowledge and a deeper understanding of the countries, the languages of which you learn to use. Of course, we want you to deal with language and literature, but we want also to broaden the range of topics that you study at our school: history, the political system, the social situation and development, the economic structure of the countries you are dealing with, to name but a few, belong to the topics we want you to study. With your competences in foreign languages in combination with your insights into these countries we want you to become bridges between China and these other countries. That means, we want to qualify you for future professions on the Chinese labour market, but you have also to be able to use your qualifications in international settings. And that includes your knowledge of foreign languages in combination with the knowledge of the countries they are spoken in.
To know English is good, but not enough, many people today know English. To have the command of a second foreign language gives you the decisive edge for competition. In many international companies in China, in Europe, in the USA, English is the accepted and expected means of communication, English is the most frequently used language in all forms of international cooperation and all forms of transfer. But, at a closer look, you can see that in addition to English, a second foreign language, especially the language of the top managers of the company, is a very welcome additional qualification for promotion.
While in the middle level of management and production English is the means of communication in international companies and joint ventures, the top people prefer to communicate in their own language, and to rise to a higher position in the company means not only to be qualified as an engineer or a manager, but also to be able to speak the language of the top managers.
Our School of International Studies offers the chance to study these languages. With these languages we prepare our students for international and intercultural communication. We open foreign countries and foreign cultures to you, and we open the international labour market to you, both at home and abroad. Foreign languages are not as “terrible” as some students seem to think, they open for you the door into a new world, the window into a new culture, into other peoples’ lives, and into a successful future.
Now, let’s look at some relevant factors that govern the process of foreign language learning:
First of all, there must be a motivation as the driving force to be willing to learn a foreign language. Without motivation, no learning is going to take place.You have shown this motivation by choosing a foreign language as your majors. But we all know – and I know from my own experience - this motivation can be lost, even if it was very strong in the beginning. So teachers and students have to combine their efforts to either keep the motivation alive, or bring it back, when it got lost.
This may be done by bringing back to mind the initial goals and aims, a special profession e.g., which I want to reach with my knowledge of the foreign language, it may be done with the selection of texts and topics, of books and media, which are of interest to the students. The use of television, of the internet, of music and literature, of out-of-class researches and activities, or the combination of some of these means can be very stimulating and helpful for successful classroom work and keeping up, or bringing back, the student’s motivation.
To bring back or keep the motivation may be done by a challenging and motivating construction of classroom work, by special ways and forms of cooperation between teacher and students, or students and students in the classroom, by giving the students free reign and responsibility to organize at least part of their foreign language learning themselves.
In this item, giving the students responsibility for their language learning process, a very special understanding comes forth of what we expect our students to do: to take up responsibility, not only in a way that includes autonomy of learning as part of the whole complex process of studying, but also as a part of their personal development. We do not want to only train the brains of our students, we want also to school their minds and their whole personalities.
For the child imitation is an important way of language learning, and this is also true for the adult language student. In former times the imitation in the form of countless repetitions of words, sentences and texts was considered an effective way to learn a foreign language, even to the point that no other way was considered. Nowadays we know that the so called “parrot-method” that means the repetition of words and sentences the way a parrot does it – correct in the form, but with no consideration of the content - can only be partly effective, and has to be combined with other teaching methods. That, by the way, is true for every teaching method. There is no such thing as THE CORRECT TEACHING METHOD that is appropriate for every student, for every topic, and for every classroom situation. We have to combine and to change teaching methods in order to keep the students awake and interested, and to meet the requirements of topics and of teaching aims.
Learning and using a language is a creative process. We want our students to be able to express themselves, their ideas and aims. We want them to actively communicate with others. This goal cannot be reached by mere imitations and repetitions. We have to set free the creativity of our students, and this again influences not only the process of language learning, but also the development of personality.
