Monday, January 24, 2011

Italian Amazon

The new Italian Amazon website

Anyone buying Italian books from abroad, rejoice and spread the word.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lawrence Solomon: The failure of Chinese mothering

You may also want to check out

Barbara Kay: Implications of the ‘Chinese mother’ school of oppression

Both articles refer to another article Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

In retrospect, this is the most interesting article but it's all good educational...stuff. Pardon my lack of vocabulary.

Lawrence Solomon: The failure of Chinese mothering

January 14, 2011

Western parents retain the edge in producing creators

‘Why Chinese mothers Are superior,” the disconcerting-to-many essay by Yale University’s Amy Chua in The Wall Street Journal last Saturday, feeds fears of China’s rise and the West’s decline. Political correctness in the West, combined with dread that demanding too much of our children will lower their self-esteem, is creating a society of losers, Chua argues. In contrast, the “Chinese Mother” tactics that she employs on her own daughters — a no-holds-barred insistence on excellence exacted through endless hours of practice and enforced by brutally shaming children whenever necessary — creates “stereotypically successful kids [who become] math whizes and music prodigies.”

The statistics seem to bear her out — Asians disproportionately make it to elite schools in the West — they represent 5% of the U.S. population but 20% of the student body at Ivy League schools, for example. No one can but marvel at the uniformly successful students turned out by the “tenacious practice, practice, practice” and “rote repetition” that she considers “crucial for excellence.”

But such statistics don’t tell the whole story. In truth, Chinese Mothers fare poorly in achieving excellence compared with western mothers, even western mothers burdened by political correctness.

China’s excellence was once unrivalled — no people on Earth have displayed more genius than the Chinese, who gave humanity a profuse array of inventions and scholarly accomplishments, starting well before the time of the ancient Greeks and continuing past 1000 AD. The Chinese also developed, in the centuries before 1000 AD, a remarkable education system that was based not on lineage but on merit — the humblest family in the most remote village could see its son join the Emperor’s top advisors if he could prove himself in the Imperial Examination, a gruelling nationwide competition. This system of education, which survives today in modified form, helped create the Chinese Mother culture that Chua now espouses.

The brilliant scholar-bureaucrats that resulted from this centralized education system enabled numerous Chinese dynasties to quash their neighbours and administer their expanding lands. But the brilliant inventions that had been the hallmark of China petered out in the centuries after 1000 AD and then all but disappeared. In the absence of competition from neighbouring cultures, and under an education system that stressed a uniform standard, China became an uncurious country that viewed itself as the perfect Centre of the Universe and outsiders as barbarians from whom they had nothing to learn. Foreign travel became prohibited at penalty of decapitation. The Emperor even destroyed the fleet of the great Chinese admiral and explorer Zheng He, who navigated to Africa and may have preceded Columbus in reaching America.

In the last century, China has won only one Nobel Prize, tying it with nations such as Burma, Ghana, Mauritania and Nigeria. Even China’s one Nobel, a peace prize awarded last year, went to a dissident, imprisoned for his desire for democracy for China. Ethnic Chinese outside mainland China who are exposed to more independent thought do win Nobels — 10 in all over the last century — but even here the numbers do not stand out. Americans, in contrast, have claim to more than 300 Nobel prizes, by far the greatest number by country, and Jews lay claim to at least 180, by far the largest proportion by any ethnic group — the fraction of 1% of the world’s population that is Jewish has received almost one-quarter of the Nobels.

Patents are another measure of innovation. While China has been applying for patents at an increasing rate, it nevertheless logs relatively few in the foreign countries into which it sells its technology. Only two Chinese firms appear in the World Intellectual Property Indicators list of the top 50 companies applying for patents in 2009, and no Chinese academic institutions appear in the top 50. Perhaps the most telling example of China’s failure to innovate in important ways is in the military sector, where China is sparing no effort in its drive to become a world power. This week, China displayed its most advanced accomplishment, a stealth bomber that is a copy of the U.S. design. Despite the overarching importance of military might to the Chinese leadership, and high investments in R&D over decades, China has yet to produce a single piece of military hardware that represents a leapfrog in technology. In contrast, Russia, its former Communist counterpart, has had many military firsts, as has tiny Israel.

Practice and rote learning have their limits. While imposing single-minded discipline on children will dramatically raise test scores and technical proficiency, and for most children may represent the best strategy for accomplishment and satisfaction, it can come at the cost of curbing the creativity necessary for true excellence. Chinese Mothers make great moms, as evidenced by the unusual cohesiveness of the Chinese family: Chinese kids clearly understand whatever berating they absorb as the tough love intended. Chua is justified in saying western parents are doing their underperforming kids no favours in failing to confront them.

