Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

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Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Wed Jan 27, 2016 6:32 pm

GUIDE TO LEARNING LANGUAGES
3. version (January 2016), adapted for this forum

PREFACE

1....First part - the language learning process itself

1.1. How come that the cuckoo says "cuckoo" ?
1.2. How come that humans say "booh" ?
1.3. Your native language ... and a few more
1.4. Language learner types
1.5. Language teaching fads
1.6. How to attack a new language
1.7. Silent period, but thinking actively
1.8. About intensive and extensive reading/listening (and epiphanies)
1.9. Can you learn a language only by reading?

2....Second part - How to learn words and expressions

2.1. How many words do you need to learn?
2.2. Wordcounts and active/passive vocabulary
2.3. Learning words from context
2.4. Context and associations
2.5. Memorization through controlled repetition
2.6. Three-column wordlists
2.7. Bi- or monolingual dictionaries
2.8. Other kinds of dictionaries and vocabulary lists
2.9. Learning expressions (and 'chunks')

3....Third part - How to learn grammar

3.1. Grammar in general: Morphology, Syntax and Chaos
3.2. Morphology in general
3.3. Green sheets
3.4. Syntax: subordinate clauses
3.5. Syntax: tying a knot
3.6. Word order
3.7. The rhythm of grammar studies

4....Fourth part - How to use translations

4.1. How to use translations as nutcrackers
4.2. How to make parallel texts
4.3. Hyperliteral translations
4.4. Copying by hand (scriptorium)

5....Fifth part - How to deal with speech and writing

5.1. Chorusing and shadowing
5.2. Listening like a bloodhound follows a trail
5.3. Training phonetic awareness
5.4. To know NOTHING but still understand something
5.5. Don't let a weird spelling lead you astray
5.6. Automatizing your target language
5.7. Dissecting languages for fun
5.8. Total and less than total immersion
5.9. Activating languages
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Wed Jan 27, 2016 6:48 pm

PREFACE

This guide was originally published in the form of five threads at the language learning forum HTLAL, which I compiled in September 2009 based on discussions in which I had participated since 2006. I made a thorough revision in January-Frebruary 2015 and then one more here in January 2016, so the version you are reading now is the third one in the row (adapted for this forum). By and large the guide still has the fivepart structure which I gave it in 2009 after just three years of HTLAL, but now divided into chapters rather than messages - which of course can't be seen now that I have started out returning it to forum format.

The original version is still accessible at HTLAL in its original form (with a few later additions), but after 6 year there were just too many passages that needed a brush-up, and it was also about time to loosen its ties to any specific forum.

HTLAL-links:
part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5

And let's just get through a few essential disclaimers before proceeding to the actual guide. This is NOT a scientific treatise about language learning, and its main purpose is NOT to review previous theories on the subject, and you WON'T find a long literature list at the end. I actually do have a scientific background as a cand.mag. in French and Literature from Aarhus University in Denmark, but when I received my final papers in January 1982 I soon realized that the good jobs in the foreign language sector at the university level were occupied by people who couldn't be expected to leave them soon, and I also realized that the sector for foreign languages at the university level would be shrinking in the years to come. So at that point I took the radical decision to drop all involvement with language studies and language learning apart from casual reading and listening and the use of some, but not all of my languages during travels. And this also meant a final goodbye to doing hardcore science myself (and easy access to a lot of good scientific resources), but not to the mentality which lies behind good science.

When I took up language learning again in 2007 it was as a fanatically independent home learner. Being without access to costly peer reviewed magazines or research libraries I have mostly relied on the internet, and the majority of the scientific writings I have seen on the internet only deal with teacher directed learning. The commercial systems had far too many shortcomings to be used alone, so instead of just choosing one of these and try to be happy with my choice I decided to forge my own set of learning methods based on my former experiences and those things in the scholarly articles which could be turned into practical learning tools. References and links from other forum members and bloggers on the internet was a really important aid when it came to localizing such articles, but most of what I write below has been based on my own experiments, and I may not be a typical language learner.

Use the guide at your own risk.

PS: if your want to see it in something like ebook format, use 'print view' in the tool box set (the thingy to the right of 'Post Reply' below the thread) - but then you can't see or use the links. And now we are speaking about replies: you are more than welcome to comment on the project, but please do so in my multiconfused log.
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Wed Jan 27, 2016 6:58 pm

1. First part - the language learning process itself

1.1. How come that the cuckoo says "cuckoo" ?

The cuckoo's mum put her egg in the nest of a totally different species, and her offspring probably never heard her voice, except maybe as part of the general confused twittering in the some forest. How does the young cuckoo then know that it is supposed to say "cuckoo" and not "meeh"? The one thing that is certain is that the cuckoo could have used its voice to emit other sounds (like those of its foster parents), but it doesn't. It's "cuckoo" or nothing. This must be due to an inborn instinct, but I leave it to the biologists to explain how such instincts can be encoded. I just know that mum didn't tell it to her offspring.

Other birds have more complicated and more variable songs, which mostly are supposed to be inherited, but in some cases young individuals appear to have to learn the finer details of the singing business from older birds. The most extreme 'learner' is undoubtedly the lyrebird, who can imitate just about any sound it hears - including telephone ring tones and the noise from power saws. This ability to imitate wasn't taught to the bird - it must be based on an inborn instinct, similar to those that teach birds to make pretty nests or migrate to the right location at the right time of the year - or the sounds which other birds can utter without ever having met a parent. So inheritance does not have to be a specific skill, but it can also be the ability to acquire specific skills.

However the lyrebird doesn't appear to use specific sounds for specific purpose - the male lyrebird simply uses the extreme variability of its repertoire to impress the ladies. There are however reports that at least some parrots can be trained to respond to specific stimuli with specific words from their repertoire. One such bird even got its own foundation, the Alex Foundation (http://alexfoundation.org), whose purpose is " to support research establishing the cognitive and communicative abilities of parrots as intelligent beings.". But I haven't seen anything to suggest that similar things happen in the wild.

Some social mammals have differentiated warning signals. I remember watching a TV program with a meerkat researcher who claimed meerkats have specific warning calls for high and low people and for people with yellow clothes - and of course also specific calls for predators in their natural environment, from eagles to snakes. An article about experiments with meerkats in zoos, "The irrelevance of individual discrimination in meerkat alarm calls", doesn't mention human scare mongers specifically, but demonstrates that meerkats have specific sounds for predators which no animal in a specific group ever has seen - which is quite logical. It would be rather counterproductive to have warning calls which each animal would need to learn from its elders while the predator already was hurling down from the sky or approaching along the earth surface. So communication systems with differentiated inborn meaningful elements are possible - but can such systems also be developed through social interaction within animal groups? How did warning calls for tall humans in yellow overalls appear?

Before we leave the meerkats it would be a pity not to mention the reports about drongos (black African birds) which have developed a clever trick: a drongo may imitate a meerkat alarm call to scare other drongos away from some food item (reported in several places, including the blog 'Notrocketscience'. Did some particularly sneaky drongo invent this, and then others followed suit?

Communication based on elements developed through social interaction rather than directly inherited is present every time a human trains an animal to do something as a response to a verbal command. But it is exceedingly rare that the animal responds with precisely defined sounds (although apparently this is what the parrot Alex did). It has even been difficult to find examples of such communication patterns in the wild - though some reports about dolphins suggest that they invent specific names for individuals (an example here: http://goodnature.nathab.com/wild-dolph ... treat-them). In the 60s a member of John Lilly's research team, Margaret Lovatt, tried to teach a dolphin named Peter English. In a TV program about this it was obvious 1) that M.L. said English words and rewarded good imitations (recognizable, but not more, to my ears - and far below those of the parrot Alex), 2) that Peter could react to specific objects with sounds taught through procedure 1) - or in other words: he could do the same kind of things that a parrot can be taught to do, but not more.

