My friend Tora, who does ESL tutoring and editing in the San Jose area, managed to remind me yesterday that I’d forgotten two more unsuccessful language-learning attempts in my history. One was Chinese again, with the Berlitz method in San Francisco. I literally don’t remember one word of anything I studied there, because Berlitz is essentially another combination of the direct method and the audiolingual method–it really doesn’t work well for anyone who’s not a strongly aural learner. Now it stuns me that the Berlitz method continues to be so lucrative, but at the time, I had no idea the problem wasn’t just me. Few people have any idea what to look for in a good foreign language program. (For the record, the two Berlitz instructors I had were very kind people who were trying their hardest, and I have fond memories of them and our lunches together in Chinatown.)
I also tried to learn Taiwanese, a language which is very different from Mandarin, for a couple of quarters after I came back from Taiwan. There’s no widely-used Taiwanese romanization system, and the instructor was a linguistics grad student with (yet again) no pedagogical background or training. She was also trying her hardest, but somehow I only came away with a few words. Part of that was because I was so focused on my other classes, but I think part of it was also due to the widespread devaluation of language pedagogy at nearly all levels of American education. We can’t really complain about the low standards for EFL instructor qualifications in many countries when the same low standards for foreign language instruction are common in the US.
How about you? How many language-learning attempts have you made, and how successful have you been?