A philosophical reflection on Spanish as a Foreign Language

16 January, 2015

Ludwig Wittgenstein once said in his worked entitled Tractatus that the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.  What can we say about teaching Spanish as a Foreign language from this statement?

In Tractatus Wittgenstein´s different novels he tries to define what are the limits of the world.  In the first place he assumes that it is possible to talk about the world´s limits, since we only know about one world, and this world that we know about is our world, we can therefore only say that “the world is my world”. Secondly, when it comes to defining what Wittgenstein understands as “the world”, the Austrian philosopher states that the world is the totality of the facts and that the facts are the state of affairs.

 In this way Wittgenstein sets out an isomorphism between the world and language: “the world is my language”. Therefore, language is the representation of the state of affairs which shape the world and for each one of us the world is therefore how we personally perceive it: “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”.  In line with this in Wittgenstein opinion a proposition is a small fragment of language which represents a fragment of the world, in such a way that when we teach a new language to a foreigner, we are teaching him/her a way of perceiving things and trying them out. 

In fact for a particular learner objects do not change, but the state of affairs, that is, the way objects are organised in the world, their value and usefulness and the way they relate to each other, yes this changes.  From this perspective it is therefore understandable that learning a language involves learning about world. Due to this fact, exclusively referring to grammar teaching in a Spanish as a Foreign Language teachers course would not be adequate in allowing you pursue the achievements and aims which exist in the profession of teaching. Of course teaching grammar is of great value but on its own it is incomplete;  the meaning of what you say, the metaphor, the double meaning of a joke, the stress in an exclamation, gestures, the uses and customs, are   linguistic phenomena which  each defy the rules of language.

Wittgenstein concluded, years after having written his novel Tractatus, that language is confined by its speaker’s subjectivity and that the only possible objectivity is intersubjectivity. Consequently, it can be said that when you are studying the rules of a language you must also study how it is used, which is directly related to studying and testing it out in meaningful contexts.

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