Similar experiments were made with a chimpanzee named Viki (reared by a family named Hayes), but the vocalizations of chimp Viki were apparently even less convincing than those of dolphin Peter: in spite of being reared as a human baby for six years she only learned four wordlike grunts.

The breakthrough in the work with apes came when researches gave up the attempts to teach them to speak English (which is different from understanding spoken English). Instead they taught them either to use sign language (as with for instance the chimpanzee Washoe and the gorilla Koko) or symbols on a computer screen (as with the bonobos Kanzi and Panbanisha - lots of references on the internet), and it actually seems to be possible to get proper, intelligent responses from apes through these communication channels.

The vocal apparatus of apes (and even less dolphins) isn't suited to pronounce human languages, and they also lack some crucial mental circuits that could help them to use whatever apparatus they have got. A recent discovery showed that the gene called FoxP2 had a role to play in the articulatory side of human language - and lo and behold, even birds have it (in a different form), but our nearest relatives, the apes, differ from us "by the substitution of two amino acids, threonine to asparagine substitution at position 303 (T303N) and asparagine to serine substitution at position 325 (N325S)" (quote Wikipedia). Is this tiny difference enough to prevent the apes from speaking? Well, apparently it is. On the other hand, Neanderthals had exactly the same sequence as us, so by inference our latest common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis almost certainly also had it. For a detailed account of this, see the review article " FOXP2 as a molecular window into speech and language" by Simon E. Fisher and Constance Scharff.

The gene FoxP2 seems to have something to do with the fine control over the fine control with the respiratory system and the facial muscles that permits us to make finely tuned vocal distinctions. But that's only half the story. The published excerpts from communications with apes show many fascinating combinations of meaningful elements. I'll just quote one example to show the general tenor of these claims:

Although Kanzi learned to communicate using a keyboard with lexigrams, Kanzi also picked up some American Sign Language from watching videos of Koko the gorilla, who communicates using sign language to her keeper Penny Patterson; Savage-Rumbaugh did not realize Kanzi could sign until he signed "You, Gorilla, Question" to anthropologist Dawn Prince-Hughes, who had previously worked closely with gorillas."

But even if such strokes of genius actually occurred during the experiments, there are still a couple of crucial elements lacking: 1) the notion of phonemes and 2) a complex grammatical system. Both serve to remove the resulting communication system from its purely articulatory basis: phonemes organize the actual sounds into a small unit of standardized units, which then can be combined to form meaning bearing elements. And these can be manipulated through grammatical rules with predictable effects on the meaning.
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Wed Jan 27, 2016 7:19 pm

1.2. How come that humans say "booh" ?

It is not likely that human language should have appeared without warning as a fullyfledged communication system. As mentioned above the differences between our language and grunts and screams of other apes are 1) that we have standardized morphemes, 2) that we have a syntax which isn't limited to word order, but on top of that there is a third factor, namely that we are capable of imagination in areas where the other apes can't follow us. This last capability may have evolved alongside our linguistic system, but thoughts don't leave marks in the bones so there isn't any final proof. A few apes have had the opportunity to prove that they can deal with artificial symbols and even combine them into meaningful units, but so far they haven't demonstrated the capability to make complicated constructions, and their thoughts mostly are concerned with immediate concerns like food, company, places to go and feelings. Impressive, but not rocket science. And those apes didn't invent those communicative systems themselves - we did, and we taught those systems to a few lucky apes. In fact 'teaching' isn't practiced among apes - but learning through imitation is.

So basically our big invention was to subdivide the gamut of immediate sounds and treat them as building blocks and to do the same thing with meaningful units, thereby producing grammar. This implies some physiological changes that facilitate a fine-tuned and deliberate production of sounds. One important part of this, the FoxP2 gene with a few important mutations, apparently existed in Neanderthals too and by inference also in our common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis from at least half a million years ago. An adult Neanderthal voice would have sounded different from an adult sapiens voice, but so does the voice of a sapiens voice. And we have absolutely no way of knowing how complicated the grammars of the Neanderthals were or whether they spoke about other things than killing animals and sex.

Actually some scholars, including a team lead by Robert McCarthy, have tried to find out how Neandertal speech would have sounded, based reconstructions of their speech apparatus. A sample can be heard at Youtube, but to be honest the proposed voice in that clip sounds more like one of the hysterical old ladies of Monty Python than a fierce male hunter. According to McCarthy "the ancient human’s speech lacked the “quantal vowel” sounds that underlie modern speech. Quantal vowels provide cues that help speakers with different size vocal tracts understand one another, says McCarthy, (...) “They would have spoken a bit differently. They wouldn’t have been able to produce these quantal vowels that form the basis of spoken language,” he says." (quote from New Scientist). One more casual piece of information that speaks against Neanderthals having a speech like ours is their quicker maturation - a Neanderthal child at 8 would look like a sapiens at 12 years of age. Considering the time it takes for us to learn to speak it seems that Neanderthals spent less time - so their language may have been simpler. But it is almost certain that they did have a language.

And at this point it would be difficult not to mention Chomsky's hypothesis from around 1980 about an inborn language mechanism which results in languages with specific restrictions on their grammars. You can hear about these theories from the master's own lips on Youtube, but there are literally thousands of reactions to these theories on the internet. I'm not going into details with them, but I have noticed some comments that indicated that the great man has placed less emphasis on the biological nature of the language universals since his 'minimalist program' from the 90s.

And this would be a sensible way to go: there are definitely some differences in the way we communicate through language and the communication systems of other species, and it would be all but impossible to explain this difference without accepting some kind of biological basis. But it is risky business - and totally unnecessary - to assume that the restrictions on grammatical rules also are programmed biologically. It is more than enough to assume that we have a language mechanism in the same way as the lyre bird as an innate talent for mimicry, but the concrete form of the grammatical rules can be the simple result of a combination of practicality and the way languages develop through communication.

Finding a complete list of Chomsky an universals on the internet is not easy. But one of the most fundamental and definitely the most discussed rule is the one that all human languages must have recursive mechanisms, i.e. mechanisms that serve to incorporate utterances into other utterances. But a linguist named Everett has come up with a counterexample from Amazonas: the language of the Pirahãs. Once again I'll leave out the details of the discussion, but there is an article about the events in the New Yorker and we have also discussed the topic at HTLAL.
But even if there are a few counterexamples, a rule followed by an overwhelming majority of the planet's languages is worth taking seriously.

So assuming a biological basis for language learning while denying that the universals are inborn is certainly a possible stance, and so is the opinion that rules don't have to be totally universal to be interesting.

A more practical angle on linguistic universals is represented by Joseph Greenberg, who from the 60s and onwards conducted some big comparative language projects, which not only lead to some controversial theories about language relationships, but also to some fairly concrete lists of more or less universal rules about languages as they actually are found in this world. I'll just mention one of these rules to show what an implication rule might look like (quoted from Armin W.Buch: Linguistic Universals):

Greenberg rule 20: When any or all of the items (demonstrative, numeral, and descriptive adjective) precede the noun, they are always found in that order. If they follow, the order is either the same or its exact opposite.

Such a rule doesn't have to be inherited to be followed. Actually being inherited wouldn't in any way explain WHY the rule looks like that.

