Obsolete sections of old language courses?

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Le Baron
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Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Le Baron » Sun Jan 31, 2021 2:05 pm

As I've gone through older editions of language courses like e.g. Assimil or especially Linguaphone and others like Cortina Method, and reached a part where quite some time is spent on activities such as 'telephoning' I often wonder if it's worth the time and trouble.

All those dialogues and drills asking 'where can I telephone/where can one find a telephone?' and the reply: 'You can go to the post office..' or 'there's a phone kiosk here/there' are pretty much obsolete in 2021. Who looks for a public telephone? Who can even find a public telephone? And the 'post office' here was privatised and shut down last decade anyway.

It's a similar story with the standard 'booking a hotel room'. Enquiring if there's a 'hotel around here'? Really? Rolling up to the 'Hôtel Excellent' and some well-spoken meneja wa hoteli patiently answers all your questions about a room, is really a thing of the past for the vast majority of people. Most likely you booked your room via a hotel website which gave you all the info and you agreed to all the terms and paid in advance. So when you arrive you just give your name at a desk and collect the key.

Now I wouldn't entirely say it's not worth learning the language associated with such situations. You might really need to use a landline phone (I did in the bank recently). Hotel-based lessons usually include complaints about service, whether you can get extra things in a room etc. But really apart from the vocabulary these structures can be taught in any other situation. There is of course the cultural aspect. If I watched a film in a target language taking place in a hotel in the past and hadn't learned the 'old ways' I might miss the nuances of what is going on..but that's a minor concern.

Do you think it's useful to spend all the time on these parts of old language courses, or that skipping through them/missing them out won't make much of a difference and actually leave more time for more relevant content? I consider older courses because e.g. the older Assimil courses tend to contain more information.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby David27 » Sun Jan 31, 2021 2:12 pm

It’s not just the scenarios, but language patterns, how it’s structured and overall vocabulary that is needed to learn. The vast majority of the language used in those scenarios are still words, and the grammar is still the same, so even though you won’t find yourself in that identical position, the language will still be useful. Lots of people choose to learn with Harry Potter translations when they are low intermediate because it’s familiar. They’ll never find themselves flying on broomsticks or in a dual shooting green death bolts from magic wands... or in divination or herbology class, but the language used throughout is still valid.

In the end if it bores you or annoys you, skip it, there are plenty of materials out there you can alternatively learn from, but those scenes also can still teach and help you.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Le Baron » Sun Jan 31, 2021 2:17 pm

I tend to find that the kind of approach you mention above - using Harry Potter and his associated experiences - is a useless exercise because you need to train yourself to recognise and respond to relevant things, not imaginary stuff. The view that 'all structures are the same essentially' seems to me a false claim. On Duolingo, notorious for adding useless sentences, there are the defenders who claim it is the structure or particular part of grammatical structure being taught... well wouldn't it be wiser to do that job AND teach useful content within it?

I'll just add...I'm not claiming that language structures for describing empirical objects and situations, and more vague ideas don't have similar structures, but that initially learning a language is primarily about familiarising yourself with the material world in that language; not things like ontology or metaphysics.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby David27 » Sun Jan 31, 2021 3:07 pm

It’s definitely not “useless”, as it works for a lot of people. I’ve read a Harry Potter book in Russian, and it helped me familiarize myself more with Russian and helped my reading before I could move on to Chekhov next, but of course that would also be useless by your logic because the writing is outdated and there are horse drawn carriages and other such outdated terms?

If you just read things that you need for a tourist or getting around, a phrase book is a good tool, and is great paired with a basic course to get by. To reach a higher level, you need hundreds to thousands of hours of input, in whatever way you find motivating and exciting. So if these parts of textbooks or fantasy bores you, then I agree you shouldn’t do it, and find whatever you enjoy in the target language.

Other good sources with a lot of sample sentences that you may find more useful are lingq mini stories series and beginner content like at the restaurant, pimsleur has a lot (although sometimes also not relevant, I’m not a business man meeting his colleagues... and that is used as a base often for conversations), I’ve never used glossika or rocket languages but from what I hear they have a lot of sample sentences with practical vocabulary and sentences. So if you like an old course, but don’t want to use a few sections that use outdated scenarios, you could supplement it with a second more modern course and find success.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Ug_Caveman » Sun Jan 31, 2021 3:23 pm

I would chose to learn things, whether contemporary, outdated or entirely fictitious, purely to develop as wide a vocabulary as I can.

You never know when you might find an old film or book which captures you, but makes use of outdated language.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Le Baron » Sun Jan 31, 2021 3:31 pm

Ug_Caveman wrote:I would chose to learn things, whether contemporary, outdated or entirely fictitious, purely to develop as wide a vocabulary as I can.

