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May 30, 2013

Patterns of Language

Some people are naturally good at learning languages. But why?

Or perhaps a better question might be...


Are some people more linguistically oriented - meaning just better with words?

But does learning a language, especially a second or third language really have that much to do with ability with words?

Some linguists - and language teachers - don't think so.

Perhaps learning a language is more a matter of picking up the inherent patterns in a language.

You might think of patterns as chunks or recurring rthyms reflecting the pace, tempo and barely noticable energy or passion of a language. Have you noticed, for example, how some languages seem rushed? Others gutteral? While others seem sing-songy?

The West Coast American-English that I speak, for example, is generally considered the 'flatest'; the least accented, almost monotonal version of the English language.

It is the (usually subconscious) learning of these internal patterns that denotes a native speaker.

Among my students, I often mention the 'sounds right' rule. If it sounds right, it usually is. But you need to know (and recognize) what sounds 'right' and, of course, what doesn't.

If you get the patterns right, everything else should come together.

For a look at the patterns of what most of us consider the most difficult written language on the planet, take a look at this TED talk - http://www.ted.com/talks/shaolan_learn_to_read_chinese_with_ease.html?utm_expid=166907-27&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ted.com%2Fsearch%3Fcat%3Dss_all%26q%3Dchinese.

For a look at the whole idea of the big picture of patterns in language, take a look here - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130528143800.htm.

Perhaps this explains how many animals communicate - not through established vocabulary - or even a shared language - but a consistent, nearly universally understood set of patterns. In fact there are those who believe that they have diciphered a form of language unique to (English-speaking?) teenagers. Yes, I mean the range of sighs, grunts and barely discernible (or comprehensible) noises and gestures that emerge as sort of a universal teen native language. You can see some examples and analysis here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZY2R_K3NFPo .

Be sure to send us any language usages that puzzle you, and be sure to let us know what it is about language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

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


Also: for the first time in several years, Morf is available this July and August (and possibly the first half of September) to visit your school or program. You can contact him at mmorf@mail.com. As you can probably guess, Morf can talk about just about anything. ;-)

Posted by mmorf at May 30, 2013 07:37 PM


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