Life, as we often say, is just a game. And that could be seen as more than an expression. We win, we loose, sure. However, do we truly win or loose, winning out of pure luck or loosing without gaining anything and giving up right after? No, when we start a game we usually set ourselves or have set a target, finality to our endeavor. We may fail in the process of achieving the final goal but we do not obsess over the losses. Our mind is focusing itself on the final goal – what is at the end of the path – and what we have to do in order to accomplish our mission. We do not ignore the mistakes, however. We take notes of every misstep and we learn how not to repeat the same step again. When we do loose because our initial game plan was not successful, be it for any reason, we are angry or sad but we do not just give up. We analyze. We search in the game lore. We even search the walkthrough on the internet where we cannot find a solution on our own strength. We prepare ourselves a new game plan that is supposed to be successful. When the second plan fails a third one rises and so on. And the very moment where one win the point where they have got stuck for hours or even days is the sweetest feeling one could feel, just like a Phoenix.
-I hope things never change.
-Well, I hope they do change. The more things I get to experience with you, the better. Tortoise and Dino, HeyBuddyComics
We set ourselves a path. We identify the obstacles the game set in our path. We make a plan. We test it. If it is successful, we carry on. If it is not successful, we take notes on what went wrong and then we set another plan that we later put on a test. At one point this process becomes challenging and autonomous. That is the strategy that is to ensure the win against a game which metrics are not changing. The Super Mario Effect demonstrates how people will try twice as many times to solve a problem when the game is not changing itself or when the game does not take points off from the player for any try. Sometimes, it is about luck, sometimes you learn the moves of the enemy and how to counterattack them, sometimes you learn how to use resources to help yourself achieve your mission.
As you can see, all this long analogy about gaming repeats an important word, and that is LEARN. However, the game called life does not ensure us a second life to try again as far as we know; it does not provide us with a clear target or a walkthrough. We could say, life is never an easy or fair game, as it seems to be a type of game that is changing as we play it, many times the process of adaptation seeming to be against us, the provided resources never enough and we mostly live not to win but to spite the metrics of the game created exactly to make us live a short life and die.
There is one other word that is important for us to note here, and that is RESOURCES. Why is that important you, may ask. And what this essay have to do with teaching? One of the resources that the game of life has to provide is a helper, a teacher, a resource provider, a guide and a facilitator for the progress that is going to be the start of any student’s life. The 21st century is one of the most terrifying centuries of the contemporary society, but also challenging in the same amount. So many things are changing so fast that the school could not possibly prepare the students for any single one challenge that they are going to taggle with.
The previous generation, that of my parents, had a somehow clear image that if they finished one educational path, the society will provide them with a job they are prepared for and, only by their own forces they are to continue till the day they retire. For my generation, the educational path does not ensure that there is a job waiting for you to get all that knowledge in motion. You have to make use of many more chances the society gives you and make yourself a path with tears, sweat and a knife. You become somehow the master of your fate, as the society does not directly dictate the carrier path you are allowed to choose. However, in the same time, same liberty comes with the problem that, without a start provided by school on a job, many of the students will find themselves still dependent to their parents, not being able to find an opportunity in the carrier path they chose when choosing a high school or university.
Another problem that I have identified as a student in high school is that, except from the information acquired in the high school years, at the end I had no qualification that would ensure me a job later on. The schools have to make sure, before anything, that the students are able to start to work for the society, right after graduating, in their own country. Even the theoretical high schools should actually provide practical courses and give qualifications. As an example, for my specialty, Social Studies, at the graduation I should have had a diploma attesting that I could negotiate for conflict solving and for the problems of the refugees in the world, as they were two courses that could be developed in order to achieve such things.
