This case study investigates some strategies to hone one's Mandarin Chinese in a Chinese-speaking environment. The data derive from the author's interpreting and teaching experience in Taiwan, from language learning literature and from interviews with local people. Proven research methods are used to analyze the data and complete the report. Language-learning literature brims with enhancing strategies to hone one's language skills. Traditional studies, though, have not always recognized the importance of the interdependence of cultural and linguistic traits when learning two languages spoken by people of very different cultures and mentalities such as Chinese and Italian. The results indicate that Chinese can be honed only by means of absorbing Chinese-speaking people's culture and modus vivendi. The concept of language absorption is constantly emphasized throughout the case study along with the concept of self-confidence which proves to be the foundation stone of an interpreting career. This case study is part of a broader study concerning an advanced learner's self-directed qualitative analysis and to-be interpreters' training methods. Getting acquainted with local cultures and different major varieties of Mandarin Chinese is perceived not only as an asset but as a conditio sine qua non for the qualification of an interpreter, be it simultaneous/or consecutive, conference, community, or liaison interpreters.
his case study investigates the linguistic strategies that a Chinese language advanced learner or a trainee interpreter can put into practice in order to hone his or her language skills. There are numerous studies and articles focusing on language learning strategies (LLS). However, a considerable part of the literature analyzes English as a second language. The academic papers on Mandarin Chinese LLS for the benefit of Italian native speakers are far and few between. It is recommendable for Chinese Mandarin advanced learners or trainee interpreters and translators to follow self-created LLS. In this case study, the reader is merely provided with advice and possible LLS. It is our conviction, though, that the best strategies are those formulated ad hoc to meet an individual's personal needs. The data in this case study are analyzed on the basis of the author's experience both in the linguistics and in the interpretation field. This study attempts to answer the following questions: What factors affect the quality of language learning? Which linguistic aspects should a Chinese learner focus on? How may the quality of language learning be improved by means of suitable LLS?
This case study first reviews the background literature on LLS. Secondly, it analyzes some Chinese cultural traits. Thirdly, it focuses on purely linguistic aspects that are interdependent with local cultures and which a learner should focus upon. In conclusion, it offers suggestions for enhancing the quality of Mandarin Chinese language learning for Italian native speakers and for trainee interpreters as well as for translators.
A major stress on LLS took place with international conferences such as the Northeast Conference (1990) entitled "Shifting the Instructional Focus to the Learner" and with the annual "Learners' Conferences" held in conjunction with the TESL Canada convention since 1991 but also thanks to key works on "the learner-centered curriculum" (Nunan, 1988, 1995) and "learner-centeredness as language." Previously, the role of teachers and teaching was more emphasized. In some of the key works on LLS literature, Weinstein and Mayer (1986:315) defined LLS as "behaviors and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning 【which are】intended to influence the learner's encoding process" (315). Later Mayer (1988:11) more specifically defined LS as "behaviors of a learner that are intended to influence how the learner processes information". Early on, Tarone (1983:67) defined a LLS as "an attempt to develop linguistic and sociolinguistic competence in the target language to incorporate these into one's inter-language competence". Rubin (1987:22) later wrote that LLS "are strategies which contribute to the development of the language system which the learner constructs and affect learning directly". In their seminal study, O'Malley and Chamot (1990:1) defined LS as "the special thoughts or behaviors that individuals use to help them comprehend, learn, or retain new information". In the first studies, linguists used to focus on the product of LSS, i.e. linguistic or sociolinguistic competence, whereas nowadays there is a greater emphasis on the processes and the characteristics of LLS.
Interpreters work in real time and in direct contact with the speaker and the person for whom the message is intended.
In our case study, a LLS is perceived as what enables the learner to absorb linguistic, psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic behavioral patterns in the same way that a "linguistically pure" child does. The main problem is that in a Chomskyan perspective a child does not learn his or her mother tongue; s/he dis-learns all the other languages of the world. Therefore, LLS must help the learner to go back to his or her pre-language acquisition phase by taking on a neutral attitude toward the target language and culture. Therefore, LLS must suspend all judgment values that would invalidate any fruitful learning process. Language is not about efficient communication; it is about interacting with people. Linguistics literature brims with definitions of the so-called phatic communication. In our perspective, it is merely the simplest form of human interaction. As previously emphasized, getting acquainted with local cultures is a condition sine qua non for absorbing a language and for mastering its culture-related traits that are inextricably linked with linguistic aspects. For this reason, before delving any further into the issue of LLS, the next paragraph is first going to focus on culture shocks and culture-related problems.
