Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mastering ideas about learning

As some of my articles are being translated (now into Japanese, French and Italian) I see how much of my writing and thinking is about language itself, and so some of these ideas won't translate. But sometimes, that fact is very good. Some of our confusion about teaching and students and study and learning, in English, has to do with the words we use, and if the problems don't exist in other languages, that's wonderful for them.

In Romance language (Italian, French, Spanish and so on) our "teacher" translates to something along the lines of "maestro," a word we have too in regards to music direction. And we have the English cognate "master" which is more currently left in "master of arts" and other college-degree titles. Once that meant a person was qualified to teach at the university level. That meaning is gone in the U.S., pretty much.

Considering the word family from which "maestro" comes (and not knowing all its connotations in other languages), the English verb "to master" means to learn. It means to become accomplished in the doing of something. Whether mastering horseback riding or blacksmithing or knowing and controlling one's own emotions, it's not someone else does to you or for you.

So for any translators or bilinguals reading here, have sympathy for English speakers who can't get to natural learning without disentangling all the graspy words and ideas about teaching and education and their implications that learning is passive and teaching must be done to a person.

photo by Sandra Dodd


  1. I am living in Italy and I can not thank you enough for the breath of fresh air your blog is to me every day! Thanks so much for helping me to unschool myself in time to help my kids! I really appreciate you!

  2. I don't understand exactly all of this post but I think translation will never be exactly the same form a language to another. For me, the most important is to understand the point of view, the reality upon the words. We all are human, we can understand each other even if we don't use the same language, no ?

    Thank you Sandra for your light, now I stir ! ;-)


  3. So, so true! Language is the lense through which we translate each others actions. We use it to try and represent our inner processes and to push past our present moment awareness. It is such a gift and such a burden!

    That said, I do love words and am blessed to get to play around with them. Or maybe not. Sometimes when I manage to drop them the world becomes so much "something else" and that speechlessness seems utterly more compelling.

    Thanks for this post Sandra, it's always a pleasure to learn a little more etymology.


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