You never know when you might find an old film or book which captures you, but makes use of outdated language.

I can see what you mean, though I always feel that the bulk of adding specialised vocabularies is what you do after you've got the core structures under your belt. It gives you freedom and space to add more specialised words and ideas without having to concentrate too much on the core medium.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby jeffers » Sun Jan 31, 2021 3:31 pm

Pimsleur is the worst for teaching things I would never use in real life: asking for telephones, telephone books, offering to play tennis, etc. I agree with the OP that nobody really needs to ask for telephones and telephone books anymore, and personally I don't play tennis, so those conversations are "useless" to me. Or are they?

Just this past week I was watching Engrenages and somebody asked somebody else to play tennis. Plenty of older films have situations such as asing for a phone or asking if someone was in a phonebook. So it turns out that if you're going to use much media most of these conversations in courses. For me, watching films/TV and reading books are the cornerstone of my language learning, so in fact none of these "obsolete" concepts are useless.

If a course was teaching you dozens of obsolete words, then I would agree that it may waste your time. However, in my experience of these sorts of dialogs in textbooks, there are very few obsolete words. People still use telephones, even if nobody asks on the street where the nearest one is. What is useful in these dialogs is that they teach you how to make polite requests. Substitute "nearest charging station" for "nearest phone booth" and you've got an up-to-date request.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Iversen » Sun Jan 31, 2021 4:42 pm

I have some old text books, dictionaries and grammars for languages whose orthography in the meantime has changed. For instance I bought some Greek materials in the early 80s, near the end of my French studies, because I expected to start learning Greek after I had got my exam. Instead I dropped language learning in general and only returned to it some twenty five years later, and by then two out of three accents and both aspiration marks had been eliminated. I had also bought Romanian dictionaries and other books because I followed a course in that language during my study time. So when I returned to language learning in the noughties I had a collection of Greek books with three accents and two aspirations and an assortment of Katharevousa forms, and I had among other things a big fat Academy dictionary in Romanian which still has got the letter î in words like cîine (dog). So you may ask: should I have thrown them out and bought new ones? The answer is no. The old materials have some advantages which my newer ones don't have - such as smaller size, more complete presentations of grammar and such things. For instance the Romanian dictionary I just mentioned is the only one in my possession that indicates which verbs have infixes and which haven't - which is a vital information, but sadly undervalued by more recent authors. As for the presentation of grammar, the old Teach Yourselves were generally less prone to dripwise information and silly games.

Much of the discussion above focuses on the topics and items mentioned - like telephone booths and handy cabs and books printed on paper. I have a number of small language guides for travellers where you really can see how much the world has changed (like my old travel guides). And here I must concur with those that say that books and booklets bought for their specific content should be as up to date as possible. On the other hand I personally don't feel that small talk discussions about household chores and ways to obtain bread in a foreign country are the only themes that should be allowed in ordinary textbooks. It would probably too optimistic to hope for textbooks that also included texts about science and culture and history, but luckily you can switch to sources like Wikipedia for that kind of stuff at an early time if you produce your own bilingual study texts. Actually one of my main reasons to cut down on the use of textbooks (apart from the impardonable sin of dripwise information) is the utter, sheer and unmitigated dullness of the text snippets in such books. Plus the silly games and multiple-choice tests, of course, but you can avoid those by using antiquated materials (he he).
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby tungemål » Sun Jan 31, 2021 5:24 pm

It makes me nostalgic for the old days, when you could ask someone on the street where the train station is, or search for the post office. Nowadays, with the smartphone, it is impossible to get lost in a city (unless your battery runs out). Other activities that are now obsolete:
- posting a postcard: I just send an e-mail
- asking for a map in the tourist office
- buying train tickets: I don't know about other countries, but in Norway all tickets are now bought in an app
- chatting with people on the train: everybody are on their phones
- even going to theatres and concerts, allthough that may return, unless online concerts are here to stay.
- and yes, buying newspapers.

The sentences we need are:
- Excuse me, have you got wifi in this cafe?
- Can I borrow your charger?
Last edited by tungemål on Sun Jan 31, 2021 9:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Sun Jan 31, 2021 5:35 pm

It seems that a lot of courses out there are often outdated by the time they are published.

Already on HTLAL:
Quirky things in old language materials

Llorg:
FSI German: too old?
Tatort und Chill

Example from 1999 (third printing in 2005):

Phonebooks exist in [the country in question], but they are not available in every hotel room.

And then a text about how international calls can only be made by reservation at the telephone office of the main post office, or through the hotel; that the reservation must be made in advance, and how phone booths work.
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