In the interviews that were carried out in Taiwan for this case study, one of the most frustrating aspects that came out about Westerners' linguistic experience turned out to be their Western looks. In other words, there is a major sense of alienation that is the same feeling harbored by Asian people when they go to Europe. More specifically, many of the European people interviewed reported the fact that most Taiwanese people presume that any Westerner is American and/or perfectly masters English. Therefore, they automatically try or want to speak English. Most of the interviewees agreed on the fact that answering in English is certainly not the best way to hone one's Chinese language ability. The most reasonable reaction is to pretend one cannot speak English. It is the only way for some Taiwanese people to shift to their native language. According to Dr. Carmen Guanipa (from the Dept. of Counseling and School Psychology, San Diego State University) the term "culture shock" was introduced for the first time in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place.
We can describe culture shock as the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in another country or a place different from the place of origin. Often, the way we lived before is not accepted as or considered normal in the new place. Everything is different, for example, not speaking the language, not knowing how to use banking machines, not knowing how to use the telephone, and so forth.
The symptoms of culture shock can appear at different times. Although one can experience real pain from culture shock, it is also an opportunity for redefining one's life objectives. It is a great opportunity for learning and acquiring new perspectives. Culture shock can make one develop a better understanding of oneself and stimulate personal creativity." Dr. Carmen Guanipa emphasizes the concept of "living" a culture which is very different from having a deep knowledge of it and which is essential for mastering culture-related linguistic traits. According to Dr. Carmen Guanipa, the phenomenon of culture shock has many stages. Each stage can be ongoing or appear only at certain times. The first stage is the incubation stage when the new arrival may feel euphoric and be pleased by all of the new things encountered. This phase is called the "honeymoon" stage, as everything encountered is new and exciting.
Afterwards, the second stage presents itself. A person may encounter some difficulties and crises in daily life. In this stage, there may be feelings of discontent, impatience, anger, sadness, and feeling incompetent. This happens when a person is trying to adapt to a new culture that is very different from the culture of origin. Transition between the old methods and those of the new country is a difficult process and takes time to complete. During the transition, there can be strong feelings of dissatisfaction.
The third stage is characterized by gaining some understanding of the new culture. A new feeling of pleasure and sense of humor may be experienced. One may start to feel a certain psychological balance. The new arrival may not feel as lost and starts to have a feeling of direction. The individual is more familiar with the environment and wants to belong. This initiates an evaluation of the old ways versus those of the new.
In the fourth stage, the person realizes that the new culture has good and bad things to offer. This stage can be one of double or triple integration depending on the number of cultures that the person has to process. This integration is accompanied by a more solid feeling of belonging. The person starts to redefine him/herself and establish goals for living.
The fifth stage is called the "re-entry shock" (or reversed culture shock). This occurs when one returns to the country of origin. One may find that things are no longer the same. These stages are present at different times and each person has their own way of reaction. Consequently, some stages will be longer and more difficult than others. Many factors contribute to the duration and effects of culture shock. For example, the individual's state of mental health, type of personality, previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the language, family and/or social support systems, and level of education. Culture and cultural alienation play an important part in the absorption of a foreign language. (The classical distinction that Stephen D. Krashen has carried out between learning and acquisition will not be adopted in this paper. I will make a distinction between learning and absorption, because this term is perceived as being more transparent).
To properly master a language and to work as an interpreter, culture-related aspects must be taken into consideration and "absorbed"; a possible way to achieve this is to live in situ for a considerable amount of time. Interpreters are by nature culture mediators; therefore it should be compulsory and an integral part of an interpreter's education to plunge him- or herself into the target language culture for a period of time. This is all the more true for people whose source or native language is very distant, culturally and linguistically, from the target one, like Italian and Chinese. Interpreters must go through Dr. Guanipa's fifth phase in order to become themselves culture and language mediators.
From a language learning perspective people, before speaking a language, belong to a certain culture. Children before uttering their first sounds perceive the behavioral patterns of their parents (or anyone who raises them) which they naturally follow. If language learners or interpreters visit their target language country when they are already advanced in their language learning process, the best thing to do is to become keen observers of behavioral patterns. Students will find it surprising to see how much they can learn just by merely observing native speakers' linguistic actions because learning a language requires open-mindedness, and becoming an interpreter or a translator of a given language requires being endowed with the gift of multiple personalities. An interpreter's brain constantly shifts from one "human system" to the other, a human holistic system involving social, cultural, psychological and also linguistic aspects. However important, language is only a component of this system.
