Learning a Second Language
After reading the â€śNot for the closed-mindedâ€? post, I began to think back on my experience teaching ESL to the Somali, Ethiopian, and Kenyan immigrants over the the Cedar-Riverside high rise apartments.
As similar to the experience which Kristine discusses in her posting, the individuals that I worked with over at the Cedar Riverside were extremely motivated people, who wanted to learn English as quickly as possible in order to better their lives and become empowered individuals within American society. Furthermore, the individuals that I worked with were extremely intelligent, and often spoke two, three, or more languages in addition to learning English. As a matter of fact, there was one individual I recall working with who spoke 7 languages including Somali, Swahili, Italian, German, Spanish, and the list continued to go on.
As I continue to think about this individual who can speak over half-a-dozen languages, I reflect on the fact that I, along with an extremely large percentage of other Americans, can only speak one language, and greatly lack the linguistic diversity held by many individuals who are required to learn English upon arriving in this nation. However, thanks to the CLA graduation requirement of completing 4 semesters of a foreign language, I have decided to learn American Sign Language.
Just as I remember the frustrated looks on the individuals faces trying to learn English over at Cedar Riverside, I find myself growing extremely frustrated at times while learning ASL. To directly tie this discussion in with our reading, the method in which my ASL class is taught consists of giving the learner no other option but to learn the content of a sign in light of its context. To be a bit more specific, all of the ASL teachers are completely deaf, and students are not allowed to communicate (and physically can't due to the instructor's inability to hear) with anything but ASL within the classroom. If you have to ask a question, you must ask in sign, and you will receive your answer and / or best explanation in sign.
In class last Tuesday, Aaron brought up the point that language is arbitrary, and the relation between the signifier and what it signifies is completely arbitrary. Although I understand this idea, I find it confusing in the context of learning ASL, which of course uses a system of gestures to represent something. After all, the sign for cat involves stroking the â€śwhiskersâ€? on the cheeks, directly under the eyes, in a similar location of a cats whiskers. In short, it is just difficult for me to find the relationship between this sign, and what it is supposed to signify as completely arbitrary. After getting through the first chapter of the text, things make more sense to me after learning about representational signs, or signs that are basically arbitrary, but partly iconic. In the case of the sign for cat, the sign merely suggests what it signifies. However, without the appropriate context to learn this sign in, such as the sign being followed by seeing an actual cat, the picture of a cat, and / or hearing the sounds of a cat, this sign could mean anything, such as another animal, color, shape, body part, and so on.
To tie this discussion back to my ESL experience at Cedar Riverside, there was a computer program called â€śThe Rosetta Stoneâ€? that the ESL students would use that simultaneously combined the Sound of the word / sentence and the context in which it fit during the learning session. In short, the program would display the word / sentence, a voice would say the word / sentence, and the student would have to click on the appropriate picture portraying the word / sentence as displayed on the screen.