Category: Education

How many words do we use in daily speech? A new study from the Royal Spanish Academy on language acquisition

According to the members of the Royal Spanish Academy (the Real Academia Española), humanities have experienced a decrease in importance for younger generations, English is becoming predominant, language in general is poorer in the Media and in all public speeches, classical languages disappear, people play less attention to reading, and computer terms are invading everything.

All involved in the research agree that language cannot be confined to any artificial limits, that it is mutable, it evolves and changes. However, they warn: it can also get sick and degrade. The mean Spaniard uses generally no more than 1000 words, and only the most educated individuals reach 5000 common words. Some young people use only 240 words daily.

Linguists, paedagogues and psychologists say those who write correctly demonstrate they’ve had an adecuate education, they’ve read books and they’ve exercized their minds. Thanks to that mental exercise we can achieve more elevated stages of reasoning and culture. Those who cannot understand something as basic as his own natural language will not achieve a big progress in his intellectual life, they assure.

Now, regarding those numbers and the concept behind the output of that study: would you say learning mixed conlangs like Esperanto – whose supposed benefits are precisely the ease of use, by taking the most common and simplest European vocabulary – could improve that worsening situation? Or do you think it’s better for European culture‘s sake to learn the ancient language from which Old Latin, Gaulish, Old Norse or Old Slavonic derived? It is probably not the main reason to adopt Europe’s Indo-European as the official language of the European Union, but it is certainly another great reason to learn it without being compelled to…

Source: Terra; read in Menéame

Bronze Age village discovered in central-western Romania, in the region of Transylvania

The official Agerpres news agency reported on Wednesday that a village established in the Bronze Age has been recently discovered near Zalau town, northwestern Romania. The discovery was made following an archeological discharge relating to 2 square kilometers in Recea, close to Zalau.

“It is for the fist time in Transylvania, central-western region of Romania, when a village dating back to the Bronze Age iscompletely examined,” said Ioan Bejinariu, the archeologist of the History and Art Museum in Zalau. “Only by conducting digging works on large areas of land can one have an overview of a location,” said Bejinariu who is in charge of this site. “The village consists of eight houses built in the upper region of a hill on two almost parallel rows. Pits were found near the houses used for supplies’ storage,” he added.

As many as 124 archeological sites were found, including houses, graves, supplies’ pits or ovens, as well as two human skeletons dating back to several historical periods starting with 1500-1300 B.C. and up to the 3rd and 4th C A.D., Bejinariu informed. In addition to the location originating in the Bronze Age, a well-preserved pottery kiln was discovered on the Sulduba valley, dating back to the 3rd and 4th C A.D. According to Ioan Bejinariu, the oven confirms the region used to be populated by sedentary people in that period.

I think findings like this one (and the ‘German Stonehenge‘) make clear that there is a need for further research of the old central and northern European settlements, maybe through a unified European funding, instead of spending the regional budgets of European states to promote culture in the own regions only.

The problem with such a decentralized (culture) funding – regarding the European Union as a whole – is that we could end having rich regions spending lots of money to find a handful of meaningless stones in their territories, instead of dedicating those resources to study hundreds of buried villages in cost-efficient archaeological sites located in poorer European regions. Maybe the best way to wake up the necessary interest is to learn once and for all that the migrations that shaped Europe came from the East, just like the migrations that shaped modern Spain came from the North after (or accompanying) the Reconquista.

European Higher Education Area : The Bologna Process implementation

I have read lots of articles about the Bologna Process (Wikipedia) and its effects on the European Higher Education system and on the education of future generations.

Apart from the (still to see) economic and social benefits for students and for the European Education system as a whole, I have only a tiny comment to make about its actual implementation by the different universities I’ve studied in, due to the great time I’m having right now with the “European system-like homework” I am currently doing for one of my “European implemented” professors:

a. In the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, as far as I was able to test the implementation of the new system in Laws and Management Bachellor Degrees, back in 2003-2005, it seemed to me that, instead of substituting one method for another, professors took advantage of the changes that had to be made to develop their own innovative teaching concepts and call them “European method”. In this sense, some old-style professors kept on giving their traditional lectures – specially those who had coplex subjects, like Econometrics, Macroeconomics, Private International Law, Penal Law, etc. -, while other easier subjects – like Marketing, Management, Commercial Law, History of Law, etc. – were given a newer impulse, implementing ‘practices’, ‘seminars’, ‘homework-hour-units’, and that kind of stuff. All in all, the difficult subjects remained as difficult as before, while professors of easy subjects took advantage of the system to force students to work more, to go to their lessons more (however unnecessary they were), to go to their offices for ‘European’ or ‘ECTS tutorials’ – I hope that’s the correct English name -, etc. Only some Departments with ‘core’ subjects, like the Administrative Law, the Law of Process and the International Management Departments, had begun to implement it at that time; even so, their final exam was still as difficult as always. For example:
– In History of Law we had to go to the professor’s office for the necessary ‘European tutorials’, to inform her about our ‘tutorized homeworks’, and to explain her how we wanted to make our public presentations – we had to discuss publicly, in groups of 7, against each other, and twice in that semester, what we thought about this or that part of history, and make a debate, choosing one position each (for or against): my group and I discussed about the Castilian King’s power in the 14th century and about the French Revolution. I’ve never worked more on a subject, and I’ve never felt more disappointed with just an ‘excellent’ mark instead of a ‘Honours’ one; that was the first and last serious ‘European work’ for me; that proved how unfair and arbitrary the new system made the teaching – or how the professors used the new system to make their subjects unfair and arbitrary…
– In Law of Process we had to make a video representing a 1-hour process in a fictitious court, that took away lots of hours of preparation from each of us – in which I rejected a ‘good’ role (judge or lawyer) and acted as a witness and as an expert (a doctor!), and still only counted 1 point (of 10) in the final marks – indeed I get almost nothing for my ‘work’ on that drama
– In Administrative Law, there were ‘homeworks’ for each 2 weeks and partial exams every 4 weeks, very detailed and tough work that, if correctly done, could help you avoid the final exam and do ‘just a final proof’, ie. the same difficult exam but without being able to obtain a ‘fail’ mark; I abandoned the ‘European system’ in the 3rd week, after receiving a 5.5 (over 10) for a 10-15 hour work on some stupid Administrative dispute involving the Comunidad de Madrid and the Canal de Isabel II public entity.
– Economic subjects like Marketing, Introduction to Management, Accountancy Analysis, etc. had all something in common: they were easy, they had some ‘homework’, at least a public presentation, and a lot of personal work including a normal final exam; they were all arbitrarily organized, and the marks very subjectively interpreted by the professors.

b. In the Universidad de Extremadura, Medicine and Surgery Degree, 2006-2008, I have been (and will be) testing the changes made, and the changes to come – until, supposedly, 2010, when the European system should be fully implemented – , and it’s more of the same strategy I saw before: professors of difficult, ‘core’ subjects – Biochemistry, Physics, Physiology, Pathology, etc. – are not implementing any change at all: practices are the same (in content and number) as always, lectures are given the traditional way, and final exams are as complete and as difficult as 15 years ago – and I know it because I have the exams of my generation and still older ones. Other subjects like Anatomy and Histology, as well as some very easy ones – namely Psychology, Psychophysiology, Endocrinology & Nutrition or Radiology, to name some – are implementing this super-dooper new method (or ‘methods’?) called “European system”, which means something different to each professor – something that might be summed up in do what you always wanted to do teaching your subject and never dared to -, and every student has to do it to pass – or even be able to make – the final exam.

I could talk about my personal experience with the worst subjects I’ve had these 2 years, but I prefer not to do it until I have completed, at least, the first 3 years or pregrade; I don’t want to make my professors’ demands still more arbitrary…

Just to name the most irritating (general) consequence of this “adaptation process”, I have to say I have worked – in the last 6 years – more hours in ‘practices’ and ‘seminars’ (to call it something) of subjects like Marketing, History of Law, Psychology and Histology, than in the other ones I was interested in, like International Law, Law of Process, Physiology or Pathology.

If my case is (just) similar to all those generations that have studied Law and Medicine in Spain in the last 6 years – and what has to come… -, I really hope people are beginning to change their real legal and medical problems for stupid ones, or we’ll have some problems explaining them why we can make great public presentations prepared in PowerPoint, or “integrate concepts” drawing ‘tutoized Posters’ with Photoshop, but we can’t help them before a Court of Law, or can’t correctly diagnose their illnesses…

Ken Bain, Center for Teaching Excellence of the New York University: “What the best University Professors do”

I read some time ago in the news about what an expert called Ken Bain recommends in his book for University professors to be “the best” they can. Actually, I didn’t read more than some of those self-satisfied sentences that can be interpreted the way one wants to interpret them.