As far as language teaching is concerned, it should take into consideration the different national varieties such as the differences between Mainland Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese, which should be taught or at least critically mentioned in schools and universities, which is not always the case. Indeed, it is essential for any advanced learner and for interpreters to be aware of these differences. The experiences and linguistic strategies of the people interviewed in this case study will be reported in the following sections.
Linguistic strategies and varieties
The people interviewed in this study underlined the role that LLS played in their language learning process. As previously emphasized, students should focus their attention on national language varieties. Most of the European people I interviewed claimed feeling linguistically lost when they had their first linguistic contact with Taiwanese people because previously in school they had only been taught the Mainland Chinese variety. In this section, we are going to shed some light on some of the major differences between Mainland Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese.
Sociolinguistics claims that every language in the world has diatopic variations. Nowadays, the language with the most considerable amount of national varieties is English (Crystal, 2003), just because of the number of countries in which it is spoken as first or second language. On the other hand, Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world if we are to consider the number of native speakers. According to news reports in March 2007, 86 percent of people in the People's Republic of China spoke a variant of spoken Chinese (http://big5.xinhuanet.com/gate/big5/news.xinhuanet.com/edu/2004-12/27/content_2383853.htm). As a language family, the number of Chinese speakers is 1.136 billion. The same news report indicates that 53 percent of the population, or 700 million speakers, can effectively communicate in Putonghua. The standardized form of spoken Chinese is Standard Mandarin (Putonghua/Guoyu), based on the Beijing dialect. Standard Mandarin is the official language of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). Linguistic literature brims with all the minor differences between Mainland and Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese, which will not be reviewed in detail in the present paper. Interpreters must also be receptive because interpreting for a Taiwanese Mandarin audience entails different word choices from interpreting for a Mainland Mandarin speaking one. Vocabulary differences can be divided into mainly four categoriesdifferent usage of the same term, loan words, technological words/idioms, and words specific to living in Taiwan. Because of the limited transfer of information between mainland China and Taiwan after the Chinese civil war, many things that were invented after this split have different names in Guoyu (Taiwan variety) and Putonghua (Mainland variety). Additionally, many terms were adopted from Japanese both as a result of its close geographic proximity as well as Taiwan's status as a Japanese colony in the first half of the 20th century. Some words may simply have a usage preference. An interpreter should be aware that linguistic choices determine the nature of social relationships, and of the fact that they may be established, kept and/or destroyed. Therefore, it is important to be active and conscious in every linguistic choice. Some words may have ambiguous meanings and/or different connotations in the two varieties. This proves the need for broadening one's linguistic horizons.
Apart from vocabulary differences, there are some typically Taiwanese neologisms that are based on the English language. For example, most young Taiwanese people instead of saying dahuoji, they would rather refer to "lighter" as laida, modelled on the English pronunciation of it. From a grammatical point of view, amongst other differences, in Mainland China the preferred usage is to put the preposition before the verb phrase whereas in Taiwan the preferred usage is to put the preposition after the verb phrase.
An interpreter must have the mental flexibility in order to not be shocked or surprised when he is inevitably going to encounter different national varieties. Trainee interpreters and translators should also open up their minds and broaden their linguistic horizons.
From a phonetic and phonological point of view, interpreters have to rely on contexts most of the times to understand the gist of a speech because of the difficulties represented by non-standard accents. At present, most of the Chinese-speaking people residing in Italy and who need linguistic help do not speak the standard variety of Mandarin. They are people coming from southern China, mainly from Wenzhou and Qingtian. As for Taiwanese Mandarin pronunciation, there are two categories of pronunciation differences. The first is of characters with an officially different pronunciation from standard Mandarin; they basically have a different tone. The second involves unofficial differences deriving from the influence of Taiwanese language on Taiwanese Mandarin variety. In acrolectal (William Stewart, in 1965, proposed that the terms acrolect and basilect be the sociolinguistic labels for the upper and lower boundaries respectively of a post-creole speech continuum, In the early 1970s Derek Bickerton popularized these terms) Taiwanese Mandarin, the retroflex sounds (ch, zh, sh, r) are softened considerably. The more south one goes, the more softened they are, in the areas near Kaohsiung, i.e. in the Southern part of the island, ch and c, zh and z, sh and s are hardly distinguishable. In acrolectal Taiwanese Mandarin, the Beijing retroflex "r" is basically never heard and the pinyin feng is pronounced as fong, among other differences.
