01 Sep

This now old-fashioned word deserves to be revived, as John Howard is such a good example of it. It is him to a T. Indeed, he is such an accomplished practitioner that there is hardly one vulgar prejudice you might name that he cannot articulate to perfection. That, of course, may well explain his success.

Take his latest venture into cultural understanding: Howard tells Muslims to learn English. Well, yes; all Australians would do well to have a working knowledge of this country’s lingua franca (sorry about the Latin!). But: 1) more Australians should (like Europeans, and lately the Chinese) know at least one major world language other than English, Arabic or Indonesian for example; 2) all Muslims are obliged if possible to study the Qu’ran in Arabic, rather as (only more so) Catholics once were encouraged to know Latin; 3) most Muslims I know speak English perfectly well, the Kashmiri Nomad for example, many having done so all their lives; 4) the whole question of migrants learning English is more complex than the vulgar imagination sees. On that last point, put aside The Australian, whence that story comes, and visit the Sydney Morning Herald: Brain imaging machine spells progress in any language.

WHY do children learn languages so easily yet adults struggle? It is an ancient question that a new brain scanning machine in Sydney, the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, could help answer.

The instrument detects tiny magnetic fields produced when groups of nerve cells in the brain fire in unison.

Stephen Crain, deputy director of the Macquarie University Centre for Cognitive Science, said the imaging system, known as magnetoencephalography, made it possible to study what happened in the milliseconds after people heard a word or sound.

“We will be able to observe the brain’s activity as a person is processing language in real time,” he said yesterday at the opening of a laboratory housing the new $1.1 million instrument, which was funded by the Australian Research Council.

Mind you, I am not sure how much this fascinating and expensive research will benefit English teachers and learners; very little, probably.

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2 responses to “Babbittry

  1. Owner

    September 1, 2006 at 9:38 am

    See also on migrant language Why does that Bing Lee guy have such a strong accent? on my English and ESL blog.

  2. Kashmiri Nomad

    September 2, 2006 at 12:28 am

    G’Day mate

    As savage and backward as Muslims are some of them have learnt English to a certain degree. However for some even this is not a start; for them Muslims have no redeeming features features whatsoever

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