But Western parents retain the edge in producing the next generation of creators — those whose breakthroughs will cure cancer or supplant the Internet. Here, too, Chua may be pointing to the right balance in her personal life, by choosing as her husband and father of her children someone who is anything but single-minded. Jed Rubenfeld, an American Jew determined to avoid a career in academia, waffled as a student, starting with philosophy and psychology at Princeton, switching to acting at Julliard, then moving to law at Harvard before accepting an academic position at Yale, where he is now professor and assistant dean of law. Several years ago, Rubenfeld tried fiction for the first time, writing The Interpretation of Murder, a book that sold more than a million copies.

None of this was planned, as he told Entertainment News: “everything that has happened in my life has happened by accident, contrary to my best intentions.”

What must his mother have thought?

Read more:

Foreigners learn Hindi to connect with India, cut business deals Read more: Foreigners learn Hindi to connect with India, cut business deals

Foreigners learn Hindi to connect with India, cut business deals

NEW DELHI: Hindi, one of the official languages of India may soon give popular languages of the world such as Mandarin and Spanish a run for their money.

The emergence of India as a hub for global companies seems to be attracting more and more foreigners into learning the language.

"Foreigners who wish to relocate to India or want to set up their business here feel the need to learn Hindi for more upfront results. Though English is still the business language in India, knowledge of Hindi helps to understand the cultural nuances," says Chandra Bhushan Pandey, who runs a coaching institute that teaches foreigners Hindi.

Pandey, who teaches Hindi to around 40 foreigners in a month points out, "The demand to speak Hindi has grown by 50 per cent in last eight years. The ability to speak and understand Hindi increases the opportunity of enjoying Indian culture and history."

Multinational companies have been opening their offices in India and they encourage their officials to learn Hindi for better business results and connection with their Indian clients.

"Foreign professionals who can bond with their Indian counterparts are very successful here. I teach them words like 'namaskar', 'shukriya' and 'dhanyawaad' to use in their presentations for good results," says Neeraj Mehra, a Hindi language expert based in Gurgaon.

Mehra also imparts cultural training to them which enables them to strike an instant chord with the Indian clients.

"A foreigner who greets you with 'namaste' with folded hands is more appealing than somebody who just greets you with a 'hello' and shakes hand with you," he says.

A number of foreign research scholars and people working with NGOs and UN agencies in India also learn Hindi as their field work requires them to interact with locals.

"I thought English would take me through but I realised during my fieldwork that its a must to know Hindi," says Juliet from Switerzland who works with an NGO in Delhi.

Cecelia, a French student studying in India says she is learning Hindi as she wants to show locals that she is interested in integrating in their country and culture.

The huge popularity of Hindi films abroad is also promoting the Hindi language.

Abuzar, a student from Tajikistan says, "Hindi films are very popular in our country. Thousands watch them everyday and that prompted me to learn this language."

Tourism industry is fast growing in India, with 5.58 million foreigners visiting the country in 2010 and many of them are trying to learn Hindi to make their local experience interesting.

The Indian government is also promoting Hindi and Indian culture abroad.

The Times of India

Francophone students choosing English-language schools, oh my

Barbara Kay: Francophone students choosing English-language schools, oh my

"According to a study commissioned by the Centrale des syndicates du Québec (CSQ), Quebec’s largest and reliably nationalist union body, since 1997 more than half of the students enrolled in anglo cegeps (Quebec’s post-secondary, two-year college programs preceding university) come from the francophone and ethnic communities.

The study found that these students chose the anglo institutions expressly because they served as immersion centres for gaining proficiency in English. And why did they wish to learn English? Because — prepare for a shock — they felt they would get better jobs if they spoke both French and English, you see. And if that weren’t insult enough to sovereigntists, the study also found that many students of ethnic background were actually more comfortable speaking English than French.


These findings make perfect sense to any rational and objective person cognizant of the overwhelming career advantage knowledge of English confers everywhere in the world, but they are salt in open wounds to ethnic nationalists."

Ethnic nationalists in Quebec know that independence from Canada is unlikely to be achieved in the near or even distant future, but if the idea is to gain any traction at all as an issue, there is only one way to whip up public attention. That is to sow fears about the erosion of the French language.

The only problem with this strategy is that the French language is alive and well and thriving in Quebec. Bill 101, forcing immigrants’ children into the French educational stream, ensured that virtually Quebec’s entire present generation of young adults is at least proficient, and most of them fluent in French. Apart from downtown Montreal and a few Anglophone-dense neighbourhoods, Quebec is a totally francophone province.

But ethnic nationalists are not satisfied with mere fluency in French. Linguistically, hard core sovereigntists always play a zero-sum game. They perceive every word of English learned as an insult to the French language and their vision of Quebec sovereignty. In their dream palaces, Quebec would be a linguistically cleansed island paradise — or prison, depending on your perspective — in which the right to speak English would be confined to perhaps a few science laboratories and the lobbies of tourist-dense hotels.

In the current situation, once Quebec youth have graduated from high school, they are no longer bound by any language laws and may choose the seat of higher learning of their choice. To language militants, even though such a choice in no way displaces already-acquired French, the trend is a mortal insult. They would love it if the French Language Charter extended Bill 101 to include cegeps, and force students already in the francophone stream to continue their adult studies in French. This would have the salutary (to them) corollary effect of shrivelling the anglo cegep system.

The Parti Québécois has floated the idea of compulsory cegep French streaming several times, but the notion has never grown legs. Even moderate sovereigntists are not so stupid as to believe that their economic and cultural prospects are well-served by unilingualism in a global economy in which English is the universally-acknowledged lingua franca.

The 2006 census showed that Montrealers who use English more than French at work make more money than those who use French more often. Well, of course they make more money, because the areas in which English is an absolute necessity — business, law, retail sales, entertainment, real estate, you name it — are those that pay more than many civil service and unskilled labour jobs, where French unilingualism is no deterrent to job acquisition and security. The study notes: “Our figures show that young people are sensitive to this reality in the workplace.”

Mind you, there are certain people in Quebec who are unilingual, make lots of money and enjoy lifetime benefits: academics, union leaders and provincial politicians (in most ridings). Strangely enough, these are the same people who would deny all other francophones in Quebec the one sure and easy way to augment their odds for career enhancement and economic security. Ideologues have a long history of eating their young, and Quebec sovereigntists are Canada’s prime examples of the syndrome.

National Post

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Waste your life, learn to speak a foreign language

Waste your life, learn to speak a foreign language
By Anthony Browne

We all know le problème: we are a nation of monoglots, linguistically challenged and so culturally inferior and economically constrained. Only one in four of us can claim to speak in foreign tongues, whereas our chic European chums babble away in a veritable Babel. European governments have lobbied, and the British Government has responded: from 2010 every primary school shall teach foreign. It’s a further good intention paving the road to ruin of our education system. We should shrug off our linguistic hang-ups, and instead of reinforcing language teaching, abolish it tout de suite.
Ordering everyone to learn another language is as pointless as ordering everyone to dig holes and fill them up. The reward for our ancestors persuading the rest of the world to speak English is that there is no need for us to learn what the rest of the world speaks.

All the time we spend learning another language, we should spend instead learning something useful — like economics, business studies, politics, law or computer science. If everyone in the country were forced to study economics as remorselessly as they are forced to learn French, then Britain would be in a far better state (true reform of the NHS would have happened decades ago).

Learning another language may make you feel clever, but it is no longer necessary for speaking with the foreigners you’re most likely to want to speak to: the educated and those working in tourism. Ever regretted you didn’t spend years learning German because of problems communicating with German labourers? I thought not.

I spent three hours a week for six years learning French, but it has proved a total waste of time. I have only needed it on a handful of occasions, and even then it was tourist French learnable in a couple of weeks. I have family friends in France, and have had many enjoyable conversations with our Gallic neighbours, but always in English. I have extended family in Norway and Denmark, but hardly speak either language because I never get the chance: all my Scandinavian relatives speak perfect English.

In contrast to all our continental cousins, Britain is part of the Anglosphere, by far the most powerful linguistic bloc in the world: the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand — as well as countries such as South Africa and India where English is the language of business and politics. Three of the G7 countries are anglophone.

Even outside the Anglosphere you can thrive with impunity as an English monoglot: you can work with no problems in the European Commission, the European Central Bank and countless multinational companies around the world. There is no obvious alternative language — French is only useful in a couple of developed countries and North Africa, and Spanish helps you on holiday in Cuba.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the smug satisfaction of mastering another tongue, but it is damaging to force it on the entire population. European children spend 15 per cent of their time learning foreign languages by the age of ten — imagine the advantages we would have if our kids did something more interesting in that time than learning how to ask for un café.

The Government is swimming against the tide of history: as more people learn English, the more pointless it is for Britons to learn another language. There are fewer and fewer people in the world worth speaking to who don’t speak English. Already the number of people studying languages at A level in Britain is plummeting.

The Government’s recent announcement that it is no longer compulsory to learn a foreign language up to GCSE is a welcome dose of reality. But it should go the whole hog, and stop forcing everyone to learn useless knowledge that they will never need, and hardly ever use.

From The Times
December 23, 2002

An interesting point of view. And if you think it's dated, here's another from 2010

Why waste time on a foreign language?