With the given resources, truth be told, I do not think that the school, as badly prepared as it is, can ensure the preparation for what the next few ages have in mind for us. People usually tend to think that if one student is not that bright, they could still find themselves a job in something that does not require much thinking. However, I can ensure you that that is not the case for the next generation. With the development in robotics and the harsh world of capitalism, mostly in a country that always lost the start in anything, the companies tend to find cheaper solutions to anything. One of that is using robots to make the work of humans, using in fact a lot less people in a facility that they tended to use 20 years ago. Moreover, the ones that do work there are demanded to have experience with the devices used. In the 20th century we saw the development in robotics as an utopia that will make humanity not lift a finger and robots working for us but as Paradise also has snakes and forbidden fruits, the transition is a very long one and the unemployment is a temporary result that the students should be prepared to avoid.
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” (Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See) One needs to be open to the world around us. The capacity to surpass your limits and to be able to readapt are necessary. And these are skills that the nowadays teacher has to train in the students, in a smaller scale however, by making the students develop their problem solving skills and capacity to readapt to change. LIMITS is, anyway, another word that is important in our discussion, due to the fact that the 21st century is not only a century of robotics, AI and internet, but also a huge step in the Spatial Era, a moment in the theory of the evolution of civilizations that we are about to fully install ourselves. With all the jobs that the planet Earth is due to loose in some sectors, the Spatial Era is going to create far more, sometimes new career paths or reinvent the old ones, but on a larger scale. The limits that we have nowadays are going to be shattered just in the same way the Berlin Wall was and opened an age of fast growth.
Subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, technology, computer science, philosophy, diplomacy, technology are about to be key elements in the game of life for the next two generations. As we want to make sure that we are to be able to retire and that society will still work like a machine we have to feed this machine with the best material. The material, the graduates have to be prepared to rediscover themselves, to learn effectively and practically, to create and discover new theories, to be able to fall, loose a job and then find another or create their own company. They have to be able to learn from the past and redesign their future, in order not to transform the Spatial Era and the Age of AI and Communication in an interplanetary war just like the colonial wars in Africa but at a larger and more dangerous scale.
Elon Musk is currently trying to colonize the planet Mars and NASA is making plans on what will be necessary for the colonization of Mars and Europe ( a satellite of Jupiter, not the continent). Nevertheless, on a national scale, ARCA (Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association) has already tested the first spatial rocket Helen, with many more projects to come. In addition, the mass media does not make us a service to talk about such subjects. The teachers, again, are the ones to open children’s eyes for the wonderful yet chill worth century they are to live in.
Before going any further I think that many of you may ask themselves what does all this have to do with the subject we are teaching, the language teaching. Let us take in consideration two elements of the past that may serve as a starting point. The Babel Tower, the biblical tower that humanity decided to build in order to touch the sky and to challenge God in becoming just like Him, was not victim of a direct attack of God or angels, like in many cases in the Bible. Once the people involved lost the ability to communicate and understand each other, they could not cooperate and they abandoned the project on their own accord. Or, the fall of the Aztec Empire, as one story says, as known as the conquering of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish conquistadors, was said to have been triggered by the fact that the Spanish conquistadors gave the Emperor a Bible and tried to convert the people of the Central American Empire to Christianity. It is not the fact that they tried and failed but, by the Emperor not understanding the language or even letters the Bible was written in, he threw it away and the Spanish found it an offence for the name of God.
Both problems seem to have something in common, COMMUNICATION, or most likely the lack of communication or it being made poorly. That is something the language teachers are to make the fundaments. The possibility to communicate efficiently is important in any domain. By learning a second language, a third, a forth, we can ‘defy God’ at Babel, we can go beyond the imaginary borders of our language and we can access new regions of the world, new cultures, new options in the career path. However, just learning the vocabulary does not ensure that you know a language. There need to be someone to guide you, to give you the basics, the starting points and the underlanguage: the kulturems, the inside jokes, the history and old and new forms of the language that one speaker may not understand without prior experience. The language teachers are to challenge the students and to create in students the love to discover a new language.
