Mark & Steve – Kids’ Language Learning and Nationalism

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Steve and Mark talk about how to induce kids to learn another language, and nationalism, in answer to questions received from their listeners.

Steve: Hello. Hello Mark.

Mark: Hi Steve.

Steve: Hello out there.

It’s time for another EnglishLingQ Podcast.

You know we have had some questions.

We’ve also had people suggest that we should have a female voice, so we are going to try to find one.

In the meantime, you’ll have to deal with Mark and Steve.

Mark: Some people have difficulty telling our two voices apart, apparently.

Steve: That’s right.

Well, which I can understand.

Especially if it’s not in your own language, I can see that as a problem.

Mark: For sure.

Steve: We could try one of us doing a female impersonation, but we won’t do that, no.

Mark: Maybe not today, we’ll save that.

Steve: Not today, we’ll save that.

Some of the questions we’ve had…one question was…I was asked the question, “Do your sons speak a lot of languages?” Because I speak quite a few languages, my wife speaks quite a few languages.

“Did your sons learn a lot of languages as children and how did you manage to do that?”

So my normal answer is that my older son, Eric, essentially speaks English and stumbles around in French.

And Mark for the longest time was in the same situation and now, as a result of having lived in various countries in Europe and in Japan, he does speak four or five languages, so maybe I should ask Mark.

How did your parents try to get you to learn languages and what was the reaction of you and your brother?

Mark: Well, I guess we weren’t that interested in learning languages as kids.

All of our friends spoke English and I don’t think we really saw the point of learning other languages.

We spoke English at home.

Our friends spoke English.

We spoke English at school and when we were encouraged to learn other languages, which we didn’t want to do because we would rather do other things, I think we didn’t go for it.

Steve: Do you remember the time we were traveling in France and I had the cassette playing the French lessons as we drove around the French countryside?

Mark: I remember.

Steve: Was that an effective measure?

Mark: That had a big impact.

I don’t know, I guess it was just too artificial.

Plus, what we were listening to wasn’t interesting.

You have to be…if you’re not motivated you’re just not going to learn.

We weren’t motivated, we didn’t particularly want to learn and I guess we didn’t see the point.

Steve: Now, when you found yourself…I guess the first foreign country you lived in as a hockey player — when you were a professional hockey player — was Italy.

Were you then motivated to learn Italian?

Mark: Oh, absolutely.

So, all of a sudden, there I was in Italy and, hey, it’d be nice to speak to everybody.

You know, most places you go to you can more or less get by speaking English and using hand gestures, but you get a lot more out of it if you can speak to the locals.

I was that way everywhere I went.

I tried to learn as much as I could of the language and tried to speak it because you just get a lot more out of the experience.

So, at that point, yeah, then I started trying to learn Italian.

And I still remember being surprised, actually, in that little town that I was in.

There was a market there — this is right after I got there and I knew essentially no Italian — and I was at the market trying to talk to these guys selling stuff and, actually, hardly any of them spoke any English at all.

I was surprised that they spoke German and they spoke French, but no English, which surprised me.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, thinking a common second language for most people might be English.

Anyway, what French I did have came in handy then and certainly there are similarities with Italian.

Steve: The German, of course, could come from the fact you were in an area that was close to the German-speaking part of Italy.

You’re just below the Alto Adige or South Tyrol, so, yeah.

Mark: Right. I mean, I think, absolutely.

That’s because they got tourists…

Steve: Right.

Mark: …from Germany and probably from France.

Steve: That too, yeah.

Mark: So those are the languages they’re going to learn.

I don’t think they got too many English-speaking people in that area visiting, so they didn’t learn this language.

Steve: And then for three years you played in German-speaking countries, Austria and Switzerland.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: So I guess your German is better than your Italian?

Mark: It is now, yeah.

Steve: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah, for sure.

I mean it’s been a long time since I was in Italy and so… At the time I could get by in Italian.

I wouldn’t say I spoke it well, but I could get by and the French helped a lot.

When I first went to Austria that was different because I just remember having the feeling when I first got there going to a store and I didn’t know…essentially, I didn’t know one German word.

