Linux and ESL

I read Ken Starks’ Blog of HeliOS because he works more tirelessly to promote the use of Linux than almost anyone I have ever even heard of.  Today I was surprised to see that he was talking about teaching English.  This is not Ken’s usual topic by any means.  I was intrigued, to say the least.

He starts out:

I’ve been told that English is one of the toughest languages in the world to learn.

I disagree.

I believe it to be the toughest language in the world to teach.

He then goes on with a hysterical – if all too predictable to us professional language teachers – description of trying to teach his first wife English.  He, of course teaches her about silent e and long vowels:

“OK honey…this is simple.  We are working with 4 letter words, every word has a vowel as the second letter and a silent “e” at the end.  When you see words like this, you will know that the vowel carries a “long” sound.  Like the letter “a” will sound like you are saying the letter “a”…not “ah”.  Here are some examples.”





If you are a language teacher, you already know what is coming next, but for those of you who aren’t, let me continue.

The next day his wife wanted to know about the word gone.  Why didn’t it follow the rule he had taught her the day before?  But we all knew that, right?  (I think the most important thing I have learned in my many years of teaching is not to talk about pronunciation rules! In English, that is an oxymoron!)

I laughed, of course.  And I kept reading.  Because I knew that eventually he would bring the subject around to Linux.  And, of course, he did!

Those were just a couple of incidents that helped make the decision to send her to a professional English as a Second Language course.  Teaching someone your language is not a task for the weak-willed or uncommitted.

But in remembering this, it brings to mind what new Linux users may be going through…and more to the point, what we probably need to remember in teaching them.

Sure, we speak the language…it’s second nature for us. We think nothing of a file system with identifiers such as .etc and .var.  Sudo apt-get and sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list rolls off our fingertips as if we were navigating  the simplest of tasks.  Some find the /.init/.d folder and subsequent commands second nature.

But to the New User, it’s as if we are digital geniuses, blazing a trail through black screens and cryptic symbols running in endless strings.  We are speaking a language they cannot understand.  Hitting the tab key to complete a command string is voodoo to them…most of them anyway.

Linux users, like English speakers, speak in code all the time.  We need to make an effort to explain things to people who don’t know that code.  Don’t think they are stupid because they don’t know it but recognize that we ourselves had to learn it once.

But now I would like to turn this back around.  If you have learned English, you can probably learn to use Linux!  Why not give it a try?

Anyway, check out Ken’s post.


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