Earlier this week, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor remarked that Germany’s attempt at multiculturalism was a total failure and that Germany’s immigrants need to learn German to integrate. I thought about the problems of language learning and how it effects cultural integration. My father speaks limited English after living in the US for 30 years and I know that there are many other immigrants in the US and other countries who can barely get by in the language of their new country. It’s not because the immigrants are stupid. It’s because the way we teach languages doesn’t work for most people. Immigrants often work two to three jobs and are super exhausted by the time they get to their evening language class. By the time they open their language books and repeat their vocabulary lists with the teacher, someone in the back row is falling into unconsciousness. Language education doesn’t only have to change at the traditional school level, but also for adults who are in dire need of learning their new language. My take on language learning revolves around a natural approach involving listening, especially to music in one’s target language. Television, radio, film and other media are fun and entertaining medium for people to learn foreign languages. (I’ve written a book on this topic, Language is Music.) Immigrants should learn their target language using media first. Grammar and writing can come later. If they get into the groove of the music of their new country and watch local TV and movies, they will have an easier time integrating into their country as they can enjoy the culture along with the natives.
Education via music and culture is a way to integration.
On a funny note, I saw a great clip on education reform on The Daily Show. Lewis Black, the characteristically angry comic, made some excellent comments about how ideas of education reform in the US are all wrong. People who have no idea about education are being invited to help neighborhood schools. Bad idea. Tony Danza, who makes mistakes in English, is working as a 10th grade English teacher on a reality show.
The bottom line is that education reform is what we need, but we have to be smart about it. Putting Tony Danza into the classroom is not ideal. But using music and media to make people excited about learning a foreign language IS a good idea.