Not one, I don’t think, I mean maybe dunka.

I knew none.

I just remember standing there.

I hadn’t really focused on it because it kind of happened in a hurry and all of a sudden there I was in Austria and I go to speak to someone and wow, I don’t know anything.

Even in Italy it felt like a few more words.

Maybe because I had a little more warning and I had studied a little bit before I went there, but I remember that experience.

Steve: Now a lot of parents, of course, want their children to learn languages, either because they think it’s a good thing for them to do for their education.

Parents of children, you know, who live in non-speaking English countries want their kids to learn English.

There’s a bit of a fad now in North America for parents to get to learn Mandarin Chinese, in the U.S.

I guess Spanish.

Then you have this issue of immigrants who want their kids to learn, you know, the ancestral language, so you have these Chinese kids or Japanese kids that are sent to Chinese school on Saturday, which they don’t like.

What should parents do, in your opinion, to get their kids to learn some of these languages?

Mark: Yeah, I don’t really know.

I know that it seems like quite a few of my kids’ friends…there seem to be quite a few that have a Japanese parent and they all get sent to Japanese school on Saturday.

And I feel bad for those kids because I mean that’s got to be the last thing you want to do on a Saturday.

And I think, in the long run, that’s got to build up a little bit of resentment towards Japanese, you know?

Steve: Right.

Mark: And how much do they really learn?

We lived in Japan when I was a kid and we had Japanese class in school.

It was an English international school, but I didn’t learn much.

We had Japanese a few times a week or whatever it was, so once a week Japanese school.

I don’t know.

I don’t know what they learn there, but it probably doesn’t amount… If they ever got interested and went to Japan for a month they’d probably pick up more.

Steve: Well that’s always been my theory.

That rather than building up resentment or resistance… I say that now, that was not my approach when I was a parent, but, you know, if they’re young enough and you can give them interesting things to do.

At age four, five, six, seven kids don’t care.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You know your three children had French Immersion, they’re quite happy.

Everything happens in French.

That doesn’t bother them.

Mark: No.

Steve: So I think if you can get them to do things early enough when they don’t really resist then later on perhaps more of them might develop an interest and, as you say, once they have an interest then it’s very quick, like three months, six months, whatever.

Go to Japan, go to Germany, whatever, France, you learn it right away.

It’s not difficult.

If a person is motivated it’s not difficult, so.

But, yeah, we were not very successful.

We tried a number of different things.

Mark: Yeah.

I don’t know why, particularly, but I guess fundamentally if there’s something else you’d rather be doing you’re not going to… Whereas, I mean you talk about my kids at school, well they have to go to school anyway, so the school takes place in French.

Steve: Right.

Mark: That’s just how it is.

Steve: You know I think that even…your kids are in French Immersion, but even kids that aren’t in French Immersion I think they should start – and I’ve said this on my blog – languages in grade one and it should consist purely and simply of listening and reading and watching movies with no requirement to speak the language whatsoever.

Mark: And it’d be different if…like they’re in school anyway.

Steve: Right.

Mark: So if they’re not studying a language then they’re studying History or they’re doing some other…whatever.

Steve: Yeah.

Mark: So they’re there anyway and if it’s something fun and you just listen and it’s easy to do they can start to enjoy that.

It’s a little bit different if you’re choosing between studying French or running around outside with your friends.

Steve: Right.

But, no, my point is, though, that they start them early and then they test them, okay?

Mark: Right.

Steve: You know your child got C in French or your child got A in French.

And we know that all those children in the Canadian system in grade two, three, four, five, six got A in French, in grade 12 when they graduate they can’t speak French.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So does it really matter whether they got an A or a C in grade two?

Mark: Right.

Steve: Anyway.

But, so that was one subject, one question we had.

Another question we had was…

Mark: Well how about you when you were a kid?

Steve: Yeah, my parents tried to get us to speak French.

Okay, kids, now we’re going to speak French around the table, you know?

We’d say three things about the “pommes de terre” and that was it.

We’d switch back to English because you couldn’t do it.

Mark: No.

Steve: And it was only at the age of 16 when I got turned on.