In basilectal Taiwanese Mandarin, all those sounds that do not occur in Taiwanese are replaced by sounds from that language. For example sh-, shi becomes s-, si (shui →sui). Often, yu becomes yi, ch- becomes c- and zh-, zhi becomes z-, zi. The liquid sound r- becomes l-. Awareness of minor linguistic differences at the end of the day may distinguish a highly skilled and tactful interpreter from a mediocre one. Finally, in basilectal Taiwanese Mandarin, chi becomes tu and -ie, ye becomes ei. In conclusion, as described above, Taiwanese Mandarin is spoken at different levels according to the social class and background of the speakers. Formal occasions call for the acrolectal level of Guoyu, which in practice differs little from Putonghua, whereas less formal situations often result in the basilectal form, which has more uniquely Taiwanese features. In Taiwan, interpreters should have a high level of flexibility in so far as bilingual Taiwanese speakers often code-switch between Mandarin and Taiwanese, sometimes within the same sentence.
Another phenomenon which came out from the interviews is that for many people the greatest challenge with the Chinese language, and also during interpretation, seems to be foreign names phonetically translated into Chinese by means of Chinese characters. This linguistic phenomenon is called "Chinese phonologization." A phonetic translation would imply the name to be written and pronounced according to the target language's intrinsic phonetic rules. The issue lies within the linguistic context. If Chinese language learners or professional interpreters are talking to friends, they are absolutely free to choose whether to use the English (international) version of names, or the Chinese phonetically translated ones. However, there could be two situations in which one is compelled to use the Chinese phonetically translated variant. The first situation is when talking to a person with a limited knowledge of the world, which implies that the only variant he or she has ever heard is the Chinese phonetically translated one.
The second situation is in professional and/or formal settings. Hence, it is essential for learners during their training period to adopt an essential strategy, that is try and collect as many phonetic translations as possible to try and see which characters are most often associated with which syllables. The more data one collects, the easier it will be for this mechanism to become automatic. Intensive reading and constant listening to TV news is indeed the best strategy to enhance Chinese phonetic translation mechanisms.
Another issue associated with language learning is self-confidence which can be boosted by mastering different registers. In Chinese the distinction between formal and informal colloquial Chinese is very pronounced. For this reason, before analyzing the problem of self-confidence, it seems opportune to briefly describe the two varieties. Vernacular Chinese is a style or register of the written Chinese language essentially modeled after the spoken language and associated with Standard Mandarin. This term is not to be confused with the various present-day vernacular spoken varieties of Chinese. Since the early 1920s, Vernacular Chinese has been the most popular style of writing for speakers of all varieties of spoken Chinese throughout China, succeeding Classical Chinese, the former written standard used in China since the time of Confucius. The term Standard Written Chinese now often refers to Vernacular Chinese. It is essential for learners to find adoptable LLS to cope with this intrinsically dualistic nature of today's Mandarin Chinese, in order to be linguistically and psychologically up to the task. As a society, the type of language that is used, whether it is formal or informal, is directly dependent on the culture and customs that are the most prevalent. In the age of television and the Internet, the need to communicate to the audience at its level has been degraded to the level of informality needed in order to speak effectively. Although the amount of informal language that is used has increased and greatly impacted society's standard language, it has left the professional world virtually unaffected. The art of speaking formally is fading fast. However, it is important to remember that even though it is our society's goal to communicate to the masses as easily as possible, there is still a need to hold onto some formality within society's language skills.
