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How to study physics

I went to Cambridge yesterday to give a talk, and, arriving early, went to check out the closest church. St. Benet's pews was full of a class, teacher in front, so I mostly looked around the back and aisles while listening in.

The class was one of students who had come to the UK from around the world to improve their English. The teacher was asking them why on earth they would want to learn English. The theory of his lesson was in the right place, pointing out the importance of all sorts of other languages on the planet. The person from Spain clearly already knew Spanish, a widely-spoken international language. Perhaps the person from Korea, wanting to go into business, would be better-off learning Chinese.

A young man said he wanted to study physics in the UK, which is why he was here to improve his English. The teacher responded, "Physics? Wouldn't you be better off studying Greek and Latin?"

Relatedly, did you know that English is such a common language worldwide because of boats? Britain is a small island, and so had lots of boats for trading, and English spread wherever those boats went.*

* Sort of like the plague then. I wonder what the transmission mechanism was? Also, please note that by implication, colonialism had nothing to do with the process.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC)
Man, that teacher doesn't know about physics, at least at advanced levels.

It would have been awesome if one of the students had brought up piloting or air-traffic control. I wonder what the teacher's response would have been?
Feb. 22nd, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC)
Was the teacher speaking English? If so, it rather undermines his argument.

If I had to recommend a language other than English for a physicist, I'd probably suggest German or French.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
...because clearly the boats spoke English? :)
Feb. 22nd, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
it's a miracle (by that argument) that we don't all speak rattish :)
Feb. 23rd, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
It's a bit difficult to separate colonialism from the spread of language through boats because it all comes down to trade.
Feb. 23rd, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
The boat folks were doing business and if the landlubbers wanted to take part, they needed to learn the lingo. Also, the boat folks were bringing new ideas from remote areas, valuable ideas. Ones not easily expressed in their own language. The boat traders were very acquisitive about such things. In contrast, the overland traders had to follow the same routes the locals used and hence the ideas and languages tended to blend, merge and fade along the way. Water was a great barrier until the Europeans started crossing the oceans.

That's just my take on it.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )