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September 12, 2010

How do YOU Learn?

Ever wonder how you picked up your native language? You know, the pronunciations, grammar and vocabulary you just absorbed from those around you when you were a little kid?

Ever wonder why we just absorb a language at one stage in life....

...but years later, when we try to learn and study a new language, it is real work?

Ever watch a little kid - especially one under about two and a half years old?

They are like little sponges, soaking up every sound, every taste, every sensation. They watch and listen closely - as if their little lives depended on it. And perhaps that is true. Their life does depend on how they understand - and later - how they communicate - with these big people that seem to have all the answers.

But when we, as students, try to learn a language, we stumble, mispronounce and generally make a mess of our target language.

Immersion programs are effective - but they can be brutal - and a lot of people give up and quit altogether.

Do you think it would work to act like little kids and just watch and listen for a while?

Think we could just "soak" it in and just start speaking one day?

If I were designing a language learning program, I just might try an extended time of just sitting in a public place filled with my target language, just watching and listening.

I might even take some notes or ask some questions. For example, how do people stand or sit when they speak? Is their volume or intensity affected by their posture?

For example, most Americans, at least the young adults, are always leaning on something. A table, a door post, a utility pole, it doesn't matter. Does that affect how most Americans speak?

Do people speak more formally in work situations? Slower or faster? Longer or shorter words? Do most people speak in complete sentences or are their lots of interruptions from the others? Is there one dominant speaker or is the speaking done relatively equally?

Do males speak more - or less - louder or more quietly than females?

If you could not understand a single word, what would you guess they were talking about?

If you were stepping into this language - like someone from another planet - what would these people need to make their language complete? What words would you teach them?

What would your language need that it doesn't already have?

Are languages irretrievably different? Or are their common threads throughout European and Asian languages?
Is there a base language - a proto-language with expressions in contemporary languages?
Are languages becoming more similar? Or more distinct?

Does it make a language easier - or more difficult - to learn if their are more - or fewer letters or characters?

What are some questions you have about English - or any language?

Let me know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities. Morf is currently a radio host (tacoma.fm) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/. More than one student has remarked on how much Morf resembles Santa Claus...

Posted by mmorf at September 12, 2010 09:39 PM

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