I'll finish this chapter with a reference to some experiments with a savant, Christopher, who in an experiment was taught two languages, Berber and an invented language called Epun, which violated just about every universal in Chomsky's system ("Learning the impossible: The acquisition of possible and impossible languages by a polyglot savant" by Neil V. Smith, Ianthi-Maria Tsimpli and Jamal Ouhalla. Their "main expectation was that normal subjects would be more easily able to perceive the regularities in a linguistically impossible system and learn it by using their 'general intelligence' as a compensatory device for the in adequate, because irrelevant, language module. These predictions were partially confirmed, but the controls' performance was itself sufficiently complex to make any definitive explanation of the results difficult.". In contrast Christopher "should find it impossible or extremely difficult to master those parts of Epun which, ex hypothesi, contravened universal generalizations and were not describable in terms of parametric variation." The researchers found that Christopher indeed had problems with Epun because his standard tactic was to make inferences from his previous languages (my formulation), whereas the results from the controls were confusing. So maybe they didn't just use formal logic, but also linguistic tactics (my guess), which they weren't supposed to do with a supposedly impossible language. But apparently Christopher was the only one who actually tried to speak Epun - the supposedly unspeakable language.
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Wed Jan 27, 2016 7:24 pm

1.3. Your native language ... and a few more

I have three problems writing about the language development of children: 1) I only vaguely remember the last phases of my own process learning Danish, 2) I haven't reared a kid myself, 3) the literature about the subject is overwhelming and diffuse. So I'll just touch upon a few aspects of this topic - even though it may be the most important of them all.

It is commonly assumed that you have to learn a language 'as a child' to become truly fluent in a language - or in other words: to become a native speaker of that language. But it is debatable what exactly it means to be a child in this respect. On the other hand: if you are exposed to more than one language from your birth you may end up with more than one native language. However it is debated hotly whether this influences the final level you can reach in each of these languages. It is my impression that the number of languages spoken by a person him/herself more or less determines how that person will respond - monoglots think that splitting the time spent on language learning will lead to a catastrophe, whereas polyglots are confident that a baby can absorb two languages without choking. We'll come back to this problem complex below.

Way back in 2009 I found an Italian article by Mado Proverbio about an experiment where her test subjects were simultaneous interpreters at EU - and given how fiendishly hard this job is, they must have been among the most proficient and fluent speakers of foreign languages you can find. She measured their brain responses and found that the responses to cue words in even their most fluent second languages had a significantly lower amplitude than their responses in their native language. Andt the cut-off age for getting truly native responses was actually as low as 5 years!

Even lower age limits have been proposed concerning the complete acquisition of phonetic awareness - like a limit of 6 months (!) for identifying and internalizing the phonetic inventory of your (coming) native language - and with the assumption that distinctions which aren't caught at this early age can't ever be recuperated. This obviously implies an inborn neural mechanism, which stop functioning after a short time - like the ability to swim without having learned it or the Moro reflex. The idea also reminds me of Konrad Lorentz' classic experiments with geese: he discovered that the first living object goslings see after being hatched is being identified as their mother, and later experiences can't change this. But luckily the linguistic realities in humans don't correspond to this somewhat troubling avian parallel. For instance there are no nasal vowels in Danish, but that hasn't stopped me from learning to distinguish them in French. The question is whether I'm as good at it as Frenchmen, and that's a totally different question.

If all plasticity was lost after 6 months then you would expect the language heard at that stage - but not later in childhood - to elicit specific responses compared to other languages. But there is evidence to the contrary, for instance in the article " Brain Imaging of Language Plasticity in Adopted Adults: Can a Second Language Replace the First?" by Pallier, Dehaene, J.-B. Poline, D. LeBihan, A.-M. Argenti, E. Dupoux and J. Mehler:

"Do the neural circuits that subserve language acquisition lose plasticity as they become tuned to the maternal language? We tested adult subjects born in Korea and adopted by French families in childhood; they have become fluent in their second language and report no conscious recollection of their native language. In behavioral tests assessing their memory for Korean, we found that they do not perform better than a control group of native French subjects who have never been exposed to Korean. We also used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor cortical activations while the Korean adoptees and native French listened to sentences spoken in Korean, French and other, unknown, foreign languages. The adopted subjects did not show any specific activations to Korean stimuli relative to unknown languages."

Another article suggests that there are differences in brain activity between native and non-native speakers of a tonal language - but now without the early cut-off at 6 months age:

Behavioral and neuroimaging research shows that while native tone language speakers (e.g., Mandarin Chinese) process tone as a linguistic property predominantly in the left hemisphere, tone processing by nonnative speakers differs as a function of the linguistic role of tone to these speakers (Hsieh et al., 2001;Klein et al., 2001; Wang, Jongman and Sereno, 2001;Gandour, 2006). Specifically, for non-tone-language speakers (e.g., English), the processing of tone (e.g., Mandarin or Thai) is less left lateralized than that for native tone speakers (Wang et al., 2001; Gandour et al.,2003). Furthermore, native tone language speakers (e.g., Norwegians processing Mandarin tone) do not process tones of another tone language in the left hemisphere, indicating that tones are processed in the left hemisphere only when they are linguistically meaningful (Wang et al., 2004). Further research has shown a native-like lateralization patterns of tone by English listeners who were highly proficient in Mandarin (Wang et al., 2004), indicating a shift from nonnative (L2) to native (L1)patterns as a function of L2 proficiency.

This quote from "Neural plasticity in speech acquisition and learning" by Yang Zhang and Ye Wang contains at least two interesting points, namely 1) that the 'special' processing of tones only happens for linguistically meaningful tone patterns - which suggests that it isn't just some crude auditive ability that is under scrutiny here - and 2), that highly proficient individuals can make a shift towards a more nativelike lateralization pattern - which explains how some individuals against all odds can acquire a good accent even after their childhood.

Let's return to the question about children who are brought up in bilingual or multilingual environments. The question is discussed in many articles, but let's just look at one of these. In " The emergence of competing modules in bilingualism" by Arturo Hernandez, Ping Li and Brian MacWhinney starts out with this question:

How does the brain manage to store and process multiple languages without encountering massive interference and transfer? Unless we believe that bilinguals live in two totally unconnected cognitive worlds, we would expect far more transfer than actually occurs. However, imaging and lesion studies have not provided consistent evidence for the strict neuronal separation predicted by the theory of modularity.

As an alternative a cluster of 'emergentists' theories is proposed (first expounded by Elizabeth Bates), and the authors have even constructed a digital DexLex model, "a self-organizing neural network model of the development of the lexicon" to test out their theories:

The network was trained to learn the 400 most frequent word types in parental speech (184 Chinese words and 216 English words, covering about 56% of the total word tokens). (...) Within each lexicon, the network further distinguished various grammatical categories in its representation (e.g. nouns vs. verbs, state verbs vs. activity verbs, etc. ). The ability of the network to develop modular representations for different languages and different linguistic categories provides a concrete illustration of Bates’s dictum that ‘modules are made, not born.’ The Competition Model [...] predicts that bilingual children will acquire phonological and lexical maps that pull their two languages apart in a similar way.
(...)
For example, when the Spanish–English bilingual child is speaking Spanish, both mesa and table are activated as ways of talking about a table. However, because mesa is richly interconnected with other Spanish words, constructions, postures and meanings, it receives far more activation than table during Spanish speech. On the other hand, when the child’s two languages are less perfectly balanced in strength, we find a far greater level of intrusion of the stronger language (SL) into sentences of the weaker language (WL). In such cases, continual practice with the WL eventually allows it to ‘fight off’ intrusions from the SL.


This realization not only explain why the bilingual child doesn't end up as one whining wretch sitting in the middle of the floor speaking an incomprehensible mix of two languages, it also illustrates why adults who try to learn new languages face an uphill struggle:

It has often been noted that people who pick up a second language after the age of 5 retain some form of L1 accent, even if it is only very slight. The standard nativist account of age-of-acquisition effects is that some critical period for language learning has expired. (...). Our emergentist account provides a very different explanation for age-of-acquisition effects. Consider the cases of a child learning L2 at age 9 and a young adult learning L2 at age 24. The child has experienced years of consolidation and entrenchment, leading to progressively more automatic control of L1 in increasingly more committed neural substrates. The young adult starts learning L2 against a background of an even more entrenched L1.


Or in other words: the adult fights against his/her own fully developed L1, but in this theory there is no need to claim that some innate 'language learning motor' has stopped at the end of some kind of license period. It's more like the jar has run full for the adult learner.