On the other hand, learners must face the informal, the very informal and the vulgar varieties of Chinese. As of now, most sub-standard spoken Mandarin expressions are rarely found in dictionaries, let alone textbooks or language courses. The sub-standard spoken Mandarin may boost self-confidence. As previously emphasized, self-confidence is a psychological trait encouraging people to talk about anything, ranging from cooking to medicine and not feel scared about it. Of course, linguistic knowledge is necessary, as well. However, many students who have a very broad language vocabulary, once they get to talk to someone, they are not even able to utter the most simple sentences. This is due partly to self-confidence, and partly to the fact that there are two major types of linguistic competences: active and passive. Any useful LLS should help learners focus on the difference between these two aspects in terms of language learning and language usage. Active competence concerns the segments of language that a speaker can actively orally (re)-produce, whereas the passive competence concerns all the vocabulary and language knowledge that allows an interlocutor to understand segments of speech. When Taiwanese kids are learning English, their teachers make them repeat the same word several times in order to memorize it. This could be useful in a way and disruptive in another way. Coercive memorization may be a double-edged sword. Some kids, who may be interested in what they are doing, might actually end up learning that word that they are mechanically repeating whereas others might end up feeling exhausted because of their perfunctory robotic repetitions, which are useless for their purposes. LLS should focus on the importance of the concept of need. Unless it becomes a matter of necessity, it becomes much harder for a learner to introject, to use a Freudian term, any linguistic segment. High levels of adrenaline and face-saving issues are also useful, to a certain extent, for language-learning. Face-saving refers to maintaining a good image, often in spite of adverse circumstances and it is generally viewed as more important in high-context cultures such as China, Korea, and Japan.
High-context culture and the contrasting low-context culture are terms presented by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall in 1976. They refer to a culture's tendency to cater to in-groups, an in-group being a group that has similar experiences and expectations, from which inferences are drawn. In a high-context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain. High-context cultures are more common in the eastern cultures and in countries with low racial diversity than in the west. Cultures where the group is valued over the individual promote the in-groups and group reliance that favor high-context cultures. Co-cultures are also conducive to high-context situations, where the small group relies on their common background, rather than words, to explain the situation. A low-context culture explains things further, because those in a low-context culture have a wide variety of backgrounds. High-context cultures have a strong sense of tradition and history, and change little over time. Many native societies (such as the Māori of New Zealand and the Native Americans) are high-context cultures. The static culture keeps the high context throughout generations. Low-context cultures change drastically from one generation to the next, like the United States.
To sum up, a possible LLS to improve one's active competence is to practically put oneself in a situation where one needs to use certain segments of language because this is the only way to retain new words and expressions and at first use them over and over again in order to fix them in one's mind. Gloctodidactics defines this the overflowing phase, in which a language learner overuses new words and expressions (even where potentially they should not be used) in order to retain them in one's memory. When analyzing Chinese culture-related linguistic aspects, another important issue to take into consideration is the importance of subtitles. Chinese subtitles are used for foreign language films, TV documentary and TV news. Subtitles are useful both for Chinese learners and for native speakers. For the latter, subtitles are a way to constantly view Chinese characters, which could otherwise be easily forgotten, and also a way to understand other minority languages which may be spoken on TV or on movies. Reading subtitles is a good LLS for beginners especially in a highly phonologically ambiguous language like Chinese. Moreover, Taiwan is characterized by a multiplicity of languages. Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan. However, Taiwanese and Hakka are major dialects in addition to the languages of the ten aboriginal tribes. English is the predominant foreign language that is currently taught from grade four of primary school. However, most people use English in their English classrooms only, so most of them rely on Chinese subtitles when they watch an English movie. As a result, all the English movies carry subtitles, partly because there is a need for it and partly because, according to governmental regulations, all the foreign films that are released with original soundtracks require subtitles. Hence, the importance of subtitles within Chinese-speaking communities and among Chinese-language learners is self-evident. There are some LLS that Chinese learners and trainee interpreters may benefit from, although it is opportune to remind the reader that strategies are highly personal and the only way for them to be effective is if they are personalized.
According to the people interviewed in this paper the best way to absorb new language segments, so that they can become part of one's active language knowledge is to "live" them. Playing games seems to be a smart way to provide learners with a social framework in which they could make use of their active language competences to interact with other people. Another possible LLS is being the cause and the solution of your own problems. That is to say the more problems one has, the better it is to practice one's language. One of the people interviewed said he was constantly trying to make up new problems in order to actively use his language skills and try to find suitable solutions to them. Volunteering is another remarkable strategy to hone one's language skills and to exchange linguistic knowledge. Advanced learners should also learn to focus on more specialized language areas such as medicine or religion, by for example volunteering in hospitals. Medical Chinese has always been a major challenge for Indo-European Chinese language learners for morphological reasons, as briefly explained in the next paragraph.
