Bad Readings

There’s a thing with French profs and their TAs, they love to make you read articles about racism against the “immigrants” (still immigrants after three generations?) in the banlieu, the suburbs. I don’t know what it is, but they just LOVE to make us read about that shit. And then they force us to have discussions about possible solutions, mostly about how those solutions are impossible.

Listen, French teachers: your students don’t care. We don’t. The first article you give us to read may be interesting, but the fifteenth is neither informative or entertaining or interesting. It’s not welcome. Yes, I know it’s an important problem your society is facing, but it’s NOT WHY WE’RE STUDYING FRENCH.

New rule: Hopelessness CANNOT be the primary topic of a language learning class.

I hear that it’s similar in Portuguese class, that there are a lot of readings about the crushing poverty of the favelas. For me, in Chinese class last year, it was five articles over five days about the problem of beggars in China.

Can you imagine? It’s like planning an entire ESL course about the inequalities of the American criminal justice system.


It’s time to make them stop.

The problem is, that when you tell them that you hate everything they’ve chosen for you, they inevitably come back and say, well what DO you want to read? huh? think you’re so smart? Why don’t YOU pick the topic? Well?

When my Chinese teacher asked me what I would prefer to read, I knew very well she had no interest in my answer, so I gave her a flippant, “We’re Americans; we want to read about ourselves.” I was only being half facetious.

My friend CS told me earlier today that his Italian teacher had the class read an article about how pollution in the environment may lead to homosexuality. He complained that he didn’t want to read it, and the teacher of course came back with the rhetorical ‘well, then, if you’re such an expert, mister big shot, what DO you want to read? huh? think you’re so big?!’ (ok, I wasn’t there, but that’s how I imagined it went.)

CS replied “let’s talk about local politics, but in Italian; let’s talk about FIFA World Cup, but in Italian; let’s talk about the Islamic world, but in Italian; heck let’s talk about food and drink in Italian.”

What do you think happened after that? Exactly. The teacher directed them back to an anti-gay, preposterously infuriating text, and CS quit the class.

Any and all of the topics that CS had suggested were more valid. The teacher would complain that those topics were not “academic” enough, and that is due to the fact that the teacher is a pile of garbage and should be fired. No one should be expected to learn language when they are filled with disgust.

A few years ago, I told my boss I wanted to make an entertaining series about Spanish grammar. He looked at me in the eye and said “you can’t make grammar entertaining,” because he is a pile of garbage. Stupid! Any entertainment that involves LANGUAGE necessarily contains grammar. It’s just a matter of being entertaining. And that’s how we made the La Clave videos.

Obviously many, many people operate under the stupid presumption that all learning, including language learning, necessarily must occur absolutely joylessly; if you feel hopelessness and you want to quit, you must be doing it right. “No pain, no gain” they say.

What’s maddening is that there are plenty of successful language learners who believe that language learning should feel horrible, and they throw themselves into horrible cram-and-memorize situations, or hold their breaths and plunge into punishingly hopeless texts, and then say that they this has CAUSED their proficiency. Forgetting, of course, the good stuff: making friends, going out to dinner, having lively discussions about things you know and care about, exploring and discovering the world around you. All of these other things are real, valid language-learning activities. So is reading literature for entertainment; so is reading about scientific discussions that actually effect our lives.

On the other hand, some bullshit antigay pseudo-scientific article linking homosexuality to pollution is not a language learning activity. It’s just not.

2 thoughts on “Bad Readings

  1. Wonderful! This should be the first required reading for a primer on foreign language reading. At some point, it would be great if you elaborate on the entertaining videos you did on Spanish grammar, as well. If there is anyway to do grammar in the lower levels (or perhaps anywhere), it should be through humor.


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