That once motivated then you can learn in a hurry.

Mark: So your parents spoke French?

Steve: They knew how to speak French.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But, you know, parents have these moments.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Okay, now we’re going to do this.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: So, okay, now we’re going to speak French around the table.

Mark: Right.

Steve: There would be about three or four words exchanged before a few, you know, tears or whatever, depending on the age…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …and pretty soon we’re back to English.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: It was done.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Although I know some parents who are not French speaking who speak French to their kids all the time and the kids reply in English.

Mark: Right.

Steve: It’s so unnatural.

Mark: I know.

Steve: I don’t know how they can do it.

Mark: I mean your kids only grow up the one time.

You can’t do it in English the second time.

Steve: I know.

Mark: It’s just strange.

Steve: I mean the big thing is a motivated child will learn so very quickly, why go through the torture?

But, as I say, if you can get them interested at an early age, that’s why stories, videos, fun.

I mean one day we’ll have our LingQ for juniors.

Mark: I mean, I guess, like what if…I don’t even know.

You know you talked about when we were in France and you had French tapes playing, what if you had a French audio book of something that we were interested in?

Steve: Right. See you were already older then.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You would already know.

Mark: That’s true.

Steve: I think it’s more like grade one when the kids are so happy to be in school eager to learn.

Mark: Right.

Steve: It’s the first two or three years.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: If you can get them to listen to even more than one language and learn about different words.

In a different language they have different sounds and they say things this way and they use these different words and kids think — you know when they’re that young — that’s great.

Mark: It’s fun, yeah.

Steve: That’s fun.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Once they’re 10-11 everything is just, no, so that’s a problem.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Okay, let’s just cover the other subject we were asked about and that was nationalism because one of our members posted a video or at least a link to a video on our forum.

It was a Japanese nationalist at the Yasukuni Shrine who was explaining how really Japan didn’t start the Pacific part of the Second World War.

That they were really trying to liberate all the Asian people from, you know, white racist imperialism and that really all the countries of Asia really thanked the Japanese for that, that they liked them and stuff.

And then there was a foreigner there who said, no, you can’t say that because in Germany that’s against the Constitution.

That’s what he said.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So everybody just shouted and weren’t even listening to him.

Mark: No.

Steve: I mean it was a tremendously sort of nationalistic reaction.

And the person who posted this on our forum is Japanese and he said he was very embarrassed by the behavior of these Japanese people and nationalism is a bad thing and what do we think of nationalism.

So I responded that in that particular case, like I know a lot is made is this business of Japanese people going to the Yasukuni Shrine, but the vast majority of people who are buried there are ordinary Japanese soldiers, as far as I know.

So for the Japanese to go and pay their respects to people who gave their lives to their country I really don’t have a big problem.

I mean that’s normal.

That happens everywhere.

Mark: Right.

Steve: When this fellow says that, you know, the Japanese were just trying to liberate their Asian brothers from European imperialism that’s really not quite true.

There’s a very small element of truth in there, but mostly it’s not true.

But he believes it to be true.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But would he go to China and make that speech?

Mark: Right. He wouldn’t get out of China after having made that speech.

Steve: He wouldn’t get out of China or Korea or the Philippines.

And, yet, you know, as I now learn different languages, as I listen to Russian, I am on a Chinese forum where people talk and so forth, there’s a lot of nationalism around.

Or even when we watch, you know, the American politicians during the Democratic Convention or the Republican Convention, God Bless America, America is the greatest force for good in the world.

Even here in Canada you have people who, you know, believe we’re just so much nicer than the Americans because we’re Canadian.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Well, no, we’ve got just as many nasty people as any other place, you know?

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: So by enlarge I think it’s nice to feel that you belong somewhere and that you feel a sense of closeness to your own, until you discover that you don’t like them as individuals…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …and you can find people of a totally different nationality whom you like.

But in a very general sense to feel you like this place, you like being identified with this place, you feel good about the countryside, the people, whatever, that’s fine.

But some people do that it well beyond that and so in Japan they’re rewriting history, in Russia they’re rewriting history.