Creativity is the greatest asset in a learner: to make use of one’s own knowledge and experiences, to rearrange them in our minds, to combine them with new information, to come to new insights, to new results, to come up with new ideas out of things we read or listen to – this is, what studying is about. In the language leaning process this means, to use the linguistic information we get to formulate new sentences, new utterances, to create new texts, or, as Noam Chomsky, the famous American linguist once said, to create out of a limited number of signs an unlimited number of utterances. Children surprise their parents with using sentences they never heard before, because they combine the already acquired linguistic knowledge to form new sentences. The same is the aim of the foreign language student: to use the language material they learn in class or out of textbooks to come up with new sentences, new texts, use them on new topics never discussed in class before, and formulate in a creative way their own ideas and positions in the foreign language.
Creativity in this way may seem to be in opposition to imitation as a means of language learning. In my opinion, both are necessary and complement each other.
Foreign language learning, as we know form psychology and language acquisition theory, is based on a kind of “brain economy”: we are not equipped to learn by heart every item or piece of information that we come across, and store them for future use. Otherwise we would have heads like watermelons or even bigger. Our brain organizes, it looks for a system, it finds abstractions that allow us to store in mind whole classes of objects and the regularities of their combination.
This realization must have consequences for the process of teaching foreign languages: the student does not have to learn every item by heart, to stuff his brain with countless items of linguistic knowledge, but we have to organize our teaching processes and methods in a way to help you by showing you the way to find the system, the regularities, the norms, out of which you develop your own communicative skills. We can do this by way of exercises, by examples, by tasks for language use, in which a special item of language has to be used over and over again. This approach to foreign language learning excludes the traditional method of pattern drill, but asks for the imbedding of the language items to be learned into a recognizable context.
The communicative skills, which the learners develop this way, are not always correct, are not always according to the rules of the normative grammar of a foreign language. They include very often mistakes, especially in the beginning. But these mistakes are a necessary step in order to understand the principle of the new language, to find the way to the accepted language norm. Making mistakes is a necessary element of learning, also of foreign language learning: make a mistake, recognize it, analyze it, and come up with the correct use. Of course, teaching has to assist the student in this process. If the teacher would not allow this way of language learning, he would build obstacles for the development of the creative use of language knowledge. And this creative use is essential to the acquisition of a new language.
Deconstruction and construction are two complementary ways of dealing with new language material that the student comes across. When we read a text or listen to someone speaking, we have to do two steps in order to understand. The first step is to deconstruct the new utterance, or the new text, to put it asunder into its details, in order to understand it, especially, if there is something new or not understandable in this material. The next step is to reconstruct the elements into the sentence or text that the learner now thinks to have understood. In this process learners show their creativity by constructing and combining the elements in the way they think it ought to be done, or in the way they would like to have it.
Trial and error is the method by which the foreign language learners evaluate the results of their creative deconstruction/construction process. The reactions of their communication partners show them, whether this process was effective or not, whether their language use is accepted or not, so that they can, if necessary, try one more time in a new way to construct their sentences. The results of these deconstruction/construction processes can be used as welcome opportunities in class to discuss and analyze, and this way get insights into the foreign language as well as making use of it.
These are some factors relevant for the foreign language learning and teaching. They show that a language has to be used, in order to acquire it and to keep it as a useful means of communication. They show that we can learn a language with and without the help of teachers and classes, and that a combination of both is not only possible, but is even necessary.
If you followed me until now, you will have seen that much of what I was speaking about in the topic of foreign language learning is to make clear some of the processes that influence your efforts in foreign language learning, and is directed not only at the students, but also at the teachers of foreign languages. These insights are a challenge for both, teachers and students. I also wanted to show, where you yourselves have to take the initiative and the responsibility for the success of your efforts: where you have to be active, where you have to be creative and where the teachers sometimes only can help, while you have to do the job.