In Indo-European languages all medical terms are very similar insofar as they all have common Greek roots. For instance, the chemical element melamine, in Italian it is "melammina," in French "melamine," in Spanish "melamina," in Portuguese "melamina," in Swedish "melamin," in German "Melamin" and so forth. Hence, medical terms in all European languages have the same common Greek root, which makes it fairly easy to remember and to use. In Chinese, melamine is sanjuqing'an, According to the data collected in the interviews, it seems to be more challenging for Europeans to "absorb" this lexeme due to the lack of reference roots.
The most efficient LLS that Chinese learners can benefit from is to volunteer in a hospital like Mark, one of the interviewees, did when he accompanied a friend of his to see a doctor in Taichung. He decided to go around the hospital, analyze the different signs, wards, talk to people, and ask them questions. According to Mark, most of the people were enthusiast about the fact that someone was willing to communicate with them. At present in Italy there are more and more Chinese-speaking people who need help in communicating with doctors. In other words, the need for community and liaison interpreters is ever increasing. It seems appropriate to find adequate LLS for students to familiarize with unknown specific semantic fields. Volunteering in hospitals is a humanly rewarding and linguistically enhancing experience, and for some learners it proved to be a highly efficient LLS. Another challenging linguistic area that Chinese language learners along with trainee interpreters and translators must face and find appropriate LLS for is "religion" that we will briefly analyze in the next section.
Chinese and Religion
Religion is another major area of interest for Chinese language learners. Just like Western languages are pregnant with concepts deriving from Christianity, in Chinese there are many lexemes deriving from Buddhism, Taoism and/or other local religions. Most Chinese religion-related terms are actually loans from Sanskrit. The island of Taiwan has many different religions due to its multicultural history and to its religious freedom as it is written in the Constitution. At the very beginning, native Taiwanese tribes used to practice nature worship, just like ancient Roman and Greek peoples. Protestant Christianity was later introduced in 1624 through Dutch missionaries. In 1626 when the Spanish arrived, Catholicism was also introduced. During the Japanese colonization period which began in 1895 Shintoism, the official religion of Japan, was introduced into the island. Later, Chinese migrants also brought Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism from Mainland China. Taiwan is also a safe haven for groups banned in neighboring People's Republic of China, such as Falun Gong and Yi Guan Dao, translated as the "The pervasive Truth". There is also another major faith in Taiwan, that is The Bahá'í Faith which arrived in Taiwan in 1949. A useful LLS and way to practice one's Mandarin Chinese is by means of reciting mantras and sutras since it may help learners hone their tones, broaden their lexicon and become more fluent in their phonetic articulation. It is also a way to become aware of the presence of religious terms even in everyday language. Active recognition is the first step towards a future active (re)-production of the same linguistic segments. In other words, active recognition of a linguistic segment increases the possibility that language learners will use the same segment in future active language productions.
As previously mentioned, finding appropriate LLS to enhance one's active language competence is essential in any language learning process. According to some interviewees, delivering speeches and presentations seems to be another efficient LLS to improve one's active competence. Presentation is the process of showing and explaining the content of a topic to an audience. In Taiwan, I encouraged the people I later interviewed to deliver two major presentations, namely a touristic one and an official formal academic one. In a linguistic environment where one has to think about public speaking skills, face-saving strategies and somehow making the audience feel interested in the speech, one does really not have the time to also worry about language proficiency. It has to come automatically, spontaneously. It does, only if it is "absorbed." The greatest advantage deriving from putting oneself out there, especially in an academic setting in front of a group of professors, scholars and deans, is that one just cannot afford to say anything wrong. The adrenaline rate is so high that generally one either has a block-out or the performance automatically ends up being outstanding. Moreover, not only is the speech successful but each and every single character uttered in one's statement will be fixed to memory for a long time. This proved to be the case for most of my interviewees. Mark jokingly once said "adrenaline is really much more powerful than phosphorus when it comes to memory." Therefore, as proven by most of my interviewees, giving oneself the chance to deliver speeches or presentations in front of a big audience is an efficient LLS to increase one's active competence. Most students fear not being up to the standard, however there is no such thing as a standard. Every speech will have a different flavor according to one's linguistic level. Presentations are also a good LLS to train trainee interpreters and translators alike in so far as clearly articulating the pronunciation of words, paying close attention to tones, in languages like Chinese, talking at a steady pace but not with a nervous rhythm and in general adopting any strategy which prevents the audience from falling asleep are strategies that all interpreters should adopt. An interpreter must be able to please the audience with his or her own voice in simultaneous interpreting and to make the audience feel the self-confidence the interpreter has in consecutive interpreting. This requires being highly competent in public speaking, in the use of correct prosody and in a good mastering of proxemics.