In a concrete study from 2009 "Interaction in bilingual phonological acquisition: evidence from phonetic inventories of bilingual English/Spanish children against monolingual children, Fabiano-Smith and Barlow found that

Interestingly, the bilingual children did not demonstrate sparser phonetic inventories than their monolingual peers. There was no evidence in the phonetic inventories of these bilingual children for Paradis and Genesee’s (1996) hypothesis of deceleration, in which bilingual children demonstrate a slower rate of acquisition in comparison to their monolingual peers. Rather, it seems that bilingual children are able to acquire two phonetic inventories at the same rate as monolinguals in both languages, and with the same level of complexity.

Or in other words, the bilingual children could not only learn two languages without mixing up their sound systems, but they could do this as the same rate as their monolingual peers learned their one and only languages. However here we speak about pronunciation. There may still be cases where neither languages covers the full spectrum of topics and vocabulary, for instance because smalltalk at home is in one language and school is in another language - which will be problematic if important information isn't understood and the child lags behind.

A large part of the pedagogical research about languages here in Denmark has been focused on the situation of children from immigrant homes (in first or second generation) - to the detriment of research about just about any other relevant question. And politicians have debated whether schools should offer teaching in the 'big' immigrant languages, like Arabic and Turkish. But I don't have an overview over all this research, and simple logic tells me that it would be beneficial to have some courses that gave the children some insight in how their 'home language' could be used for typical school subjects, but if they aren't pushed to use the Danish language for ordinary school subjects (and the English language soon after) then they won't ever become integrated citizens in this country. And yes, this is partly a political statement, but it rests on the observation that children don't die if they are taught two languages or more - they thrive.

As Susan Perry writes:

Until fairly recently, parents and educators feared that exposing children to a second language at too early an age might not only delay their language skills but harm their intellectual growth. New research, however, has found that bilingual children reach language milestones (such as first word and first fifty words) at the same age as monolingual children. Nor do they show any evidence of being “language confused.” Indeed, young infants are able to use rhythmical cues to keep their two languages distinct, and do so from the first days of life.
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Wed Jan 27, 2016 7:42 pm

1.4. Language learner types

The notion of learner types is less discussed here in 2016 than it was in 2009, but it has definitely not become obsolete. There are several systems on the market for describing differences between language learners (and learners in general). One of them is the Felder-Silverman system, which is explained in a concise form in the article "Learning styles and strategies" by Felder and Soloman. See also Felder's list of resources, which presents its main categories:

ACTIVE versus REFLECTIVE LEARNERS
SENSING versus INTUITIVE LEARNERS
VISUAL versus VERBAL LEARNERS
SEQUENTIAL versus GLOBAL LEARNERS


The following series of quotes from the first of the two articles can give hints about each category, but the descriptions are obvious longer in the article itself, where you also get tips about the way each type functions in a learning situation:

Active learners tend to retain and understand information best by doing something active with it--discussing or applying it or explaining it to others. Reflective learners prefer to think about it quietly first.

Sensing learners tend to like learning facts, intuitive learners often prefer discovering possibilities and relationships
Visual learners remember best what they see -- pictures, diagrams, flow charts, time lines, films, and demonstrations. Verbal learners get more out of words -- written and spoken explanations. Everyone learns more when information is presented both visually and verbally.
Sequential learners tend to gain understanding in linear steps, with each step following logically from the previous one. Global learners tend to learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, and then suddenly "getting it."


Other systems are based on the socalled Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which ultimately is based on Carl Jung's writings and deals with personality types in general. A concise overview over its categories plus a simple test can be found here: http://www.mypersonality.info/personality-types / . This system has of course also been applied to language learning, for instance in the article "Effect of Personality on Learning Language" by Sepehri, Rakhshani, Keshavarz and Kiani as quoted below:

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator identifies preferences in four areas: Extroversion vs. Introversion, Sensing (concrete-sequential) vs.Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging (closure-oriented) vs. Perceiving (closure-oriented).

These 8 types of learners differ in the way they learn the language and they have different learning styles. Each of the mentioned eight preferences that goes to make up a psychological type has its assets and liabilities when it comes to language learning.


The extroverted learner learns more effectively through concrete experiences, contacts with the outside world, and relationships with others. (...)
The introverted learner learns more effectively in individual, independent situations that are more involved with ideas and concepts. Their strengths are their ability to concentrate on the task in hand as well as their self-sufficiency(...).

The sensing learner learns more effectively from reports of observable facts and happenings; prefers physical, sense-based input. (...) they will be hindered should there be a lack of clear sequence, goals or structure in the language or language course.
The intuitive learner learns more effectively from flashes of insight, using their imagination, and
grasping the general concepts rather than all the details. (...).


The thinking learner learns more effectively from impersonal circumstances and logical consequences. Their strengths are in their ability to analyze and their self-discipline. (...)
The feeling learner learns more effectively from personalized circumstances and social values. They have the advantage of their strong desire to bond with the teacher, resulting in good relations which lead to high self-esteem(...)

The judging learner learns more effectively by reflection, analysis, and processes that involve closure. They have the advantage of systematically working through a task, and wanting to get the job done. (...).
The perceiving learner learns more effectively through negotiation, feeling, and inductive processes that postpone closure. Their strong points are their openness, flexibility and adaptability to change and new experiences. (...)


A third system (or rather distinction) is described in "Identifying Visual-Spatial and Auditory-Sequential Learners: A Validation Study" and " Characteristics Comparison between Auditory-Sequential and Visual Spatial Learners", both by Linda Kreger Silverman. The comparative table from the second text starts out like this:

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There are actually more systems available, and Wikipedia has as usual a useful listing of different systems, but the three above show the variety and kind of distinctions they propose.

As you can see there is no dearth of theories and writings about learning styles, - the problem is that they is based more on empirical work and simple logic than on scientific studies, and that it has been quite difficult to demonstrate whether the distinctions have in any given theory has any bearings on how a given pupil reacts to different teaching methods. In this situation some academic souls have refused to acknowledge that differences in learning style are relevant for pedagogics -and often also that they exist. And the consequence of this reasoning could be that teachers don't have to take differences among the pupils seriously - everybody can be taught acording to the same model. But then you can of course also ask why teachers should be allowed to use different methods - if pupils can adapt, then teachers can too.

But even thought pupils (and teachers) may be able to accommodate to methods which they don't like it may not be a good idea to force them to do so. Some learners may be so averse to certain methods that they would stop learning if they were applied - as silly rolegames or songs in my own case (I would simply walk out). And it would be also be a waste of time if methods that would be efficient for certain pupils wouldn't be used because their teacher didn't like them. Like silly rolegames and songs if they had me as their teacher. Or wordlists and grammar books if their teacher was a fanatical adherent to the socalled natural method. So even though it may be difficult to prove that any one set of criteria can describe all the relevant differences between learners then it is evident that people aren't all made in the same mold, and pedagogics should take that into account (and hope that science catches up some day).

At HTLAL I had a discussion with another member about learning styles in 2010. He saw them as mere preferences, while I saw them as deeply rooted, possible innate character traits. But wherever the traits come from: in the large middle group it is certainly possible to both sway a preference and override an inborn, but not extreme character trait and learn to profit from a teaching setup which goes again their learning style (as tested by one of the systems on the market). A strong character trait doesn't have to be an inborn trait similar to the one that makes the cuckoo say "cuckoo" - it is enough that it has been incorporated in the mindset of the learner and maybe even used with success.

To really test the theories about learning styles you would have to find two extreme pupil groups, divide each one into half and teach half the resulting groups in a way their members hated and presumably wouldn't profit from. Even if this last prediction turned out to be wrong, the experiment would still be inhumane and probably impossible to control over a long period - after all the test persons would have a life outside the laboratories, and there they could do all sorts of things without telling some nosy test administrator.

Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer and Bjork write in their abstract from "Learning Styles - Concepts and Evidence":

Finally, in order to demonstrate that optimal learning requires that students receive instruction tailored to their putative learning style, the experiment must reveal a specific type of interaction between learning style and instructional method (...) There is (..) plentiful evidence arguing that people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information. However, we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above, which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis

Please notice the last sentence: "Very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education." Spot on! Maybe that explains why there isn't much experimental evidence to prove that the proposed learners types are relevant for the choice of teaching methods. But while we wait I would prefer being taught without silly dialogues, songs, competitions and multiple choice tests. Instead I want to learn languages globally rather than sequentially, and I want to learn them by amassing words, grammatical knowledge and useful expressions from all over a given language. With some training I expect one day to wake up and be able to read, understand, write and maybe even speak it.

But before you can use genuine texts and conversations as resources you have to be able to understand at least some of the words and phrases, and textbooks for beginners are always written in a sequential way.

One problem with sequential learning is the expectation that you should learn everything perfectly before you proceed to the next item or lesson. For me it isn't important whether there are errors in your first utterances, - the important thing is to 'get the machine rolling', and then you can weed out the errors later. Getting 'the big picture' from the start is very important for me, but most text books are based on the opposite principle: giving information in tiny little pieces in order not to scare the pupils. That is one good reason not to use them as intended, but they may still function as sources for ultra-easy texts and things like that.

My study methods are also to a high degree based on written materials, whereas actual communication with others is relegated to a stage where I already know the language fairly well. Most language learners would however prefer to speak to somebody from the start while they are learning a language, and some would in fact loose every shred of motivation without a social context, - for them green grammar sheets, wordlists and hyperliteral translations would probably not be very tempting.

To end this chapter I would like to mention a splendid book on the internet with examples of different learning styles exemplified with real case stories: "Success with Foreign Languages - Seven who achieved it and what worked for them" by Earl W. Stewick. Its seven 'learner types' (two persons of each type) are called the intuitive learner, the formal learner, the informal learner, the imaginative learner, the active learner, the deliberate learner and - the special star of the show - the self-aware learner.
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Thu Jan 28, 2016 2:16 pm

1.5. Language teaching fads

There is a popular metaphor for the development in teaching styles: the pendulum. Though with the added complication that this pendulum can swing along more than one axis.

In their article "Weighing the Ways of the Flow: Twentieth Century Language Instruction" Cheryl Brown Mitchell and Kari Ellingson Vidal give a good overview over the different trends that have dominated language teaching in this century (although with little concern for the independent language learners out there who study without the assistance of a teacher).

The first 'school' was dubbed the "Grammar Translation Method", and it had its roots in the way Latin was taught to pupils after the time where it was in active use. The purpose was now mainly to teach the pupils to read the classical authors (in the unproven belief that learning to read Latin would 'sharpen their wits' in a general way). This method was adapted to living languages, but still with the focus on grammar studies and translation exercises in both directions. I'm actually old enough to have had a teacher in school who taught both Latin and German in this way. The course in Latin was a pure reading course, and we used a textbook (Mikkelsens "Latinsk læsebog") from 1878. OK, we did translate some unconnected sentences from Danish into Latin, but even that activity stopped when we reached the Punic wars - from then on it was pure reading training and gramamr. I later followed another course to bring me up to the second of three available levels, which was a condition for studying French at the time, but even that course was first and foremost a reading course. So after I stopped caring about languages in February or March 1982 I didn't read or hear any Latin at all, and pouff.. I lost it.

But the story doesn't end there: some time around 2010 I decided to relearn Latin, and then I discovered to my amazement that I remembered most of the grammar, and I just had to read and think and write in the language (and find a dictionary that provided me with words for modern phenomena like teachers and video clips and zippers) to see it spring to life again. Since then I have let my Latin slide partly into the background in favour of languages which still are spoken, but that doesn't change anything: the lesson of my experiences with Latin is that the Grammar Translation Method in it strong form is excellent at what it does - it just doesn't cover the things that turns a studied language into something you can use actively.

I also experienced the more moderate version of the method with the same teacher in German classes in school, but there we did learn to say simple sentences and write small essays. And with this plus German TV programs and occasional visits to Germany I actually learned to speak German, and that language hasn't ever grown rusty for me. So my experiences with the Grammar Translation Method are actually quite positive. And even though the method has been vilified as the teachers' version of the Spanish Inquisition I didn't feel it as a punishment to be taught along these lines.

However not all school children felt like this, and there was definitely a need to upgrade the part of the teaching that dealt with the spoken language and verbal interaction. This lead to methods like no. 2 in the Mitchell/Vidal article, the 'direct method', and to the whole gamut of 'natural' methods. In the most extreme of these languages are supposed to be taught exclusively through oral sources and without recourse to grammar books and - in some cases - even dictionaries. Like in the Michel Thomas courses. Later on this movement was epitomized in the figure of Krashen, but in between there was one more swing of the pendulum. When the US needed to educate a lot of soldiers in foreign language there wasn't time for 'soft' speak, and the military mind then conceived of a methods based upon drills and root memorization. Actually it worked: FSI has become one of the most successful language teaching institutions on the planet. And there are people who like its methods, which together with some similar programs are collected under then name Audiolingualism.

A technical contraption aided the drilling process: the tape recorder, and during my study years in the 70s I experienced the use of this thing in the pride of the institute: its language laboratory. Here a whole roomful of students could be sitting in each his/her own box, listening to spoken sentences and trying to repeat them. One teacher could supervise all the students, switching from one box to the next and making comments wherever necessary. In retrospect I do believe that this kind of activity is/was an efficient way to train a lot of persons at the same time through acoustic drills, but it was also quite boring. And I haven't heard much about such laboratories in recent times.

When it became time for the pendulum to swing away from the drills it basically went towards the supposedly 'natural' methods, but with some weird little fellahs lurking in the background - like the 'Total physical response' school in the 70s, which basically was the communicative approach with added body movements - like playing in a theater. I would have hated that method, but luckily it didn't reach my sphere. In contrast the Lozanov method recommended physical relaxation with suitable music. OK, I like to relax, but not while I study. Or rather: my studies provide a kind of relaxation for me - with or without music running in the background.

The name 'The natural approach' was coined by Tracy Terrell in 1977. The article by Mitchell and Vidal describes it as follows:

Terrell's method had much in common with the Natural Method of the 19th century, which had eventually become the Direct Method. However, it differed from that early Natural Method and the Direct Method in that it did not withhold reading or writing until the learners had some oral and aural proficiency. Terrell's arguments for his Natural Approach grounded its practices in the theoretical ideas behind communicative competence (the idea of learners being able to do what they needed with the language with the desired outcomes) and in the language acquisition theories of Stephen Krashen.(...) The theoretical grounding of this method was sufficient, the description of the approach was clear, and the article by Goldin made evident when and where it made sense to use the approach.

Krashen became one of the leading proponents of teaching based on input, and in one of his books
- "Principles and Practice" from 1982 - he proposed five hypotheses about 'Second Language Acquisition':

The acquisition-learning distinction
The natural order hypothesis
The Monitor hypothesis
The Input hypothesis
The Affective Filter hypothesis

For me there is one notion in Krashen's work which I find very useful, namely the one concerning "comprehensible input" (aka the 'monitor' hypothesis), i.e. input which is "just a little beyond where we are now". Or in other words: slightly above the level where the student or pupil can understand everything, but still low enough to allow subconscious processing to take place. Which leads us directly to the first of the five hypotheses - and the one which I find the least convincing:

The acquisition-learning distinction is perhaps the most fundamental of all the hypotheses to be presented here. It states that adults have two distinct and independent ways of developing competence in a second language. The first way is language acquisition, a process similar, if not identical, to the way children develop ability in their first language. Language acquisition is a subconscious process; language acquirers are not usually aware of the fact that they are acquiring language, but are only aware of the fact that they are using the language for communication. The result of language acquisition, acquired competence, is also subconscious.
(...)
The second way to develop competence in a second language is by language learning. We will use the term "learning" henceforth to refer to conscious knowledge of a second language, knowing the rules, being aware of them, and being able to talk about them. In non-technical terms, learning is "knowing about" a language, known to most people as "grammar", or "rules". Some synonyms include formal knowledge of a language, or explicit learning.1* Some second language theorists have assumed that children acquire, while adults can only learn. The acquisition-learning hypothesis claims, however, that adults also acquire, that the ability to "pick-up" languages does not disappear at puberty.