I know that in the US most University professors are probably very interested in excellence in education, always looking for the best way to teach and make their students know more, and be happy with how they learned it. In European countries, however, most Higher Education centres are public, and professors aren’t responsible for their acts before their students or their parents, or even the Dean or Director – they are responsible only before themselves, as they ‘own’ a public office and cannot be fired if they behave arbitrarily, if they are despotic ignorants, or even if they don’t remember (or want) to go to their lessons…

There is no accountability whatsoever in such public systems, and in that case, I think even the author of that great book about being “the best professor”, Mr. Bain, would agree with most of us students, in that European professors (still) don’t need a ‘guide of maximal efficiency and efectiveness’, but a ‘guide of minimal rules’; and that such rules shouldn’t be contained just in a book of informal/officious guides or recommendations, but should instead be declared officialy by the competent authorities and should be legally enforceable.

I am not considered an ‘expert’ in how a professor should be or teach or behave, as I’ve only been a University student for 8 years, 5 years in the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, one year in the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, a summer in the Middlebury College, and 2 years in the Universidad de Extremadura. But these are the basic rules that, in my non-expert opinion, a professor (however ‘good’ or ‘bad’ other professors might think he or she is or should be) should follow, in this order, always and without exception:

  1. Adjust the content of their subject to the study plan.
  2. Give the content of the subject (in notes, books, whole bibliography, etc.), complete and available for all at the beginning of the course/semester.
  3. Adjust the content of the final exam to the material given according to point 2.
  4. Never try to force people to go to your class: if your class is worth it, people will go. [only some practices in some core subjects in some scientific careers could be off this point, if legally established]
  5. Give as official mark the final exam mark. Give – only if the professor deems it right – other increase criteria – only increase, and with a fixed maximum, like 1-2 points over 10 – for those who want to make extra work.

What the majority of University professors in western European public education systems do, if they are allowed to:

  1. Adjust the content of the subject to what they consider they have to teach – ie. what they want – seeking protection when confronted in a seemingly absolute “academic freedom” or “freedom to teach”, which they impose over any other consideration.
  2. Not tell clearly what enters in the final exam until the last days, what forces everyone to be informed permanently of what he teaches or not in class everyday, to know what ‘goes’ or ‘doesn’t go’ in the exam, as if we were in the school. Dictate notes, force students to go to their offices and make ‘personal tutorials’, ‘tutory homeworks’, public presentations, etc. which don’t have a fixed value, that can range from absolutly nothing to more than 50% of the final mark.
  3. Put in the final exam something that he or she has explained in class, however stupid and irrelevant it actually is, instead of questions referring to what is important in the subject and appears in the official study plan.
  4. Force students to go to their lessons, the more the worse the subject and the professor are, threatening with sentences like “those who don’t go to practices cannot pass the subject”, or “I have the responsibility to be sure that you learn”, or “for my experience I am quite sure that those who don’t come to my classes know less and don’t usually pass my exam”, etc.
  5. Give “Honours” and “Excellents” to those who go to their classes, make ‘tutorial homeworks’ and practices, etc. instead of those who obtain the best marks in the final exam – and thus know objectively more of the official study plan’s content -, after applying supposed “percentages” of “personal work”, measured how each professor deem appropriate. Let ignorant people (who haven’t passed the minimum required in the final exam) pass because ‘they have worked the subject’ after their criteria, and don’t let people who have passed the exam pass the subject, because “they haven’t passed the work plan, however good their marks in a written exam might be”.

To sum up: all those new super-dooper methods like the one linked above are great, but for a private Education system or for a public one with adult and responsible professors subjected to Law. While our professors think they are owners and lords of their classrooms, that they are some kind of judges of who-cares-what responsibility at the head of the society, that they are there to classify people into “good” or “bad” ‘homeworkers’, in hard-working or lazy according to their personal opinion, etc., instead of accepting what they really are, mere providers of knowledge, paid by us students to give us their knowledge and to evaluate us objectively, all that is done and improved in the teaching aspect doesn’t have any value at all.

Or even worse: those methods might serve for our public professors to believe they are doing it right, or even better than right, as their attention will be on achieving some of those ‘maxima’, instead of passing everyday the necessary ‘minima’.