Tag Archive: Language learning


brainThe final section of case studies in Oliver Sacks’ ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’ is called ‘The World of the Simple’.

The first of the four essays examines the case of a young woman called Rebecca who, because of a number of physical and neurological handicaps, had spent her life being branded as a moron.

Sacks admits that he also initially regarded her as little more than a “broken creature” and something of a hopeless case. The neurological tests he carried out only served to confirm her retarded state. But when he saw her outside the clinic, he formed an entirely different impression.

He witnessed her instinctive and serene response to nature then later observed that when she danced or performed in theatre workshops she exhibited none of the awkwardness and clumsiness he had assumed was her permanent condition.

All this forced him to question how such subjects are judged; he wrote: “I thought, as I watched her on the bench – enjoying not just a simple but a sacred view of nature – our approach, our ‘evaluations’, are ridiculously inadequate”.

Reading this chapter made me reflect how the same inadequacies Sacks described can routinely be found in our educational institutions. For instance, standardized testing in schools is,at best, only a measure of one aspect of a young child’s intelligence. Continue reading

In 2005, the late lamented David Foster Wallace made a memorable speech to graduating students of Kenyon College which was posthumously published under the title This Is Water.
A few years back, inspired by this, I decided to make my own humble address at the end of an advanced English language course in Italy which I called my ‘Where do we go from here?’ lesson.
Today, I found my notes and decided to post it here (complete with DFW style asides in italics).
It comes over as much more pretentious and self-conscious I think but I delivered it with the best of intentions, hoping  to end the course on a thoughtful note rather than a lame ‘goodbye and good luck’ message.
Anyway, here it is warts and all (comments welcome):

Nowadays, it’s common to hear people talking about life-long learning.

[I ask who has heard of the phrase ‘lifelong learning’ – nobody has!]

One time, there was the mistaken idea that when you finished school or university, your official period of learning was finished – your next goal was to find work and earn a good salary. But learning is not a finite thing.  In a very real sense it never ends. Continue reading

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