The reason that I scoff at these statements is that I know that most of my language learning (in the general sense of this word) has been at least partly conscious - and this holds true for both my grammar studies and my vocabulary studies. And in spite of Krashen I know that elements I have learnt consciously blend imperceptibly with elements I must have absorbed subconsciously because I can't explain where I else got them from. What really is at play here is a distinction between passive knowledge and active skills - you may be able to recognize a word, but before you have used it yourself a couple of time it won't pop up out of the blue when you need it. The training - which can be in a purely mental, written or spoken form - should eventually end up in something that functions almost automatically, and you can most definitely help that process along by using your conscious mind.

Later on in the book he tries to kill grammar... or put it into its place, as he formulates it. And there I definitely think he has been lead astray by his insistence on the acquisition-learning distinction - more about that later.

So just to make things clear: in the rest of this book there won't be any distinction made between acquisition and learning. And among the processes I accept when speaking about 'acquiring' from comprehensible input some will be conscious - Krashen or no Krashen. One thing more: the use of a bilingual version is in my view one of the most efficient ways to make a text comprehensible. I am not quite sure Krashen would accept that, but I know that it works - at least for me.
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Thu Jan 28, 2016 2:31 pm

1.6. How to attack a new language

Let assume that you have just decided to learn a new language. You main problem is that you don't understand anything. OK, there are in essence two ways of tackling that problem. The 'natural' way and the 'tools' way (or in practice a combination that can be closer to one or the other alternative). 'Tools' are dictionaries, grammars and other books or homepages ABOUT language.

If you choose the natural method then you have to find something that is so simple that you can almost understand it without any tools. You cannot totally avoid help, - if your teacher suggests the meaning of a word by gesturing it is formally equivalent to a peek in a dictionary. It IS a tool. But basically you progress through the study of written or spoken material, guessing the meaning and function of obscure passages along the way. However you can only do this with material that is almost comprehensible to you, - so you or your teacher or your text book must feed you with carefully graded texts, otherwise you can't understand them well enough to infer the meaning of those obscure passages. Immersion is not substantially different: you just put yourself in a situation where you are presented with so much genuine material that you can pick and choose something that hopefully is at the right level for you. You still need to find comprehensible input though - that has not changed.

The 'tools' methods is different. Here you assume that if you just know enough words and grammar then ordinary texts will suddenly become transparent to you. Of course it would be stupid to start out with something far too difficult, so in practice you do search for more or less comprehensible input. The main difference is that as a tool-seeker you don't need the fine-tuning of the texts, - you can use dictionaries and grammars as preparation for material that really is a good deal too difficult for you at the present stage, - suddenly you have collected enough words and stuff to understand those texts, and kapoum! the meaning is crystal clear to you. This experience is called an epiphany moment - more about that concept later on .

The important thing from that point on is to incorporate some elements of 'natural' learning. The reason is that even the best dictionaries and grammars won't learn you to use the language in a congenial way, - they are tools, but very efficient tools, and my belief is that you can 'crack' a language easier if you use them than if you don't. (end of quote)

By the way, the use a grammar and a dictionary as preparation for intensive work on a an easy text reminds me of the method of the English explorer and polyglot Richard Burton, quoted from the HTLAL thread bearing his name:

I got a simple grammar and vocabulary, marked out the forms and words which I knew were absolutely necessary, and learnt them by heart. ... I never worked more than a quarter of an hour at a time, for after that the brain lost its freshness. After learning some three hundred words, easily done in a week, I stumbled through some easy book-work and underlined every word that I wished to recollect. ... Having finished my volume, I then carefully worked up the grammar minutiae, and I then chose some other book whose subject most interested me. The neck of the language was now broken, and progress was rapid. If I came across a new sound, like the Arabic Ghayn, I trained my tongue to it by repeating it so many thousand times a day. When I read, I invariably read out loud, so that the ear might aid memory. I was delighted with the most difficult characters, Chinese and Cuneiform, because I felt that they impressed themselves more strongly upon the eye than the eternal Roman letters

The complete book about Burton from which this has been taken is available for free from gutenberg.org.

Compare this with the way Kato Lomb learned Russian during the war:

A lot of White Russian émigrés lived in Berlin then. (...) the maid was just about to dump the stuff they had left behind. In the clutter I discovered, with mounting excitement, a thick book with large Cyrillic lettering: it was a silly, sentimental romance novel from 1910. I set to it without a moment’s hesitation. I spent so much time tinkering with it, trying to understand the text, that to this day I still remember certain pages of it word for word. (...) I purchased a thick Hungarian encyclopedia and had a book binder acquaintance sew the pages of Gogol’s Dead Souls in place of every second sheet. During air raids, I would wade through entire chapters of it. This was the time I worked out my technique of boldly skipping over unfamiliar words, for it would have been dangerous to consult a Russian dictionary in the bomb shelter. (...)
With the siege raging, I tried to pass the time in the dark cellar by constantly working on the conversation I would have with the first Russian soldier who set foot in it. (...)


The common denominator of these two learning processes is clearly that the main part of the learning is based on the study of genuine texts - and large amounts of them, studied fairly intensively, but in the case of Lomb without demanding that each and every word be understood.

When I start learning a new language I have always seen texts in it first. I may also have heard it, but that doesn't seem to leave any traces. If I find the language interesting I would read something about it - its history and relations with other languages, its sound system, its writing system, some common words, but first and foremost its grammar. The kind of grammar you find in small language guides is at just the right level for a first contact, but small 'real' grammars are even better - but not big confusing books with a lot of exceptions and theoretical blah-blah. And then I need to work my way through some genuine texts, preferable in a bilingual setup. There are exceptions, like when I attacked Modern Greek by translating a guide to Rhodes into Danish with the help of an old Langenscheidt Greek-German dictionary. But frankly, it would have been both more efficient and less timeconsuming to use a bilingual setup. And where do text books enter into this? Ahem, not much. I have used them as the first source for texts to be studied, In the case of Greek I had an old Swedish textbook written by a man named Mystakidis standing unused on a shelf since around 1980. But it didn't take long to get through its texts. As for grammar it contained some useful lists of verbs with specific ending patterns and a few other things, but quite generally text books aren't systematic enough to be used as grammars - and the situation in this respect has deteriorated markedly since I bought my Mystakidis.

The last element in my attack on a new language will be to start memorizing the words from my study texts (and later words taken directly from a dictionary). You need a lot of words in order to be able to read reasonably fluently, and the sooner you get those words stored in your brain the better.
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Thu Jan 28, 2016 2:45 pm

1.7. Silent period, but thinking actively

Julio Foppoli has the following to say about the silent period in his article " The Silent Period of Second Language Acquisition":

There are five different stages in the second language acquisition process:
1) The Silent Period
2) The Early Production Period
3) The Speech Emergence Period
4) The Intermediate Production Period
5) The Advanced Production Period

Even though there is wealth of research on these different stages, out of these five periods, probably the most misunderstood, ignored or even unknown both by teachers and students alike is the first, the Silent Period, which will be the focus of our article today.

What is the Silent Period?
The first stage of the language acquisition process is called “The Silent Period” simply because the students aren’t doing much talking yet. In some learners this period may be shorter or longer, ranging between 2 to 6 months, though it may take much longer too, depending on the exposure to the foreign language that the learner has.