There are some more aspects, as to what you students can do to learn a foreign language:
First year students need to adopt a new style of learning:
Research has shown that freshmen tend to think – as trained by school and other authorities – in a binary way, in a kind of dualistic approach: either yes or no, either right or wrong.
To study means to reflect on a problem, to see beyond its frames and limits, to argue, to look for evidence and counter-evidence, to consider possibilities and reject them…
Students have to be active, to be curious:
they have to ask questions and not accept the first answer, the first solution as the only one possible. They have to find their own way to accumulate knowledge, to consider options, to be skeptical.
With respect to foreign language learning
A language is like an instrument for playing music, it has to be used to acquire the necessary skills for its use:
·Be talkative, do not be shy, even if you are still at the beginning of language learning, try and talk. Make use of the different media to get into contact with the foreign language, read books, journals, and newspapers, surf the internet to find your foreign language. Use your disc-man or other electronic devices to listen to the foreign language, even the texts of foreign songs help develop your listening understanding
·Nobody knows nothing about a foreign language, everybody knows already something:
Even if you start with a new language after you leaned English at school, you find old acquaintances in the new language. With French or German, you know already the alphabet, you know about the specialties of grammar and pronunciation of European languages, even including Russian, you know about declinations and conjugations, about gender and articles and all the things that are so different from your Chinese language – look for them in the new language, you will find them and recognize them. Look for words that you already know: deconstruct and reconstruct. Make use of all your experience about language that you already have, you will be astonished, how much this is already
·Do not rely on your classes alone to learn the foreign language:
Of course you have to be very attentive in class and carefully fulfill all the tasks and exercises your teachers ask of you. But that is not enough. Use also your spare time, the times out of class, to be busy with your foreign language. Remember: languages are tools that have to be used, in order to acquire the necessary skills. Without use, the tool gets rusty. Use your creativity with your new language: Play language games with your friends, spend an English, a French, a Russian day and accompany all your actions during this day with your foreign language: speak to yourself, repeat the foreign words for things, for actions and for events, which you meet during this day.
·Make frequent use of the facilities we offer you at our School:
Go to the library and read, not only when asked to do so by your teachers, but read foreign books for the pleasure of reading, read novels, short stories, read romantic love poems, history textbooks, or interesting documentaries – what ever it is, make use of the tool you want to acquire, and at the same time broaden the range of topics on which you can use this tool.
Living on campus, the evenings, especially in winter, may tend to be very long and tedious: do not spend all of them with computer games or in chat rooms ( unless it is a foreign one ), instead go spend them in the library and the classrooms in our School that we keep open especially for your use, to make use of software and materials put in the net by your teachers, make use of the internet to find things of interest to you. Don’t wait for your teachers to ask you to do some task. Look for yourself and make use of your linguistic tool. Be creative and inquisitive.
And keep in mind: to learn a foreign language does not mean to learn the grammar and the vocabulary as a kind of dead knowledge, something you know by heart and then store away. Of course, you have to learn the grammar and the vocabulary, but not only to know them, but to use them, to communicate. To learn a foreign language is not an aim in itself, it is the necessary step for other purposes. It is part of your way for your own qualification and to promote a successful future:
·to study insights from academic research in other countries in order to get information you may need for your own papers or even to write a thesis, and this way get good grades
·to be able to do a job in your own majors, your own field of business in an international setting, to find a job in joint venture industry, both at home or abroad
·to be prepared and equipped for business travels abroad or to receive foreign business people here
·to work in administrations that deal with foreigners
In all of these situations you can make use of your linguistic skills, your communicative skills and your intercultural skills that you developed at our School.
All of this results in the same aim for the learning of a foreign language: to use this language as an instrument for understanding and for communication. And this again is the basis for the qualifications we want you to acquire: to make use of your communication skills, and the knowledge you acquired about the country of your chosen language, in order to help bridge the gaps between China and the world, to become a part of the globalisation process and strengthen China’s position in the world.
What does it mean to be a Student at the School of Internati