What my interviewees remarked is that if a speaker is nervous, the audience ends up being nervous as well or responds with a negative feedback. If the speaker is self-confident, or at least passes off as being so, the audience will find the speech to be much more pleasant. The positive feedback will make the speaker feel good, as if it were a virtuous circle. In other words, language learning processes (LLP) and LLS are affected by sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics factors as well. Irrespective of the age or the target language, learners should find a reason to love the language they are studying or to somehow associate it with warm-hearted feelings. Many of the people interviewed in this study felt that after changing their approach to the language they were studying, their LLP automatically became much more efficient. For many of them, this attitude is still the best LLS they could ever recur to.
Implications for Chinese LLS teaching
The results of this study and the data collected from the interviews show some interesting facts and allow formulating some hypotheses and reflections/recommendations.
- The current Italian LLS teaching situation is keeping up with reality for English but for Chinese a lot remains to be done in raising students' awareness on national varieties differences and peculiarities. The same goes for translation and interpretation courses, in which such a linguistic sensitivity is even more important.
- Individuals may pursue LLS created ad hoc to meet their needs in the most suitable way. Chinese language experts, including teachers, are required to provide learners with well-trodden linguistic paths that they might follow if suitable to their needs.
- Advanced learners and trainee interpreters/translators may both benefit from LLS.
- From our perspective, the Chinese language-learning process (LLP) is undeniably permeated with an intrinsic duality, namely cultural traits and linguistic traits. The approach to all languages should be characterized by this double level, all the more for a target language which is socially and behaviorally distant from the source language (Italian and Chinese). Every minor linguistic utterance is intrinsically tied to cultural aspects.
- Our case study derives from a linguistic experience which proved to be fruitful for those interviewed by the author. Every piece of linguistic advice must be solely perceived as such, i.e. a suggestion. Readers are strongly encouraged to pursue their own research and see if the LLS and the training methods put forward in this study may suit their needs.
- The ultimate LLS is to find ways to enable learners to not mechanically and passively learn a language but to actively absorb any linguist segment they might encounter in everyday's interactions directly, i.e. by living in situ, and/or indirectly.
Finally, research should focus on the empirical assessment of such LLS and analyze the results of such approaches. General conclusions could then be drawn and see if absorption methods may be universally generalized or will differ according to individual needs.
The results of this study suggest that the same LLS approaches may benefit both advanced learners, trainee interpreters and translators. Language learning processes (LLP) do not involve solely cognitive aspects. The lateralization of the brain is only one of the causes of language learning difficulties after puberty. Other major, more challenging root causes related to social, psychological and behavioral patterns must be taken into consideration. Finally, the results of this study suggest that every linguistic interaction, even minor ones, are intrinsically interconnected with cultural aspects. All language utterances require a shared social background framework. Further research is warranted to focus on the possibility of generalizing and universalizing these approaches to all potential learners and to the inter-dependence of language strategies and training programs for interpreters and translators whose job is the quintessential form of interconnection between language and culture. Indeed, according to the institutions of the European Union which use twenty three working languages, thus making interpreting services extremely necessary, the purpose of interpretation is to enable oral communication to take place: interpreting is not a matter of translating word by word but of faithfully transposing a message from one language to another and from one culture to another. Interpreting and translation differ in their methodology. Unlike translators, the material on which interpreters work are fleeting messages which must be reconstructed immediately. That exercise leaves little time for thought or seeking the appropriate style. Interpreters must react quickly and rely on the reflexes which they will have sharpened during their training and preparation. Interpreters thus work in real time and in direct contact with the speaker and the person for whom the message is intended. This makes an interpreter the epitome of the cultural bridge between different languages. Chinese-speaking people most of the times are not very direct in their speech, therefore it is utterly important for interpreters to rely on their cultural knowledge to understand the un-said meaning underlying their uttered phonemic segments.
Further research is warranted to focus on the importance of the strategies used to convey a message for interpreters and translators alike (a gift made up of a linguistic content wrapped up in cultural paper) which should represent the natural continuum of LLS used by advanced learners to hone their linguistic skills.
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