2010/01 – On Language

This morning I interviewed for an online job ("Gabby Geckos"), but I very quickly ascertained that I wouldn’t be selected for it.  There were far more applicants than I had expected — and they were girls.  This job involved teaching English via webcam mostly to kids located in Korea.  One of the doctrines of the teaching profession, at least in this country, is that boys have no place in a young classroom; only girls do.  On my query, the interviewer informed me that their small company had never before had a male teacher.
Well, I’m not one who thinks all men are created equal with all women, and I have nothing against gender dominance in certain fields, as long as it accords with the truth.  And one part of the truth is that a lot of women make really mean teachers.  A lot of them also make very fact-averse, culturally biased teachers.  I’ve met plenty of women teachers that I’ve thought were at the top of their field, but then, most of them were old.  If I am honest, by my experience, I wouldn’t trust a young lady as an English teacher any more than I would trust her with a gun.
Not that I would say men are inherently better at English…  I guess it’s just because most of the teachers are women that most of the ignorant teachers I see are women teachers.
Then again, living abroad, the ratio shoots up in better favour of men… just because that’s the supply.  Girls stay at home, and more of the foreigners traipsing around the globe (and being available as teachers) are men.  But it will surely be easier to get a job abroad.
Anyway, this job would have required a slight lifestyle change, so I’m not distraught over losing it.
During and after the interview, I kept thinking what an interesting opportunity it would be to expand this business model to other countries.
The Viet girl I met with sent a fairly brusque, insincerely apologetic note last night saying she couldn’t be study buddies anymore and was hopeful that I could find another one.  I laughed…  I’d known she was cold and no good as a buddy from the beginning, and I never really expected to meet with her at all, and certainly not more than that single time.  It was funny that she missed the hint and felt she had to take the initiative to cut me off.  I wrote back and explained to her that that was perfectly all right — I had only wanted to meet once anyway.  If I’d been cleverer, I would have told her that Id all ready found another Viet buddy.  (Of course, when the time came, I forgot about my appointment with the other one today, and missed it.  I think she forgot too, because I didn’t see her hang around after Japanese class.)  [I saw her after the Korean festival Friday night, which she had attended.  She said she had indeed forgotten about the meeting.]
Good riddance to the first, anyway.  Seeing her once without make-up was quite sufficient.
Now and then, I get hassled about studying languages.  Hideto keeps making an issue out of it, as does everybody else who asks what I (try to) study.
Is it difficult to study more than one language?
Well, it’s difficult to do more than one thing at the same time no matter what it is.  It takes practice to put both feet underneath you at the same time, and learn how to stand up.  It takes practice to sing and play the piano at the same time.  It takes practice for a mother to raise more than one kid.  In our mutant modern society where some only have one or two children, we think large families are very strange and very difficult — but it was never so from the beginning.  The more children you have, the richer your life is.  Those with few or no children partly make up for their social poverty anyway with their many other acquaintances.
It’s true that a large family starts as a small one, with the first child; and that one grows; and not for a while does another one come, because children, like language skills, take time to grow.  But having a second child doesn’t mean you start starving the first to death, and having a third doesn’t mean sacrificing the lives of the first two; and a fourth child doesn’t spell doom for the former three, and so on.  At some point, some people make a decision to stop having children because they’re tired, or whatever.  I’m sure I’ll stop chasing new tongues at some point, too.  I have no need for a thousand, or a hundred, or fifty, or even twenty languages.  I can’t yet see any purpose in my studying more than ten or twelve or so — studying, mind you.  But as with children, you can only limit languages BEFORE you have them.  Once they’re yours, they’re yours for better or worse, and you have to make do, or else you’re found a neglectful parent, or (forbid the thought) a bloody abortionist.
What we don’t immediately realize is that by learning our mother tongue (or English as a second tongue), we’re already made students of the various languages that have contributed to the corpus of that language.  With English, we naturally know some amount of French, German, Latin, and Greek already, and others still.  We actually incorporate disagreeing syntactic rules, too — in a way, different grammar systems — and we have very little trouble with it.  Another language, then, is really little more than an expansion of one’s vocabulary.
For further illustration, if we spoke 50,000 words of our first language and recognized, say, 60,000, we might think that studying ten more languages would demand a total vocabulary of at least 500,000 or 600,000 words, right?
But how small of a burden would it be to learn just 500 words each in ten other languages?  It would be no trouble at all.  How about 1,000, or 2,000 words each?  That’s only 20,000 more.  That would leave us with a fairly small 70,000-to-80,000-word vocabulary — not even two full languages — yet we’d all ready be at a basic communicative level in those ten other languages; and we could move forward from there.
That’s no so hard, is it?  It’s certainly not enough reason to call Steve any more ambitious than any other person with an interest.  The barriers of learning languages are in our minds — not in our lack of ability, but in our disbelief of our ability, and our misunderstanding of the facts.

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