Good communication and a good heart can be the ingredients of global peace. By eliminating the language barrier, we can make the peace rule between ourselves and we can point for the limitless skies up above, working together in common planet-scale projects. A good example is how the Ozone layer is currently healing and is expected to do a full recovery by 2060. And that could only be obtained by all countries coming together to stop the use of one substance that made a hole in the Ozone layer over Antarctica. Something that many may not know is that, behind all the diplomats and organizations involved there were also many translators and interpreters involved in making the communication possible.
Language teachers have the job of creating the basis for the students’ ability to not only start to understand the studied languages but, moreover, understand the very gestures and slang, that the speakers may unconsciously use or the students may find problematic in reading a book or watching a movie without subtitles. Only given a piece and the means and then let to experience in one’s own way, a student is able to understand such problematic tricks in communicating in another language. In fact, the new guidelines in language teaching, if we were to refer to them as to our own bible, propose us, teacher such an approach where we do not provide everything to students. We do not dictate and the students repeat. We give them something for them to work with, but they are to build on that and grow each in their own way. The students need to be given problems to solve but not a model how to. They need to communicate, preferably in the studied language, although the use of their mother tongue is not entirely prohibited.
A good example are students of third grade that managed, without understanding but a smart part of the vocabulary, at which degree I could not fully know because it is mostly subjective to each pupil, almost all of the pupils managed to complete a two choice set of questions having a text as a starting point. They even then deducted the fact that they already knew about the kulturem (the element of culture) La galette des rois from The Adventures of Ladybug and Chat Noir. And yes, a teacher in the 21st century has to have knowledge of cartoons and anime sometimes, as to understand the references the students make and to inspire them to watch serials in the studied language as much as they can.
The pupils must be able to solve problems, but they also have to be able to debate their choices and their ideas. It is necessary, in addition to these other two, to be able to use the technology the age they live in, in order to gain far more than the school, the work of one man for sometimes 30+ students of different capabilities and ambitions, could do. One has a proper way to learn and sometimes different ways to learn and apply what they learn depending on the task they have to solve, or the domain they are working. And the teacher has to see where they can intervene and assist, by using common interests to guide students in using the language even more.
A good example is the use of video games in teaching vocabulary and facilitating communication with other speakers, even natives if they are lucky enough, many times not realizing what they are doing. A good example is how I challenged a high school student to use a multi-player Minecraft server based on Germany. The language that the players mostly use on that server is mostly English so if he wanted to interact with anyone he needed to try and speak the language. The problem in his case was that, despite knowing some words and expressions, the lack of practice made him not achieve the level of language manipulation that he should have been able to at his age. Many times, these tries to challenge students in games and cartoons turn out to be as pouring water in a river. Despite that, by trying and trying a teacher could find oneself in the very sweet situation where there is a surprising progress. One should not loose one’s hope for the better.
One other task that the teacher indirectly has to solve is transmitting feelings, and opening the vision of the students. The students may find these subjects as new and even controversity may arrise with what they know or believe. Our society is still very traditional in thinking on some subjects. The bio-farming and engineering, remote-work, climate-friendly technology, LGBTQ+, species preservation, cloning, the existence of the Cell of God, white holes, the multiverse with new sets of laws of nature, the multi-dimensional perspectives that are possible to exist and we are not yet entirely able to even imagine yet are just a small part of the discussion starters that have to be developed in the classroom. A funny example is how a middle school student said that he thought that cannibalism is a made up story as one human could not possibly be able to eat human meat. And then in the same lesson he said that the Mandarin language could not be written with those signs because they were not letters.
We are still far from adapting ourselves to the next decades of this century, but, as we can see, the languages are to be key elements in what is to come. This makes the work of the language teacher even more important in the process of globalization. As the pandemic proved us how much traveling is happening in the world at this very moment, we can but imagine how much communication and translation is to be involved in this process. Then again, let us figure out how much improvisation it is to be used, how much explaining of terms that could not be translated, how many language exchanges, how many problems the communication cannot solve but the gymnastic language can complete. Either the teachers and the students have to develop one another and to adapt each other for the very ages all SF lovers were expecting for so long.