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- 14 06 2001 - 01:36 - katatonik

now that the server is accessible again …

... a japanese language textbook. a young white male american, mr. brown or whatever his name is, arrives in japan. mr. brown is due to work in a japanese company. sometimes he also is a student of japanese language and culture. he talks to diverse japanese people: fellow students, colleages from work, their families, restaurant and shop personnel, people from public transport, and, occasionally the odd man (or woman) from the street. occasionally inept to the situation, mr. brown is gently, yet persistently introduced to the subtle nuances of japanese culture which consists of kimonos, chopsticks, interesting food, much politeness and many traditions. the student is equally gently introduced in different writing systems, politeness levels, and some grammar.

a german language textbook. a group where students from numerous ethnic and national backgrounds learn their first words in german: carlos, chang, yildiz and jenny. they vanish from the book as soon as they appear. the rest of the book piles up text upon text, grammar table upon grammar table, boxes with even more text to explain important cultural and political issues. the school-system. the parliamentary system. the food-system. dialogues are dialogues between German people or, in the lesson devoted to local differences, dialogues between a German, a Swiss and an Austrian, with many funny bits deriving from misunderstandings. haha. the japanese language textbook. a young white male american, mr. brown or whatever his name was, arrives in japan. mr. brown is due to work in a japanese company. sometimes he also is a student of japanese language and culture. he talks to diverse japanese people: fellow students, colleages from work, their families, restaurant and shop personnel, people from public transport, and, occasionally the odd man (or woman) from the street. occasionally inept and clumsy, mr. brown is gently, yet persistently introduced to the subtle nuances of japanese culture which consists of kimonos, chopsticks, interesting food, much politeness and many traditions. gentleness informs him that he has much to learn, and that, as a matter of fact, it cannot be expected of any foreigner to master the inherently complex japanese culture, understanding of which requires the subtle (and supple) mind of a japanese person. gentleness introduces the language student to different writing systems, politeness levels, and some grammar, and leaves them with some impression that they will never really master the language they are learning, as they lack japaneseness. as they are all americans. ironically, it is the very introduction of a character into the personnage of the great language textbook universe with whom students can identify that will alienate them even further from the language they are supposed to learn, from the people that use it.
a german language textbook. a group where students from numerous ethnic and national backgrounds learn their first words in german: carlos, chang, yildiz, and jenny. they vanish from the book as soon as they appear. the rest of the book piles up text upon text, grammar table upon grammar table, boxes with even more text to explain cultural and political issues. the school-system. the parliamentary system. the food-system. dialogues are dialogues between german people or, in the lesson devoted to local differences, dialogues between a german, a swiss and an austrian, with many funny bits deriving from misunderstandings. haha. the learning student observes language. they are not like the (german-speaking) characters in the texts, who are all native speakers and – of course – never make mistakes. the characters do not share their amazement with all these forms, and declinations, and conjugations, and rules, and unpronouncable words. you have to work a lot, all these characters tell the student. work harder, work harder. but your efforts will be rewarded by mastering the beautifull dschörmän länguädsch. it is not implied that mastering a language requires national characteristics (disregarding those funny swiss and other al pine characters, who always use words differently, and, as is often implied, therefore, wrongly). there is much abstraction, and much less tangibility than in the largely situation-based japanese textbook. but then again, tangibility comes at a cost. perhaps, it is much easier to learn a language with assistance of a book when you are not one of its characters, the one that’s always clumsy and inherently inept. and, after all, identification is not everything, and need not be everywhere.

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