For years I evaluated language learning programs for various agencies and designed programs to meet their needs. Some agencies had access to formal resources in some countries. Others had only periodic access to a school. Some were learning less common languages for which no school exists at all.
This meant the agencies could not depend totally on such institutions for their programs of cross-cultural communication training. But in many cases schools can become part of a more complete program.
Some have starkly advocated giving up language schools completely. But schools can provide positive value in a more comprehensive learning program. The more important question is how they are used and why.
Why Choose a School?
Are institutes or schools strategically chosen because of a specific learning approach? Usually they are chosen or established for bad reasons: because Americans prefer to learn in schools, not because that is the way we learn best.
Most school programs are chosen for passive, rather than intentional, reasons. Because it is easier -- easier to arrange and easier to go through. Sit back, soak it up. Yes, schools do require work - but how productive are a school and classroom for learning social skills? Yet schools do have a valid place.
The learner can use a school intentionally. That is, the learner can make the school fit into a strategic language and culture program. A well-planned learning program can use a school or institute as one component in a program designed to produce community-living skills in the target culture and ability to conduct specific job tasks in the language.
For instance, some learning centres owned by Christian missions have been planned with a more intentional approach for more learner-oriented activities, and for more specific preparation needed by their personnel.
What Are Schools Good For?
Schools are valid for what schools do best -- analyzing, drilling materials, translation practice and intellectual understanding of patterns being learned. And for discussion of cultural topics.
Schools should also use approaches, processes and activities that train the learner to become a self-directed learner, able to learn from the community at large. This should also be a part of an agency's or company's program for their people.
Schools are not valid for learning to live with people, for learning to manage social encounters with a new people, for learning a role in the society. These are social skills, not academic skills.
Schools are not necessary to become proficient in a language-culture set of relationship skills. But they may be helpful. Schools may support the learning, encourage the learner, provide structure and guidance for the process.
Focus on the People
A program of cultural acquisition and adaptation must be broader than the academic approach of cultural information or language study. The program as a whole should focus on the people and the way they communicate.
Organizations should take responsibility for the culture and language acquisition opportunities for their personnel, rather than leaving it up to whatever school might be available. But whatever school might be available can likely be made a component in a valid and complete program.
This version written and posted 09 June 2001
Last edited 29 May 2006
Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 1993, 2001
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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