We wish to call attention to a lecture on this subject which Mr. Ertheiler proposes to deliver preparatory to the forming of classes. We have read it in manuscript and found in it a clear and judicious exposition of the objects and methods of this study.
Mr. Ertheiler gives good reasons, both as to mental culture and practical use, why the study is interesting and important to English and Americans, especially the latter. He alludes to some remarks by Professor Von Raumer as to the advantage of schools where the English and German languages shall be mutually taught, which may be read with advantage in this connection.
He points out the fallacy of the prevalent idea, that a foreign tongue can ever be learnt thoroughly by imitation and practice alone, without understanding of its theory and structure. In this, no less than other matters, he who knows not how to render a reason for the faith that is in him, will be incompetent to teach others, and often at a loss in his own practice when new cases come up. Indeed, without intercourse with natives, and even in the scenes and climate where a language has grown up, neither thorough acquaintance with its idioms and fine meanings, nor full command of it in speech and writing can be attained. But study of it theoretically and in good authors should precede, confirm, and intellectualize this familiar acquaintance.
Mr. Ertheiler points out different means which may be used according to the wants of different minds. We should infer from the lecture that he would be successful in practical teaching through patience, tact, and fixing the attention of the learner on leading points. This last is what most teachers fail in most, especially in the case of the German language, one with which it is easy to become acquainted if attention is directed to its roots, and the principles of its growth; very difficult, if taught by rote, and an accumulation of little rules, as it often is by teachers, either stupid and ignorant, or who, looking on this office merely as a stepping-stone to something better, a temporary means of earning a little money, pay no attention to thinking out a good method; and, by the unnecessary obstacles their carelessness leaves in the way, discourage and disgust the student and excite a prejudice against the study. This prejudice we greatly regret, knowing that many are thus deterred from learning what would most benefit them.
Especially here in New-York, there is no reason why every person, of any pretensions to a liberal education, should not be conversant with French, German and Italian, though the latter is at this moment of less importance. To the acquisition of the two former, motives of practical convenience and of expanding and refining the mind, prompt with equal force. Let the young ladies take from dress and Broadway some mornings for this purpose, the young clerks some evenings from frivolous amusements, and that darling aim of approaching the social standard of Europe would find itself far better served than now.
On those who here pause a moment to think Can I? Shall I? we would urge to listen to Mr. Ertheiler’s lecture, and see whether he does not offer powerful inducements, and make plain the way.
To others of more earnest spirit we would say, In no way can you better refine and liberalize taste and fancy than by the comparisons to which you will be led between the gifts of the English and the German Muse. And the language itself, by its great pictorial power and closer representation of what is intimate and homely in life, will refresh you after intimacy with a literature and language where there is a far larger mixture of what is merely conventional, mere phrases, the barren civilities and tactics of literature. Of course this is not true of the productions of great minds any where; such steep anew the dry husk of words in Spirit till every one germinates and blossoms into fresh life. But the stock literature of England and America is amazingly conventional; so much so that you can predict paragraphs and chapters, if you but know the writer and the subject. The writer sleeps, and the reader yawns through the mechanical article or volume.
The Phrase-Book of Mr. Ertheiler has secured a favorable reception, from which his success as a teacher may be inferred.
In mentioning Tschulick, “the inventor of a successful type-composing machine,” he says that the name has heretofore been incorrectly printed in The Tribune.*
“Study of the German Language.” New-York Daily Tribune, 11 December 1845, p. 1.