Image courtesy of Alexander Staubo
In my first year of living in Lithuania, I had one of those embarrassing moments when you think you understand something, but you find out that you were completely wrong. One day, I was in my apartment getting ready for work when my phone rang. Not recognizing the number, I answered in Lithuanian even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the conversation much further without slipping into English. The lady on the end of the phone spoke very quickly making it difficult for me to determine if she was speaking in Lithuanian or Russian. I thought I heard the word for Russia, so I simply told her that I didn’t speak Russian. There was a pause, she repeated the same thing, only a little slower and louder. Again, I thought I heard the word for Russia, so I repeated what I had said, only slower and louder. This time there was a longer pause followed by three simple words in Lithuanian: DOOR, KEY, NOW! It was in that moment that I realized that I had misunderstood the word for ‘in the cellar’ to be ‘Russia’. The difference is only in the intonation, so I applaud myself for at least recognizing where I went wrong. The story ends with me slinking down the stairs to unlock the cellar door for the property manager and her three (now laughing) plumbers who had come to fix the water main. I, for some unknown reason, was one of only three people who had a key for that door.
Later that day, I told my English students about it and they had a good laugh. No harm done and my students felt that it was okay to make a fool of yourself from time to time when learning a language. This event demonstrates how semantics can be important and not just an academic exercise. Sure, there are times when we get caught up in ‘political correctness’ to the point that it becomes almost laughable, but for the most part, choosing the correct term for something can make a world of difference.
In preparation for my upcoming session at the TESL Ontario conference, I was re-reading one of my favourite books on the use of technology in the classroom, E-Learning in the 21st Century: A framework for research and practice by D. R. Garrison and Terry Anderson (2003). I read the book for my MA TESOL, but I consult it quite often when giving seminars or consulting on technology in the classroom. In the chapter Teaching Presence, Garrison and Anderson start with an explanation on what they call the differences between learner-centred and learning-centred education. Continue reading Learning