In schools that train pupils in the vocations and in special techniques, in those devoted entirely to the arts or sciences, and in those offering specialized courses and training for other than an academic degree, great care must be exercised not only in selecting textbooks but in drawing up a course of study which will be in harmony with the particular interests of the students. Unfortunately very few specialized language textbooks are available for such schools, but material can be mimeographed and distributed to the students.

In some large centers variety in the course of study has already been achieved. Nevertheless, every teacher, especially in small communities, should bear in mind the various talents of the students and their particular interests, especially when those students can be easily grouped or directed toward a definite goal. Language study has taken a great spurt in schools where students working for a domestic science degree with emphasis on cooking, dressmaking, or millinery, have been introduced to the French vocabulary in these fields and have been encouraged to read French books, articles, and pamphlets dealing with their special interest.

To be specific, for majors in cooking, French, Italian, or Spanish menus can be mimeographed and lists drawn up containing technical words such as soufflé, fondue, pièce de résistance, filet, pâtisserie, paté, ragoût, sauté, brioche, croissant, cave, and any others that are useful in translating the recipes to be found in the many cookbooks now published in French. Particularly attractive recipes that the girls might use in their cooking class or at home may be mimeographed and distributed to the students for their cooking notebooks. The same method can be used in an Italian class in high school so that students will become familiar with such words as antipasto, minestrone, ravioli, risotto, pizza, cacciatora, scaloppine, and zabaione.

The same adaptation of courses to specific needs has been applied in the study of German in many technical schools, and the gain for the student in this direct preparation for a career has been invaluable. In commercial schools, particularly those which emphasize foreign banking or foreign trade and which require contacts with foreign countries, such as those of South and Central America, the vocabulary in Spanish and Portuguese and the work in composition should be modified to prepare the students for communication with these lands. Reading material that is chosen from magazines, newspapers, trade journals, and even novels and short stories should help prepare them more directly for their future work in a foreign country. The conversation work in these classes might well include training in long-distance telephone calls, and the simulation of situations likely to occur in doing business abroad, for the pupils should acquire a knowledge of the special vocabulary needed for such communications. The social life and any peculiarities in doing business in a foreign country should be a subject of study so that a student may develop a sympathetic understanding of the people with whom he will have to deal, before actual contact takes place. The most practical preparation here is to dictate typical dialogues or conversations and have the students act them out. The instructor may also pretend to be a foreigner and improvise questions which will require spontaneous use of the specialized vocabulary by the students. A variation of this technique is to have the students act out a scene in which they use the dialogues they have learned or similar dialogues they invent to suit the situation. Dialogues may be suggested by a comic strip shown to the class.

In military and naval academies and schools that offer training in international relations and diplomacy, the course of study is now particularly adapted to the needs of the students. This direct approach to a specific language problem eliminates waste of time in this preparatory period of their careers. The adaptation of courses and even of methodology to the specific needs of schools and students can be greatly developed. To date, little of a really constructive nature has been done in this field. If enough students with special interests could be grouped in one class or school and material suited to their needs could be prepared for them, they would benefit greatly thereby, and the practical value of language study would be proved once more.

On the level of higher education, technological schools, particularly the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have tried to meet these needs. The Latin-American Institute, the Department of State Language Institute, the Army and Navy Intelligence Schools, and the Institute of Languages and Linguistics of Georgetown University, directed by Professor L. E. Dostert, have made this their particular concern. On the high-school level, where students have to meet state or municipal academic requirements to obtain a diploma, it has been harder to change the language syllabus completely. Textile high schools, however, have drawn up special vocabularies like those suggested above for majors in dressmaking and costume designing. For students planning to become buyers for importing houses or department stores, conversational and composition topics can easily be adapted in line with these interests. It must not be forgotten that the United States will need more and more translators, interpreters, and secretaries for diplomats and international bankers and businessmen; and that publishing houses, radio and television companies, and the foreign service – to say nothing of the F.B.I., social service, and libraries – also need linguists.

An example of what has been done is the fact that after 2 years of high-school German some engineering schools require their students to take specialized language courses in which all the reading material is taken from articles on engineering. The translation of articles from technical journals, German patents, trade catalogues, and engineering equipment advertisements is emphasized. In some schools of business the reading material for required courses in Spanish and French is taken from Spanish and French business and economic periodicals; these courses also stress commercial correspondence in the foreign language in place of the usual composition assignments. Although a few scientific, chemistry, and economics textbooks have been published for special students in Spanish, German, and French, the very rapid scientific advances and the changes in economic theory and business management have made current periodicals in these fields more practical for class and library use. When students have been unable to subscribe to these periodicals because of financial reasons, excerpts from them have been mimeographed and distributed to the class daily or weekly.

Since so little material for such courses long remains up to date, the teacher may find it necessary to mimeograph his own lessons, prepare his own audio-visual materials such as posters and other illustrative materials, and watch his students’ progress that results from his own initiative and enthusiasm. If his efforts are successful, he will inspire others and see his ideas spreading in a relatively new field of language teaching. However, to avoid the possibility of errors, a young teacher should have the material he prepares checked carefully by an experienced teacher or an educated native.

Edmond A Méras (1954) A language teachers’ guide. New York: Harper & Brothers

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