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Read at the Modern Language Conferences, Colorado College, February 20, 1904.

A glance at the progress of the last twenty years in the aims and results of modern-language instruction in American institutions of learning reveals ample cause for relative satisfaction with present conditions and prospects. It would be easy to find in the more general institutional recognition of the claims of modern languages to an important place in courses of study, in the better preparation of teachers, in more ample library facilities, and in the manifold advantages springing from the co-operation, implied in our Modern Language Association of America, inspiration rather for a pæan of victory than for the ungracious tones of a Jeremiad. Not blindness to past triumphs, but the hope that criticism may prove more helpful than congratulation, has led me to choose the invidious task of pointing out what seem to me certain defects in our work, as yet unremedied.

My main contention applies equally well to both English and other modern languages, although in the following considerations attention is focused in detail upon languages other than the student's vernacular.

If we disregard that rather numerous class whose personal choice has nothing to do with shaping their course of study, who take modern languages as part of a pre


scribed curriculum, to be gotten through with in some fashion, there remain various types of learners, determined by the predominant purpose that controls their choice of subject. Thus some undertake the task "for revenue only." They hope to find immediate employment of their linguistic accomplishments as interpreters, clerks, bookkeepers, and the like. Or they seek thereby to fortify themselves against the wiles of foreign railroad officials, police captains, shopkeepers, and custom-house guardians. It is the fashion to decry this class of students as sordid utilitarians, unworthy of serious consideration at the hands of college or university teachers. The equity of this judgment may be open to question, in view of the general approval accorded to another class of learners, whose commercial utilization of their acquirements is as indubitable as that of the tabooed class just mentioned. I refer to those who regard their academic study of modern languages as a preparation for teaching the same subjects to others. Their conception of the work to be done is presumably broader than that of the plain "commercialist." They crave some acquaintance with literature, and are on the whole less anxious than the first class for short-cuts and for the completion of the course in "six easy lessons." Yet the hope of financial gain is the impelling motive here as there. Many treat modern languages as a means for following more directly the past and current thought of other nations in its bearing upon their special studies. The standing formula employed to justify the scant attention paid by such students to the work in hand runs: They seek only a "reading knowledge" of this or that. This catchword unfortunately dominates in such cases not only the action of the pupil, but also largely the course of study and the nature of the instruction. A much larger group of learners expects

from the study of languages and literatures discipline in sharp observation, careful discrimination, and correct inference, i. e., in clear thinking, on the one hand, and acquaintance with the literature and life of the leaders of modern civilization, on the other. Not salable information, but the substance of a liberal education, is the object of their quest. A relatively small but important class of students finds in modern languages and literatures a field of scientific research, and looks to the colloge and the university for the requisite special training in methods of investigation. The needs of the last-named group have received steadily increasing recognition in this country since the founding of the Modern Language Association of America.

There are, then, several distinct types of language learners. While we meet more frequently than otherwise students whose aims combine in various proportions those of two or more of these types, the school, college, and university can safely ignore none of them in shaping the instruction to be offered.

One of the most obvious defects, as it seems to me, of our modern language teaching, hurtful to all classes of students, is neglect of the spoken word. This neglect may come from a variety of causes. It is sometimes traceable to the imperfect command of the spoken idiom, characteristic of many American-born teachers. It may occasionally proceed from the foolish desire of teachers of living languages to share the high esteem accorded to teachers of Greek and Latin, by imitating even the vices of the class-room practice of some of the latter. It has certainly become a widespread policy, in part at least, from a strong conviction of the impracticability of the spoken word under existing conditions of class instruction. Scant time and large numbers seem to preclude the possibility

of an amount of attention to the individual, sufficient to insure a fluent oral command of the language, even were this made of prime importance from the outset. This conviction has been strengthened latterly in America by the inevitable reaction against the wild claims and vagaries of the "natural method" mongers. Since the fluency which these colleagues deem the sole possible justification of much attention to the spoken word is unattainable— thus the argument runs-why waste the precious time needed for so many other objects that are attainable? A few of these colleagues quite likely assent to the phrasing given this view by one who writes: "It requires no higher order of intellect and no more exercise of the judgment to speak French or German than to play the banjo."1

Now, this view as to the negligible importance of the spoken word is an assumption that begs the whole question. It is certainly not true that for any class of students actually learning a foreign language, as distinguished from learning sundry more or less significant facts about it, it is a matter of minor concern. It is, furthermore, true that mere information about the general development of a language or a literature is an accomplishment quite compatible with relative ignorance of the language of said literature. Such information implies no necessary familiarity with the national conception of artistic form, and is entirely consistent with the crassest Philistinism with respect to the essence of the whole subject. While such information may, as better than nothing at all, properly be offered in a department of literature in the student's vernacular, it is the flimsiest possible excuse for slighting instruction in the language itself.

1 E. H. Babbitt, "How to Use Modern Languages as a Means of Mental Discipline" (in D. C. Heath's "Methods of Teaching Modern Languages," Boston, 1893). P. 127.

For a modern language is primarily a varying sequence of sound-symbols, recalled for the ear through the eye by the secondary symbols of printer's ink. It has its own peculiar rhythm and cadence, characteristic of the feeling of the people whose collective experience gave them birth. These elements, distinct from the sound-values of the individual vocables, impart to the latter a variety of musical quality, whose appreciation is one of the most important and also one of the most difficult acquisitions of the language student. No adequate conception of the beauties of lyric, epic, or dramatic poetry, or even of musical prose, is possible for one deaf to the subtle adjustment of time and tune characteristic of the spoken word.

Mere instruction in the pronunciation of vowels and consonants, when reinforced by no long-continued efforts of the learner at reproducing them in connected discourse, is an inadequate means to a good end. For the soundsymbol, alone and in connection, becomes graven upon the memory and vividly associated with its intellectual and emotional equivalent in proportion to the self-activity involved in its use. No amount of theoretical or practical explanation of the teacher can take the place of this.

Again, the words and idioms of one language correspond, in a vast proportion of all cases, only approximately to the so-called equivalents of another. The most painstaking lexicographer can hope, therefore, to accomplish but imperfectly his task of interpretation. Just those elusive shades of difference in connotation that baffle the skill of the lexicographer must gradually be acquired by the really successful student of any language. This can be accomplished only by oft-repeated comparison of the same word or phrase with itself in a variety of contexts. Most subtle of all are the particles and idioms of everyday life, whose present signification reflects most in

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