So, yeah, it is…

Mark: Well, I mean in Canada they’re rewriting history, you know, all the time with that more politically correct bent.

I mean, depending on the prevailing sentiment, people are always rewriting history, which is kind of unfortunate.

But I guess there was probably a prevailing sentiment at the time those history books were written in the first place.

Steve: Well, exactly.

I mean you can’t avoid it.

History is a description of what happened so that in terms of what they choose to identify as important…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …there’s already a bias.

Mark: Seen through the…yeah.

Steve: And then their interpretation of that there’s a bias, so you can get the sort of more politically correct sort of European colonialists were all bad stuff.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Or you can get the other side, which is we’re the greatest.

I don’t know how you strike a happy…

Mark: Right.

Steve: There should almost be some kind of… Particularly in the Far East there should be almost like a Korean-Chinese-Japanese joint history committee to write the textbooks…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …to be used in all three countries.

Mark: Well, you know it was interesting, actually.

I was listening to… Serge has a collection on French history, so I was listening to his chapter about the Second World War.

Steve: Right.

Mark: And you know it was just interesting to hear it from a French perspective.

It was just different than what we normally hear.

Steve: Right.

Mark: Obviously here in Canada we always hear about the contribution of the Canadian troops.

Steve: Right.

Mark: But when the rest of the world talks about the Second World War the Canadian troops don’t get much of a mention.

Mostly they’re grouped in with the British troops.

Steve: Right.

Mark: So there was that A and B and I don’t know how big a role the Free French Army had in the invasion of Normandy, but certainly I heard more about it there than I would have if I was reading about it here.

And that’s just natural, you read history or you see it through the lens of the person telling the story.

Steve: Well, I mean, yeah, and it’s interesting in Russia.

First of all, because we see so many movies, most of our information about the Second World War seems to come from movies.

Most of our movies are not about the Russian Front…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …they’re about the Western Front.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So we would assume, somehow, that the Second World War was fought in Western Europe.

Mark: Right.

Steve: In fact, it was overwhelmingly fought in Russia.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And so, on the other hand, the Russians are persuaded that people in the West don’t even know that the Russians were in the War kind of thing, you know?

And the other thing that’s interesting now is that in Russia people — at least the government and many people in the government — feel that the Soviet Union, as such, Stalin’s Soviet Union, is them, is their country and therefore you cannot say anything negative about what the Soviet Union did in the Second World War.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And therefore something like the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact is now being justified as a very clever move by Stalin to, you know, stall the Germans for two years so he could build up his defenses and move the boarder a little further, you know, to the West so that he would be better able to deal with Hitler, which is, of course, complete and utter nonsense…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …because the Russian Army of five million people was essentially wiped out by the German advance.

And the Germans were much weaker in 1939, September ’39, where then if the Russians had taken them on together with the British and the French they would have stopped them.

Whereas, by ’41 the Germans were much stronger, they’d already dealt with their Western enemies and they just came in and smeared the Russians.

On top of which Stalin had decimated all his senior officers.

I mean the whole story is just like it was a completely stupid thing to do.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But because it’s identified with the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union is identified with when Russia was strong so now there’s this whole attempt to kind of make that part of their…this is us.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You can’t say nasty things about us.

So nationalism does that.

Mark: I mean it starts to get a bit scary when countries start to get belligerent and deny or, as you say, not just sort of changing the tone of the history, but actually changing it completely around.

Steve: Well it is in the way of interpretation, but again in Russia they have a committee to deal with falsification of history that is against the interest of the… But that’s only Russia.

I happen to be into Russia because I’m reading Russian.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But nationalism, I think, my feeling on nationalism is, in a modest way, a sense of belonging, sense of pride, sense of community, sense of solidarity, is a good thing.

Mark: Well, people like to belong.

Steve: Once you think your group is better than some other group we’ve got problems.

Mark: And that’s not just nationalism, I mean that’s religion…

Steve: …any ideology.

Mark: But those are probably subjects to touch on in future…

Steve: And touch on lightly.

Mark: And touch on lightly in future episodes.

Steve: Alright, thank you for listening. Bye for now.

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