Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gen Eds LC1: World Language and Culture Overview

1. A little over a year ago, I started a series called, Gen Eds in a Nutshell. To be honest, it has been a humbling series, to realize how much I don't know. It didn't take me too long to wander through philosophy, because I've written a philosophy textbook and taught philosophy for years.

I started a Friday math and science series. I'm over half-way through it. I've decided to take my time in the home stretch and read some books I've been wanting to read as I finish it. I'm trying to come to grips with having a 50 year old brain. It's not pretty.

Then last week I finished a world history series. It was far more challenging than I thought it was going to be.

So I'm a little surprised to find myself starting this post at 10 at night. I had read material from another book thinking I would be posting some summaries from it. But it lifted my spirits to make this post instead.

2. The next topic I had in mind for the series is "World Language and Culture." Part of a general education is usually some sort of intercultural experience. Although it is often not practical, an ideal liberal arts education would involve learning another language. The purpose of such learning in large part is to become more aware of yourself.

Americans in particular tend to be incredibly culturally ignorant. We assume we are smarter and better than everyone else in the world. We assume not only that other cultures do things the wrong way but that people who are different from us in our own country are stupid. At worst, we dub our cultural blindspots "Christian" and then assign a negative spiritual connotation to other cultures for not being like we are.

We go on a mission trip for a few days and think we have mastered another culture. Maybe we live on a base in another country and think we therefore know a culture we only encountered on our own terms and in our own language. While people in other cultures in the world often know several languages, we can hardly speak English correctly. Little do we know how those elsewhere often joke about much we think we know about them when we know almost nothing about them.

When I lived in England for three years, there were constant jokes about how shallow (and loud) Americans were. When my family was in Germany, an Ethiopian asked my wife at a laundromat, "Why is it that I know so much about your country, and you know almost nothing about mine?" Of course these jokes slowed down considerably after Bush invaded Iraq.

Basically, we would do well to be forced to live somewhere else for a year, be forced to learn their language and do things their way. It would end a lot of the foolishness going on in politics right now. I won't be able to capture the benefit of knowing world languages and cultures here. But I'll do what I can.

3. In the other series, I've tried to capture the subject in ten general headings. Here's my map for at least the next 10 weeks. With history, these ended up expanding to multiple posts on each. I have arranged them somewhat in order of my familiarity (meaning I'll have to study more the further down the list we go). Chinese is actually the language spoken by most people on the planet, so if I went in that order, it would be much closer to the top. Similarly, three languages in the Indian region are in the top ten languages spoken in the world.

Here is my outline for the next weeks:
  • Culture Classification
  • Mapping World Languages
  • English-Speaking Cultures
  • Spanish-Speaking Cultures
  • European Language Cultures
  • Russian and Slavic Language Cultures
  • Semitic Language Cultures
  • Indian Language Cultures
  • Asian Language Cultures
  • African Language Cultures

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