Free Foreign Authors & Artists and Language Learning

Note: This is an archived site. All articles and sections were written for specific audiences, for particular purposes. Without the proper context, a given piece can be puzzling or even off-putting. Ditto for the various sections. Please only read what is directly recommended to you. This is a first draft, unedited, written as a companion piece for the previous posting.

Free Foreign Authors & Artists and Language Learning
Dedicated to compagnia
by Richard Martin Oxman

“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
– from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act I, Scene v)

Part I

Usually, famous or influential people charge a fee and more to visit prestigious educational institutions. To spotlight beauty. To motivate youngsters to move in a healthy direction. [Pause.] Puzzling, isn’t it?

I believe that I could secure visiting (celebrity) lecturers for the students and faculty of the University of Bologna gratis. Of course, the staff and other workers, and citizens from the community would benefit too. The point is that I believe the library I am proposing would serve as a magnet for such personalities, encouraging them to donate their heartbeats to educational growth at Europe’s first university.

Part II

I was daydreaming about this when I glanced at a few hardcover books lying around my home, volumes which haven’t yet been packed for storage, and eventual shipment to Italy. Permit me to tell you what each of them stirred up in my mind.

Mark Lester’s McGraw-Hill’s ESL Grammar: A Handbook for Intermediate and Advanced ESL Students first caught my attention. What a fine book for its stated purposes. I leafed through it, however, and it reminded me of how the “best” way to learn a foreign language is not with books. Of course, one must rely on books if one is studying for a particular test, on a tight timetable. And, of course, certain personalities actually thrive on the formats provided by language books. Still, it is less than ideal… using books as a primary or exclusive means for learning. On that note, my proposed 24×7 availability to the University of Bologna should be an asset for students.

Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses (1990) is a wonderful work. It reminds me of the language learning potential inherent in walking through Nature with students. That is unheard of in ESL/EFL circles, where study is restricted to geometric four walls and bad indoor lighting.

Richard Somerset-Ward’s Angels & Monsters: Male and Female Sopranos in The Story of Opera brought up how effective all kinds of music can be in language learning. Lyrics, for instance, are used as a point of departure for this and that in the classroom on a peripheral basis. They could function as a central device.

James Hall’s Michelangelo and The Reinvention of the Human Body is a glorious work. I submit that art and anatomy are given only token use when it comes to language learning. Walks past buildings or through museums can serve language learning purposes as well as walks through Nature. And human pain, often the result of anatomical dysfunction, is virtually totally neglected. References to body parts, of course, are included in typical preparation for communicating in emergency situations. But the joy of and daily pleasureful experiences with the body are rarely addressed. Why?

A friend of Michael Heatley’s brought my attention to his Jimi Hendrix Gear: The Guitars, Amps & Effects that Revolutionized Rock ‘n’ Roll in 2009, when it was published. It’s an astonishingly beautiful treatment of Jimi’s gear and career. [Hey, that rhymes, did you notice?] Students’ appreciation of beauty, in general, is deposited at the door, when entering a language class. It’s supposed to be for another world, another time. That’s done out of habit, not because it’s practical to do so. And we should remember what Beckett said about habit: “Habit, the great deadener.”

Back in the 60s, The People’s Almanac (by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace) was an enormously big hit. Everyone in the counter-culture scene had it, or came across it at one time or another. It was great… what they call bathroom reading. Y’know something you could pick up, turn to any page and enjoy for a few minutes. Some of the tidbits within that publication are perfect for stimulating discussion in conversational English classes. The kinds of topics covered in the work could contribute to students losing their sense of being in a classroom. And that is always invaluable.

Hamid Dabashi’s Close Up Iranian Cinema: Past, Present and Future reminded me of how xenophobic citizens of all countries can be when push comes to shove. And with immigration into Italy being such a very hot topic at present once again, I thought that tapping into that vein of thinking might benefit language learners, getting them involved on a visceral level in or out of the classroom. Particularly if it were done via use of truly foreign DVDs.

Thanks for your kind consideration of the above,