(end of quote)

When I went to school and later university many years ago all my language teachers (except those who taught me Latin) wanted us to speak in our target languages, and for obvious reasons it had to be silly small sentences, and there were heavy restrictions on what our teachers expected us to say. But even then I felt it as an irritating pressure that I had to say something before I felt that I was ready, and that I had to say it exactly as the teacher had planned it. On the other hand our Latin teacher didn't expect us to learn to speak Latin, and so we didn't. This illustrates the two errors you can make: you can force people to speak too early, i.e. before they know what to say, and then they will use mechanisms like 1) looking stupid and saying nothing, 2) learning sentences by heart to please the teacher. OR you can wait for too long, and then you may never learn to use the language. My solutions to this problem has been to start thinking at an early stage and then postpone writing and speaking. In other words: I try to built a solid passive basis, which I then fairly easily can convert to active but 'silent' skills, which then can be converted to active language in the sense that it can be used for traveling and other activities.

It is clear that this way of studying can't easily be combined with ordinary sequential learning where you go through a number of lessons from nr. 1 to the last one under the supervision of a teacher, who controls that you have learnt lesson 1 before you proceed to number two. If I don't say a word the teacher hasn't got a clue as to where I stand levelwise. But now where I'm old and don't have a teacher anymore I don't have to say a thing anymore if I don't feel like it. On the other hand I would never be able to activate any language if I didn't do something active.

What it is to think in your native language? Well, hopefully that functions smoothlessly when you need it. It's just the same thing to think in a foreign language, you are just not as good at it.. OK, I know you can't use that answer to anything so let me take it from another angle: how do you achieve it? First you have to get some building blocks: words, morphology, syntax - no thinking without those. When you learnt your first language you couldn't use translations because you didn't know any other language. Instead you learnt it by having parents and others point to things and actions and give them names, or from explanations that used words you already knew. But now you're learning a foreign language so the situation has changed. Now a limited amount of translation can help you over difficult points.

On a more practical level: to 'turn on' thinking in another language you may have to start with single words. You see a tree, - OK, think "arbre" (the French word for tree, - it could of course have been any other language). If you know the word for 'green' you see one more tree and think "arbre vert". From there you proceed to still more complicated phrases, until you can form whole sentences in your mind. Of course you have to use the words and constructions you already know so this process could in principle come to a screeching halt very soon. But just be persistent and think along even if you make errors: just think "arbre vert est" and be happy, - next time you read in your text book you may stumble over the sentence "l'arbre est grand". Because you already have to tried to think or say something similar you will immediately know that you have made several errors: you need the article le, and the verb should be somewhere in the middle. So when you see the third tree you will think "l'arbre est vert". From there the sky is the limit.

And you should of course avoid to think complete sentences in your own language and then translate them. Translating is also a valuable skill, but you don't have time to translate when you think or speak. However to get past a problem which otherwise could stop you it is OK to let a word or two flicker through your mind - rather than getting a total stop in your thought production.

And when do you exercise your mind in this way? In principle anytime you otherwise might have let your thoughts drift aimless in your own language, but the best time is for me when I walk leisurely in some specific direction. Then I don't have other things to do and thinking is the obvious solution The only problem with this is that I ought to jot down any bothersome lacunas in my foreign vocabulary I find during those walks for later investigation, but in practice I don't stop up in the middle of a street or road to write words down - this is far more likely to happen if I'm sitting down, but there I'm also far more likely to become lazy and complacent.

These are all commonplace observations which I'm sure everybody would accept. It is probably more controversial to say that it doesn't matter whether you think in correct sentences or not. I know that some people are scared of uttering anything faulty because they believe that all errors they commit will become fossilized, but this is absolute nonsense. On the contrary: you should make the language productive as soon as possible - simply because it is much easier to correct your errors if you don't have to fight like a madman to construct even the most simple sentence.

And why not speak instead? If I had been speaking - especially in a classroom setting - I would have second thoughts about uttering incomplete and malformed sentences, and I might even hesitate to say them while I'm alone, but my thoughts are totally my own and I don't lose face thinking nonsense. But of course you also have to train speaking - achieving the correct mouth positions can be a daunting task in itself. People who spend their lives speaking 24x7 may not have a problem with speaking instead of thinking silently. And people who love to interact with others will also be less intimidated than me by the risk of speaking complete gobbledygook to a stranger. OK - but we are all different, and thinking is better than not being active with your new language at all.

Maybe it should be noted at this point that some persons claim that they don't usually think in words, and if they do it is like translating their thoughts into words. I remember that another HTLAL member (Cainntear) was adamant that most if not all people do not think 'in' any language: "Instead I suggest that we think 'into' language and 'out of' language, that is to say that language is an interface between my brain and your brain, a technology that we use to transfer thoughts." (HTLAL thread: "Thinking in a foreign language").

I do recognize that it is possible to think in other modes than language - in another thread I once answered the question "How can one think without language?" as follows: "How do you judge whether a piece of furniture can get through a narrow doorway without trying it out in practice? Thinking in images, I guess." Earlier in my life I wrote music and painted oil paintings. Did I think in language when I did these things? Sometimes yes, but only as peripheral and inconsequential thoughts about the motive. The bulk of my mental activity would obviously have been unconscious, but once my thoughts popped up into my consciousness they would be formulated respectively as musical strands and coloured shapes, and I took decisions about the structure of my works by manipulating sounds and shapes, not words. Words were mainly involved when it came to choosing what to paint, but not how to paint it. However here we are speaking about language learning, and then the logical thought mode is obviously the verbal one.

People who do yoga claim that they can empty their mind by focusing on for instance their breathing or a mantra. For me that sounds scary - somewhat like deliberately emptying your bank account or throwing your furniture out of the window. But it may be possible. Another possible variation would be thoughts which weren't in any concrete form, neither as images, sounds or words. I have a much harder time imagining what that would be, except that it probably would be hidden in the unconscious mind and only enter the conscious mind once they were clad in some kind of sensory form. But we are different, and maybe people like Cainntear can 'feel' those thoughts before they have passed any sensory elaboration. I can't.
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Iversen
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Re: Iversen's Guide to Learning Languages (version 3b)

Postby Iversen » Thu Jan 28, 2016 2:57 pm

1.8. About intensive and extensive reading/listening (and epiphanies)

If you take a piece of written text or a recording and spend the time and effort of understand just about everything, looking up words, checking endings and maybe even syntax, in short doing anything to suck every drop of information from it then it is in every meaning of the word an intensive process. If it is a long text or recording then you don't have time for that so you will try to form an intuitive impression of the meaning based on whatever words or expressions you recognize, combined with circumstantial evidence. This is an extensive process.

There are two kinds of reading.

One is the intensive reading where you try to understand more or less everything (though pondering for hours over one particularly complicated construction or an incomprehensible word may not be worth your precious time). This means that you may have to look up a number of words and maybe even consult a grammar of some sorts. If you already know the language well then it may be other things you look for, like narrative patterns or influences from other authors, but the criterion for saying that you read intensively is that you take your time to search information or ponder over certain problems in the text, even if that means that you have tio make stops or even lokk back to earlier passages.

Often when I say I study a text I do one thing more than just read it slowly with many lookups etc., and that thing is copying the text by hand. This is a very efficient way of slowing you down so that you have time to ask yourself whether you really understand everything. Besides you can jot down words you have looked up or expression you might want to remember for later use. Actually this isn't just reading, but something between reading and close study of a text sample, and I mention it to illustrate what should go through your mind when you do intensive reading without copying.

The other kind of reading is the extensive reading. Here the goal is not to understand everything, but to acquire a kind of momentum while reading and to get through as much genuine stuff as possible. If you are a total novice and the language is far from anything you know this kind of reading is only possible when you have acquired enough vocabulary and grammar through intensive reading and other activities. But it is bound to take up more and more of the time you spend reading, simply because it is so much more pleasing.

