Obsolete sections of old language courses?

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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Iversen » Sun Jan 31, 2021 5:44 pm

Speaking of phones: last year I checked into a hotel here in Denmark and found a weird thing on the night table beside the bed. It didn't look like a notebook, it didn't look like a (misplaced) fire alarm, and it didn't even look like a telephone from the days of yore. So I asked in the reception what it was, and it turned out to be an antique mobile phone for the use of the customers instead of a traditional phone with a wire. So maybe there is a requirement that every hotelroom has to be provided with a telephone of some kind - but not necessarily a comprehensible one.

By the way, it just occurred to me that I have seen a Polish textbook in which a tourist in the second or third lesson consults a dentist and survives doing so in Polish alone. Is that realistic? Am I the only chicken in the world?
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby iguanamon » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:47 pm

Le Baron wrote: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.
You certainly have a point about dated material. Technology has gone a long way toward replacing the need to talk to almost anyone these days when visiting a touristed area. There is yelp for restaurant reviews, google maps for directions, airbnb and other apps for lodging, google translate for writing. So why bother learning any language for traveling? Well, despite the fact that you may not have to ask an L2 speaker for help, you may want to anyway. It's part of the fun of travel for me, interacting with the locals. That's one of the reasons why I travel in the first place.

The obsolete situations are something we can't do anything about now anyway. We can use them to practice vocabulary and language patterns even if we aren't going to need to mail a postcard, talk to the manager at the front desk or ask about making a call.

The courses were designed to put learners in then standard traveling situations. Nowadays, I'd be more inclined to ask about wifi passwords; if a business/restaurant will allow me to charge my phone for a while; or if someone knows which side of the street I should stand on to catch the bus for where I want to go and what number bus I should wait for to catch.

We don't have many of these courses available today, so we have to work with what we have. Practice the situations anyway, even though they aren't really relative today, because they can serve for other situations with modifications. This is why it's important to do a course with an eye beyond the specific situations being taught. Older courses must be supplemented with native materials to learn about cellphone sim cards, data plans, wifi passwords, phone/device charging, where to buy an adapter plug if you've left yours behind, how to ask for shoe adhesive when your sole starts to come loose, how to buy a pair of shoes when the adhesive doesn't work. I've had to do all of this, plus throw myself on the mercy of an airline gate agent from time to time. All of which I've had to improvise.

Whether or not I'm going to ever go to a hotel and ask for a room, ask for the post office or postage cost to mail a package to myself in the Caribbean (cheaper and less hassle than carrying it home with me), Being able to ask for things in general is important. I can't tell you how many times I've been on public transportation in an L2 country and had to ask my seatmate or the driver to let me know when I've reached my stop.

When I used the DLI Portuguese Basic Course there was material about steamship travel, constructing Brasilia and the train between Rio and São Paulo (not in service when I was there); telephones; butcher shops (I'm a vegetarian); constructing the "new" Brazilian capital, Brasilia. I didn't skip it. There was useful vocabulary there for me. I took the train in Portugal (yes, there's some different vocabulary there). I knew what items to avoid on the menu in a restaurant. In general, you can learn at least something even in an obsolete situational dialog.

The value of older, more thorough courses, is in their thoroughness- the drills, the comprehension questions, the exercises that you just don't see in more modern courses. I'll put up with obsolete situations in an old course in order to gain a good, thorough grounding in a language.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Le Baron » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:54 pm

tungemål wrote:It makes me nostalgic for the old days, when you could ask someone on the street where the train station is, or searching 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, if not 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?

I certainly agree. All of this has somewhat ruined the opportunities that used to be around for practising a language in real time. In the past I was able to stop people in the street and ask what time it was; if you do that now people think you're weird or up to something. Simple things like that always gave the real-time opportunity to engage without too much threat of getting overwhelmed, because of the simple context. Asking for maps at the tourist office was a joy, but austerity has also demolished the stock of printed materials you used to get for free. Also a real person behind a desk is rare, you're now informed to 'download the app'.

I'm sure there are still things you can ask people in the street, but it's not quite the same now that everyone assumes you have a smartphone and could check for yourself. I don't have a smartphone and that in itself is considered subversive.

This is one of the reasons I questioned the book content. You read this stuff and gear yourself up engaging, but the tools you've been given aren't really applicable to the real-world contexts. I'm talking about when you get started, because at that point you're generally not equipped to start transferring skills learned in other contexts with any sort of ease. That's the domain of the intermediate learner and by that point you're already past 'Pardon mevrouw, weet u waar ik een telefooncel kan vinden?' Let alone the fact she'd think you've been in a coma since 1990.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Le Baron » Sun Jan 31, 2021 7:03 pm

iguanamon wrote:The value of older, more thorough courses, is in their thoroughness- the drills, the comprehension questions, the exercises that you just don't see in more modern courses. I'll put up with obsolete situations in an old course in order to gain a good, thorough grounding in a language.


