Reflections on learning a language

What did you say? And what did you mean by it?

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duszek
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Reflections on learning a language

Post by duszek » Mon Jul 04, 2016 4:38 pm

When we learn a new language we use full sentences of parts of sentences in specific communicative contexts.

Later we need to say the right thing in particular circumstances and hope that the right words and expressions will occur to us. We generate new sentences from our general knowledge of a language, it is like getting a rabbit out of a hat.

What are the best ways to make this hat fruitful ?

duszek
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by duszek » Mon Jul 04, 2016 7:30 pm

People who are impatient and prone to perfectionism try hard to learn something and then try to see if their skill has progressed and are disappointed because it is impossible to see the immediate results clearly and get a feeling of despair.

When we study grammar the hat is being made more fruitful and more feisty but the result can be supposed to occur at some future time.
An empirical proof is not possible. We cannot go back in time and perform with and without having studied certain chapters in a grammar book, and compare the respective performances.

duszek
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by duszek » Mon Jul 04, 2016 7:33 pm

It does not have to be a chapter in a grammar book, it can be two hours of reading in "Du côté de chez Swann".

Then when trying to say something in French words and expressions occur to us somehow.
Because our brain (or hat with a rabbit in it) has be trained and prepared for the occasion, although not in a specific way.

duszek
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by duszek » Wed Jul 06, 2016 2:14 pm

What is necessary to generate an understandable statement or a proposition or a locution in a language one is trying to learn ?

Reading one big grammar book can help but one needs to apply the rules and install the rules in the "auto-pilot".

Another helpful approach:
One reads a book in a language one wants to learn and changes sentences on the way in as many ways as possible, looking at the structure and wondering at the results achieved.
And also imagining the circumstances under which it would make sense to utter these utterances.

Dalek Prime
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Dalek Prime » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:45 am

duszek wrote:When we learn a new language we use full sentences of parts of sentences in specific communicative contexts.

Later we need to say the right thing in particular circumstances and hope that the right words and expressions will occur to us. We generate new sentences from our general knowledge of a language, it is like getting a rabbit out of a hat.

What are the best ways to make this hat fruitful ?
Thinking about what you're saying, or trying to say? That's just a guess....

Skip
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Skip » Sun Jul 10, 2016 9:16 pm

Encounters with other people.
Language is social. You can study all the books and tapes, make all the vocabulary lists and attend all the classes, and you will learn much, but it will be sterile until you attempt to exchange information with another person. Start by ordering dinner without pointing at the menu, or asking directions without a map, or buying a jar of honey not on display. Finish by apologizing to your fiancee or selling the Brooklyn Bridge.

Language isn't about grammar; it's about communication.
I knew a young doctor one time who believed that she would always be at a disadvantage, because she would have to translate her Polish thoughts into English sentences. Four months into her residency, I was sitting next to her in the gross room when the staff pathologist came by and asked her a question about the afternoon's assignments. She answered; he went away. I said "Repeat that in Polish." She couldn't - not without translating. At some point, she'd begun thinking about work-related matters in English, without even noticing. You just do: you pick up the ambient language and your brain changes gears. Marvelous things, brains!

Impenitent
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Impenitent » Sun Jul 10, 2016 11:38 pm

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-Imp

Skip
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Skip » Mon Jul 11, 2016 12:02 am

AnDtWoInYoUrHaT

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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Hobbes' Choice » Mon Jul 11, 2016 12:31 am

duszek wrote:When we learn a new language we use full sentences of parts of sentences in specific communicative contexts.

Later we need to say the right thing in particular circumstances and hope that the right words and expressions will occur to us. We generate new sentences from our general knowledge of a language, it is like getting a rabbit out of a hat.

What are the best ways to make this hat fruitful ?
It's all about the rabbit, not the hat.

The hat is the langue, the rabbit is the parole.

duszek
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by duszek » Mon Jul 11, 2016 3:52 pm

Yes, one needs to be able to think in a language directly.

What does directly mean ? That you understand the meaning of a word or of a whole utterance without the help of another language.
After a while it is necessarily so.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::

We can imagine a language as a huge set of words and expressions.
A native speaker does not use all of it, he uses the words and expressions he likes and has got used to using. Other elements of the huge set he understands only (or not).

So a native speaker has his own sub-set of his native language.

A non-native speaker also creates his sub-set of a language he struggles to acquire.
He hopes that the elements of his personal sub-set are correct and understandable to the public world-wide.

Liking someone on a forum like this one can mean liking his personal sub-set of a language.

Skip
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Skip » Mon Jul 11, 2016 5:31 pm

When I taught ESL, I would demonstrate this to students by drawing a big square: This is the English language. Then I would cut off a fraction of that box: This is Shakespeare's English. A smaller box is my English; even smaller is the English used by the Toronto Sun; a little smaller again is the student's English. The student's box grows as fast as he wants to work at it; mine grows* very slowly; the Sun's editor has set its limits to the average reader and that probably won't grow; Shakespeare's growing ended 4 centuries ago.
(*did then; now it's shrinking. btw, it must be just normal aging, because I'm losing modifiers faster than nouns; they say in Alzheimer's the nouns go first).

You can often see the moment when a new English-speaker switches over to using it directly. Or moments, rather, because it happens piecemeal: usually starting with matters relating work: things they do every day and in which they usually take direction from a native, or English-speaker of long duration, who doesn't use any other language. It's last to happen in the home, where parents or spouses often prefer their original language.

duszek
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by duszek » Mon Jul 11, 2016 6:04 pm

Wait a sec.

But both you and Shakespeare are active users of the word "king" or "queen" or "garden" or "wine" or "joy", to mention but just a few.

So your section and Shakespeare´s section have a section in common, a rather large one, I suppose, or a cross-section.

Or does the square of yours symbolize some other aspects that you wanted to illustrate ?

Impenitent
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Impenitent » Mon Jul 11, 2016 6:53 pm

oui - think outside the box

-Imp

Skip
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Skip » Mon Jul 11, 2016 7:15 pm

duszek wrote:Wait a sec.

But both you and Shakespeare are active users of the word "king" or "queen" or "garden" or "wine" or "joy", to mention but just a few.

So your section and Shakespeare´s section have a section in common, a rather large one, I suppose, or a cross-section.

Or does the square of yours symbolize some other aspects that you wanted to illustrate ?
I used them to illustrate relative size of vocabulary. Students would be daunted by the sheer volume of language to be learned. I wanted to demonstrate that it's okay to cultivate a small patch; that nobody owns the whole thing, and nobody needs all of it.
Actually, if I were to redraw it by subsets, Shakespeare's patch would overlap maybe half of mine, with a vast area of difference in time and culture.
The Sun's would fit almost entirely inside mine, and so would the student's, with a 90% or more overlap of the last two.
The student will have started with the most basic, indispensable core vocabulary and build outward in predictable, utilitarian directions, which is the same language employed by a newspaper aimed at lowbrow segment of Toronto readers.
I would, by then, have branched off into the specialty areas of my work, my hobbies and my taste in literature. In due course, once he's mastered a working knowledge, the student will do the same.
Last edited by Skip on Mon Jul 11, 2016 7:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Skip
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Re: Reflections on learning a language

Post by Skip » Mon Jul 11, 2016 7:18 pm

Impenitent wrote:oui - think outside the box

-Imp
True, you have non-verbal senses with which to collect information and experience; you may have non-verbal mental faculties with which to process and preserve them. But, unless you are a very accomplished artists, you won't be able to communicate outside that box.

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