This recent op-ed reminded me of a war story of my father's. He managed to avoid getting shot at during WWII by simply scoring in the high cohort. Even in the frenzy to defeat the Axis Powers, the US military made the effort to find the Best and The Brightest. While I don't know whether it's still true, then the high cohort was the pick of the litter for the Signal Corps, not that such necessarily meant not getting shot at. Signal Corps ran combat radios and communication lines on the battlefield.

Pop spent his time building radio beacons, initially in the Caribbean, then North Africa for the balance of the War. Among the tokens he returned with was a French flat wallet, gold inlay. I guess that's why I use such. He was stationed in Algiers for most of the War. By stationed, he meant a commandeered mansion. I forget how many were quartered there, but they had a house boy to take care of them. The boy was less than a teenager, but what Pop found remarkable was that he spoke six or so languages.

Until recently, whenever I considered the situation, I recalled my struggles with various human languages learning in high school and college. How could a six or seven year do with simplicity, many times over, what I fought with?

Then the lightbulb finally went off. Juveniles aren't learning a language. They're learning sounds that have concrete meaning in the real world. Language, per se, has nothing to do with it. When talking with the Americans, it's "bread". When talking to the French, it's "pain". The notion of a language isn't part of the exercise. It's all one language, mashed together. By the time those living a monolingual existence get facile with it, they're, pretty much, locked in.

The interpersonal essence of language learning extends to learning as a whole. We know that small-group, in-person instruction is more effective than traditional lectures. We ask questions, are asked in return, and we learn more, learn faster and retain more when we care about the people we are interacting with. It's no accident that despite the initial enthusiasm generated by MOOCs, or massive online open courses, they have in fact been a major disappointment, with completion rates as low as 5 percent. By comparison, online courses with smaller groups of students and direct feedback from the professor show completion rates as high as 85 percent.

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