This should be seen in the light of another important notion, that of comprehensible input (which already has been mentioned in connection with Krashen and his five hypotheses). If you are a total newbee then you have to find very easy texts AND to work hard to understand them, but soon you find yourself in a situation where you can introduce extensive reading/listening to the same very easy texts. Or alternatively you can choose more difficult texts, which you then have to take to pieces in a very intensive process. Afterwards you can hopefully read them extensively. Both strategies are relevant and useful (and should be pursued), but to me it seems simpler to combine the two extremes and choose relatively difficult texts, which you make comprehensible through the use of translations. More about this later.

The notion of intensive versus extensive study can be extended to other activities like speaking or listening. The problem with listening is of course that the sounds pass by and disappear, but this can be remedied with the help of recordings, which you can play again and again. In part 5 I'll discuss some intensive listening techniques, but by and large extensive listening will probably be more common than intensive listening. With speaking there is on the one hand the kind of activity you would do in a language laboratory, where you did pronunciation drills which were recorded and played back to you, after which you would try to say the same thing again, just better. On the other hand there is the kind of speaking you do in a conversation, where you skip difficulties and use circumlocutions if you have forgotten a crucial expression - or you may even choose to say something different to get around the problem.

In my opinion it is worth separating the two kinds of activities instead of doing something that is somewhere in the middle. You learn more facts if you don't care about the time it takes to look things up, and you become more fluent if you aren't too fuzzy about missing words and dubious pronunciations.

But maybe there is a third possibility.

In June 2007 someone called Siomotteikiru suddenly appeared like a bolt from the sky in the HTLAL universe with a message that proposed a quite original study technique, which must be classified as extensive listening with a purpose that resemble that of short intensive studies, but achieved through bulk learning instead of concentrated study of short passages: the Listening-Reading (or LR) method:

(Quote:)
If you want to learn a language quickly you’ll need:
1. a recording performed by good actors or narrators in the language you want to learn
2. the original text (of the recording)
3. a translation into your own language or a language you understand
4. the text(s) should be long: novels are best

You may wonder: why long texts? Because of the idiolect of the author; it manifests itself fully in the first ten–twenty pages: it is very important in learning quickly without cramming.

The key factor in learning a language is EXPOSURE, that is how much NEW text you will be able to perceive in a unit of time. There is a physical limit here, you can’t understand any faster than the text reaches your brain. That is why you ought to SIMULTANEOUSLY read the translation and listen to the original recording: that provides the fastest exposure. You should ENJOY the text you're going to listen to. Texts for beginners should be long - the longer the better, up to fifty hours (e.g. The Lord of the Ring, Harry Potter, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Catch-22). You might doubt if it is possible. I can assure you it is - you should see twelve-year-olds listening to Harry Potter.
(...)

The order ought to be EXACTLY as follows:
1. you read the translation (...)
2. you listen to the recording and look at the written text at the same time (...)
3. you look at the translation and listen to the text at the same time, from the beginning to the end of a story, usually three times is enough to understand almost everything
This is the most important thing in the method, it is right AT THIS POINT that proper learning takes place. If you’re in a position to do it right from the start, you can skip 1. and 2.
4. now you can concentrate on SPEAKING: you repeat after the recording, you do it as many times as necessary to become fluent (..)
5. you translate the text from your own language into the language you’re learning
And last but not least: conversing is not learning, it is USING a language, you will NEVER be able to say more than you already know.
© Phi-Staszek

As I wrote, this method is extensive by nature: you are supposed to listen for hours on end to the recording plus either the transcript or the translation, and it is not planned that you should look words up or read grammars. The impressive thing is that you can actually get something out of listening to a text in an unknown language while listening to a translation, but it is actually working – I have tried myself on a (short) Persian text. But as I said it can be a trouble to find all the necessary elements, and you must be very interested in the content to listening for the long periods stipulated for this method. So even though this method looks like it could function, I have not been able to use it according to the directives, partly because it is difficult to find long texts in parallel audio, translation and original, partly because I tend to get bored - especially with literature. Instead I have chosen to use moderately difficult original texts with translations. However listening for content while reading a transcript or translation mostly occurs when I watch TV with subtitles - and you know how bad they are.

There are roughly two kinds of language learners: those that primarily learn through their ears and those who learn through their eyes. I belong in the latter category, and what I write now may not be relevant for those who belong to the first category.

To be able to read and even more to think in a language you must of course study the pronunciation first. For some of my languages I have a solid foundation from my school years: English, German and (somewhat later) French and Latin. When I however started to learn Italian and Spanish through selfstudy as a school kid I didn't have any choice than to read about the pronunciation and then frantically try adjust my pronunciation whenever I had the chance to hear the real thing. This is essentially also what I do today, except that I now have the blessing of the internet where I can get videos, podcasts and live transmissions in just about any language I might ever wish to learn.

To build my vocabulary and grammatical knowledge I copy original texts by hand and translate them, I read about grammar, I make word lists, I try to get some modicum of fluency in my reading and last, but not least: I start combining words in my head until they form nice, more or less correct, but at least complete sentences. At this point it is important not to be too fuzzy about errors in vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation - as I've stated earlier I'm convinced that it is easier to correct those errors later when you have enough reserves of skill and confidence than it is to deal with them while you are still struggling.

As a result of this toil and labour I expect some day to wake up and suddenly be able to understand the target language in its spoken form (a so called epiphany moment). This may sound like a joke, but it isn't. The main reason that you don't understand ordinary clear speech at this stage is not that you can't follow the words (after all those listening sessions), but that you stumble over unknown words or constructions all the time and then start thinking or - even worse - translating in your head. And then you are stuck. Instead you should just try to follow the babble word for word, syllable after syllable, letting the meanings that pop up pass by without caring too much about them, otherwise you would miss the next sequence. Then some bright day you have - without noticing anything special - passed the threshold where you know to piece everything together without really making a conscious effort, just as you do with your native language. This is the epiphany moment.

Wikipedia lists several meanings of the word "epiphany", but the most relevant here is the following one (Wikipedia quote dating from 2008) :

An epiphany (from the ancient Greek "επιφάνεια", epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something. The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify that the claimant has "found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture," or has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or numinous foundational frame of reference.

My guess concerning epiphany moments I think that they mostly occur for people who are global learners, as opposed to mainly sequential learners. A sequential learner starts in one corner of the language and then adds new elements until more or less the whole thing is covered. This is the way you work when you use a text book and goes from chapter one to the last chapter in the prescribed order. A global learner takes little pieces from all over the language and tries to make them fit. In the beginning this isn't possible, but when you accumulate enough of those isolated pieces you sooner or later pass a threshold where things suddenly seem to snap into place - and that's your epiphany moment.

This reminds me of the two types of JPG-images: if you have a slow internet connection and a large image file of the 'normal' type the picture emerges from the top and downwards. But there are also 'interlaced' JPGs around where the whole picture is shown from the beginning, but in a very coarse version which however becomes clearer and clearer until a certain point - at least on old slow computers. The language skills of a global learner are organized like an interlaced JPG image file on a slow computer.

For me learning - or rather conquering - the written version of a language is a slow and gradual process, and I typically don't care much about the spoken version of a language before I already can read most written sources more or less fluently. This means that MY chance of experiencing an epiphany moment is much larger with audio sources, simply because it is the oral understanding that is lagging behind and suddenly passes the stage where I have accumulated enough savvy from written sources.

In the case of Dutch it was really a case of not understanding anything one day and then understanding more or less the whole thing the next - and it happened after I had been listening to 5 hours of AVRO Museum TV in one day. The speed with which it happened proves that it wasn't a question of learning something more, but more about reorganizing the things I already had learn through my occupation with the written language. It is the same thing that can happen if you already have learnt a lot about the language at home without really getting anywhere - but then you visit a place where the languages is spoken and then you suddenly make a tiger leap forwards. But without the knowledge you had accumulated at home you wouldn't have been able to benefit from immersion.
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