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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

And you think I am too old to learn a language? (Cornish)

Heather Kessell
3 Parc-an-Challow

Deth da Mario,

Heather yu ow hanow!

I was totally 'cracked up' and amazed that you could be surprised that anyone at any age would want to 'tackle' a new subject. For heaven's sake - why not?
Lots of people much older than geriatric me are taking courses at Open University etc.
Your first question:- ' How come you decided to learn this language?' that's an easy one. Because I'm truly Cornish - not someone who's lived in Cornwall for perhaps the last seventy years, but a true Cornish maid with a true Cornish pedigree. My heart wants to tell you what it means to be really and truly Cornish, it wants to say - 'sing Trelawny' to any Cornishman, say stand outside Coinage Hall in Helstron at noon on May 8th, Flora ( or Furry Day) and hear the big bass drum beat 12 o'clock and Helston town band with their lily of the valley in their caps and everyone else with lily of the valley, see and hear The Hal an Tow, Palstrow 'obby oss', hear the sea, see the cliffs and let your Cornish skin tingle and tears come to your eyes - will that do for now?
You ask - 'do I already know any Cornish?' I can give you a pronounced dialect with many old dialect words at 'the drop of a hat', and have been delighted to discover that many thing's my Granny said to me indeed are identical in sound to Cornish. You say 'strange sounds'! I haven't found any strange sounds. A very different sentence structure, the absence of many words we use e.g. 'yes' which becomes 'it is' and 'no' 'it is not', etc.
You ask 'how good am I at learning ?' like most things, I find this depends on dedication, simply the amount of time one is prepared to give. 'The world is so full of a number of things'! no problem with learning , problem finding enough time to give.
Given time, surrounded with good informative books and dictionaries I could be much better, BUT there are so many other things I enjoy.
So, to your last question - 'how do your classmates react to me being pretty senior? So far, no one has leapt on tables in amazement at beholding this ancient crone and as for me, age has never entered my mind, I'm a student (AGAIN!) and I'm loving it.
I'm quite sure Mario that this is quite unlike any kind of letter that you were expecting. Use it or not - whatever - BUT, if you do and take bits out of context, I want to see what you intend before you print - O.K?

Best wishes to you - come and see me sometime, I'll take you dancing ( I go three times a week) and lovely 98 year old Grace will teach you to tango!

[Editorial note: what a brilliant, life-enchancing response to my cheeky, doubting, ageist question. Heather, I stand well-corrected! Thank you.]


Letter on learner Autonomy

By Sharon Hartle, University of Verona, Italy

[Editorial note: Sharon's letter comes in reply Tulay Duman's letter in Readers' Letters in the July 2005 issue of HLT. Click across to read the statement to which this is the response.]

Dear Editor

Whether or not you approve of the Americans' acts in Iraq, of which "imposing democracy" might be said to be a dubious claim, at the very least, the question of wanting to be autonomous when learning is quite another matter.

Without wishing to offend anyone's cultural sensibilities, I feel that this letter from Tulay from Gaziantep seems to be saying that there is some reason why individuals with a developed view of their own value as such cannot be members of a "warm, social culture" and I wonder why? It would seem to me that the members of a society or a family, if they want to be part of many social molecules still need to be independent, functioning atoms in their own right.

If I belong to a family and it is my job to do the weekly shopping, for example, it is much better if I can do that independently, with an idea of what is needed and using my own transport, so that, independently, I can make my contribution to the family group as a whole.

Let's stop to think about what is referred to as "independent-mindedness" and "hard individualism", although I'm not sure where the adjective "hard" comes from. There was certainly no explanation in the original letter. If we look at the opposite to these terms we get "dependant mindedness" which might be interpreted as the lack of being able to think for oneself, and "soft" or perhaps "passive" dependence, which would mean the lack of being able to take an initiative for oneself. This person would not even get out of the house, much less get as far as the local market to do the shopping!

Why should the idea of wanting to learn for yourself, cause such an extreme reaction, I wonder. To me, learner autonomy is an empowering choice which gives learners the chance to:

a) Know what materials are available;

b) Know how to set about studying and, hence, learning in the ways most suited to them personally and

c) Determine the content of what they personally are interested in.

In an integrated approach to autonomous learning where the independent work is then integrated into the discussions and work done in class, learners are motivated to learn in their own ways they will be all the better equipped to contribute to class work and the original group as a whole.

In the long run the person who has to use this language is the learner and the teacher can only help him or her along the way. I am not suggesting that the teacher has no role in this process either, but rather than that role has to be re-evaluated. The role of the teacher in an autonomous learning system is one of helping the learner to discover the best ways of learning. In many ways, teachers have always done this. It is a part of "caring for the learners", surely, rather than a "displaced act of cultural imperialism". (I'm not really sure what is meant by this but, of course, I wasn't present at this workshop which seems to have caused such upset!)

Learners who can learn independently can then share what they have learned with the other members of the class so that everyone can benefit, in much the same way as everyone in the family may benefit if I go shopping and cook dinner. The individual can act independently, in this way, so that everyone can enjoy the dinner.

[ Editorial note: if you are interested in student autonomy, the Danes have just brought out a brilliant book for Scandinavian secondary schools, a methodology resource book for students.
The book depends on teachers and students accepting the EFL classroom as a self-directed democracy and not a monarchy. The book, Toolbox, will hopefully be reviewed by one of the authors in the next issue of HLT. It is published by ALINEA, 2003. The authors are:
Birte Hasner
Mogens Hoirup
Poul Otto Mortensen ]

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