Great post. I only trimmed away for length so I could reply to this specific point, with which I wholeheartedly agree (and indicated in the first post). I like old courses for that very reason. Older Assimil often has more extra-cultural material and tips. It's a difficult balance to know exactly what to trim away because although things change the presence of them doesn't disappear entirely. It's probably good to learn about (in French) e.g. Minitel and what it was used for, but not so much to run through several dialogues about how you go about using it.

Like you say it's about intelligent adaptation of the material.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby rdearman » Sun Jan 31, 2021 7:58 pm

I'm sure you could find a use for it, but if not

There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge. - Bertrand Russell

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but a little want of knowledge is also a dangerous thing. - Samuel Butler

There was never an age in which useless knowledge was more important than our own. - Cyril Joad

The university's business is the conservation of useless knowledge; and what the university itself apparently fails to see is that this enterprise is not only noble but indispensable as well, that society can not exist unless it goes on. - Albert J Nock
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby einzelne » Sun Jan 31, 2021 9:35 pm

Given the fact that textbooks are just a tiny drop in the ocean, I don't see any problem. As several people already mentioned here, textbooks from 40-50 years ago tend to be more thorough and respect reader's intelligence (i.e. they don't treat you as an idiot and, instead of useless colorful pictures and dumb 'connect-the-dots' exercises, give you tons of drills). At any rate, the real learning starts once you finished your textbooks. Once you move to unadapted texts and audio, you quickly realize that a dozen of outdated words and expressions is the least of your problems.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Le Baron » Sun Jan 31, 2021 9:42 pm

rdearman wrote:I'm sure you could find a use for it, but if not

There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge. - Bertrand Russell


That's from 'In Praise of Idleness'. I read through it in Bolton library many years ago!
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby s_allard » Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:50 pm

As has been pointed out by usual cast of excellent contributors, old material can be of value. I do draw the line at the Linguaphone 78 rpm records that I may have lying around somewhere. I have found all the books by Charles Duff (Russian, German, French, Spanish for Beginners) to be nearly just as useful today as 50 years ago because the teaching method is so good. That said, many of the cultural, historical and geographic references are way out-of-date and often quite annoying for contemporary usage. Here I'm thinking particularly of currencies like pesetas, francs, liras, deutschmarks, etc that have disappeared

The solution to all this is of course the Internet. We are living in truly a wonderful age of language learning. With a couple clicks you can be waliking down the streets of cities in nearly any country in the world. If I want to learn how to order food in Moscow today, no problem. How to take a bus in Berlin, click, click. We can have it all.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Le Baron » Tue Feb 02, 2021 2:36 pm

David27 wrote: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.

Not really and that's nothing like what I suggested. Critique of something doesn't mean I only want a phrasebook-level. I also didn't criticize the historical aspects of novels, but things in general social reality. Do you want to learn how to catch a charabanc to get to work? Or perhaps spend a couple of days learning how to go about a form of face-to-face banking which no longer exists? Or how to send a telegram? Whilst I'm willing to acknowledge learning differences between people, I'm willing to wager that spending time learning how Harry Potter defeated his nemesis will not get you functional in a language initially. I am after all talking about starting a language with initial courses, not the long road of improvement afterwards which we all know requires varied input.

David27 wrote: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.

I wasn't really looking to be pointed to things, the point of the thread is to gauge whether people think it's worth going through dialogues relating to obsolete social activities in initial course material; when the plan is usually to get as functional as possible in the shortest time so we can then move on to wider and deeper activities in order to improve.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby einzelne » Tue Feb 02, 2021 8:58 pm

Le Baron wrote:when the plan is usually to get as functional as possible in the shortest time so we can then move on to wider and deeper activities in order to improve.


Your point is valid and if you can grab a decent language course or textbook published recently, then, sure, go ahead and use it.

Yet when it comes to 'getting functional', there's an elephant in the room and, at least judging from my own experience, people rarely discuss it. Sure, you can master the language pretty quickly for basic smalltalk activities. But it's one thing to listen to your teacher or audio recordings from your textbook. But when it comes to understanding native speakers in real life situations (background noises, accents, defects of speech, jargon), there's simply no shortcuts for training your ears. FSI concurs: "Conversation, which on the surface appears to be one of the most basic forms of communication, is actually one of the hardest to master." This is not to discourage people but, rather, to to promote realistic expectations.
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