It is always a big debate among music lovers: who's the best guitarist ever? I have maintained for my entire life that this man is the best. He makes a guitar sing, and not only the melody, but also the words. He is a genius songwriter as well and many of his songs tell stories about heartbreak and loss, dreams and tragedy. Knopfler speaks in this video of the magical point when you can play the guitar and make it sing as an extension of your imagination. He talks about seeing the sounds: making the "shapes" of the music in his head...as he plays the guitar, he sees the positions of his fingers and the motions they make. And music comes out.
I think that this is a great lesson for learner's of a second language. As we study a second language, sometimes all we can hear are our mistakes. Learning a language is a lot like learning to play an instrument sometimes. We may not feel confident or like we are making any progress, but if we continue to practice we will reach a point where we begin to see the shapes in our head, and language comes out.
Have a listen to this amazing musician. I hope he inspires you to become
There is a new idea growing in educational circles. It is centered around an old idea, self-guided learning, but it incorporates all the tools of the Web and affiliated resources. Certain technologies, such as voice recognition, are already changing the way that ESL is taught, and emerging AI technologies will make that process even more rapid in the future. It is even possible that live-translation technology (where the speaker speaks in language A and the listener hears the speech in their native language B) will make the effort of mastering a second language an irrelevant skill in the future. I hope not, but that is where we are heading.
There will always be things to learn, however, and people to teach those things, but now, more than ever before, educators are being asked to reassess what exactly needs to be taught. Long ago, before writing, when human knowledge was contained almost entirely within the collective memory of human brains, what was taught was survival skills. The community which was able to most effectively pass on the location of food plants, techniques for hunting, medicinal knowledge, and other vital information was the most likely to survive and pass on their genetic material. After the development of writing and agriculture art and literature and religions and science began to be included something incredible occurred: teachers began to have a choice about what to teach. Universities eventually sprang up where "wise" men would supposedly inform their students of the most important and accurate knowledge. I say supposedly because, of course, these wise men had their own personal and political agenda to push and taught their classes accordingly.
This is where we have been for the last 2500 years or so (in the West...longer in the East). Unfortunately for the wise men, things are changing. We are at the biggest educational turning point since the rise of the academy in Ancient Greece. Why? Because electronic media has now made it possible for EVERYONE to know EVERYTHING. There is no longer any restriction on the amount, type, or quality of information that any individual can access. And there is no wise man hiding in your computer to tell you if you are reading the truth or someone's uninformed opinion.
Here is what is certain: it is a complete waste of a student's time to memorize a list of authors, books, dates, and biographical information. All of that is readily available online. What students need today are critical thinking skills, information literacy skills, and training in design theory. Critical thinking skills will help them place a piece of information clearly within the context of other pieces of information and determine its value. Information literacy skills will teach them to quickly and efficiently find information on the Web and elsewhere, and to organize it in a way that is useful. Design theory will give students the skill to see problems when they arise, to effectively assess the nature of a problem, and tools to creatively solve it. With these skills a student will enter the workforce with the potential to change the world, with unlimited potential.
In the future I will be dedicating more and more of my class time to training in these skills. I think it is the best way forward at this important juncture in educational history.
Image from www.joebower.org.
I am always saying that I think gratitude is the most important attitude if a person wants to be happy. And this is true. When we focus on the good things we have, beautiful experiences, and loving people in our life we can really appreciate how lucky we are and feel thankful. When we focus on things we want, our disappointment, and the problems in our relationships, we are dissatisfied and feel unhappy. That is simple.
That said, there is definitely a time to look forward and think about the life that we want in the future. Not in a way that makes us feel dissatisfied with the life we have today, but in a way that inspires us and makes us thankful for the ability to become that person we can imagine. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Dream big.
So here is my Wish List...a list of dreams for future me...
These are just a few things I have thought of. Some of them are fairly easy and some of them are probably impossible. But all of them will happen if I make them happen.
Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as
interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence.
E.M. Forster in A Passage to India.
I was supposed to write an article describing a recent trip to the historic Chinese city of Xian. I happened to take along the above excerpted book set during the British Raj, however, and as I struggled to process a description of a place (China) that defies such ridiculousness (description in 800 words), I found solace in the words of its fascinating introduction, written by Peter Burra. In a reading later confirmed by Forster, Burra posits that the book’s intention wasn’t merely socio/political, but to address the artistic problem of such descriptions: faced with a tiny peephole of individual consciousness to view a world that holds an infinity of detail and contains meaning only in layered paradox, how is one to observe and yet then transmit with any real sense of validity?
I have done my share of travel writing and for a time blogged my ass off attempting to describe the newness of the experience around me. Then came the point where I asked myself a very difficult question: is this really important?... creating these snapshots of my life in a strange place? Leaving out the humdrum come and go, the “dull[ness]”, the pervading depression that makes up the majority of my life, was I creating the illusion that one could live some magical existence if they simply pulled up stakes and moved to Busan?
In the end I decided that it wasn't and for the most part, with few exceptions, I have abstained from writing about living abroad. Yet I realize now that there is a great benefit to writing whether it has any validity as objective truth or even unbiased observation. Writing trains the mind to think in new ways and to try to organize our thoughts into words. For the student of a second language, this experience is not only valuable but indispensable. The students that I speak to who have attained fluency in a second language tell me that it was only in doing the difficult task of writing that they finally began to understand the syntax of the language. For me, writing in my first language, writing performs the equally important function of giving me a means to comprehend the syntax of my experience. This may merely be a futile attempt to "justify my own existence," but it is none the less a valid pursuit.