Armando and Hebrew, or What Does It Take to Acquire Language?

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s_allard
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Re: Armando and Hebrew, or What Does It Take to Acquire Language?

Postby s_allard » Tue Jul 12, 2016 8:31 pm

Finny wrote:This PDF from Krashen has always been one of my favorite reads on input-focused adult language acquisition. I figured it was worth sharing for anyone who hasn't come across it yet. Here's an excerpt...

A front-page article in the Los Angeles Times (Silverstein, 1999) described the case of Armando, a 29-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has lived in the United States for 12 years. Armando, who attended school in Mexico up to grade nine, has worked in an Israeli restaurant in Los Angeles nearly the entire time he has lived in the United States. While Armando speaks English quite well, he says he speaks Hebrew better.

Silverstein provides some description of how Armando did it: "He learned by observing and listening to co-workers and friends," through interaction and conversation, occasionally asking for the meanings of unknown words. Silverstein also provides some information on how good Armando is in Hebrew, quoting the "patriarch" of the family-owned restaurant, who claims that Armando "speaks Hebrew like an Israeli" (p. 1).

...

Armando told me that he had never learned to read Hebrew, never studied Hebrew grammar, had no idea of what the rules of Hebrew grammar were, and certainly did not think about grammar when speaking. He said that he received about five corrections a day, but none of these were aimed at grammar; it was all vocabulary.


...

The measure used to evaluate Armando's Hebrew was quite crude, but ecologically fairly valid. Native speakers of Hebrew regard him as a fluent, comfortable speaker of Hebrew, and two of the four judges thought he spoke Hebrew like someone born in Israel.

I'll bypass all the quoting and requoting of Krashen and get straight to the point. I will however say in passing that in my opinion much of Krashen's work can be summarized as follows: some people learn a foreign language spontaneously through sheer exposure IN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES. Other people study a language in a deliberate manner and can succeed IN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES.
I've added the words IN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES because this where the complications arise.

What I found intriguing about the case of Armando was the section that I put in bold. It seems that Armando has no conscious knowledge of Hebrew grammar. But he does know how to use Hebrew grammar, i.e. knows how to put words in the right form and in the right order. For example, Armando does not know a noun from a preposition but he knows when speaking Hebrew that certain words that we call indirect object nouns must be preceded by a word that we call a preposition, unlike English but like Spanish.

How did Armando acquire the grammar during the five corrections a day aimed at vocabulary? First of all, I believe that Armando learned entire phrases and sentences that he could associate with specific actions in the restaurant. So he quickly learned something like "Where are the clean dishes?" and "They are over there." Secondly, while the article above says that only vocabulary was corrected. I don't believe this because I don't think Armando could make a distinction between vocabulary and grammar. I'm sure that if he had said "Where is the clean dishes?' or "Are for there" (because of Spanish), at some point he would have been corrected.

Armando did not take a course in Hebrew but he could put two and two together. After a while he began to see the patterns in the highly repetitious language the of his work. He constructed a grammar of Hebrew. After twelve years of this stuff, his conversational Hebrew is quite good. I would just add that this is undoubtedly conversational Hebrew for working in a restaurant. His excellent accent probably masks what deficiencies he has in grammar and vocabulary.

I will point out in passing that the article mentions the importance of interaction and correction. When we say that this is an input-focused method, this is wrong. Armando was not sitting all day watching Israeli soap operas with subtitles. He was continuously interacting with co-workers in spoken Hebrew. This is an interactive-corrective method with lots of output and this is why it worked.

We are not told exactly what Armando did in the restaurant, but I think he probably started doing something manual in the back of the kitchen. Think of how much Hebrew Armando learned in his first week at work working the dishwashing machine. A bunch of words and phrases related to washing dishes. He could probably speak a decent bit of Hebrew after a week.

All of this is a far cry from what we usually mean when we have our endless discussions about input only. Instead of looking at thousands of hours of TV in the target language, suppose you were thrown into working in the language from day 1, your interactive proficiency would improve spectacularly.
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Re: Armando and Hebrew, or What Does It Take to Acquire Language?

Postby reineke » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:19 am

YtownPolyglot wrote:Case histories can be a valid form of scientific research, but I would err on the side of caution. I suspect that Armando is a great language learner and that his coworkers were at least as helpful as the average coworkers would be. It sounds like certain parts of the situation would all have to line up in the right way. In other words, I am not recommending taking a job in a Chinese restaurant as a good way to learn Cantonese or Mandarin.


s_allard wrote:How did Armando acquire the grammar during the five corrections a day aimed at vocabulary? First of all, I believe that Armando learned entire phrases and sentences that he could associate with specific actions in the restaurant. So he quickly learned something like "Where are the clean dishes?" and "They are over there." Secondly, while the article above says that only vocabulary was corrected. I don't believe this because I don't think Armando could make a distinction between vocabulary and grammar. I'm sure that if he had said "Where is the clean dishes?' or "Are for there" (because of Spanish), at some point he would have been corrected.

Armando did not take a course in Hebrew but he could put two and two together. After a while he began to see the patterns in the highly repetitious language the of his work. He constructed a grammar of Hebrew. After twelve years of this stuff, his conversational Hebrew is quite good. I would just add that this is undoubtedly conversational Hebrew for working in a restaurant. His excellent accent probably masks what deficiencies he has in grammar and vocabulary.

I will point out in passing that the article mentions the importance of interaction and correction. When we say that this is an input-focused method, this is wrong. Armando was not sitting all day watching Israeli soap operas with subtitles. He was continuously interacting with co-workers in spoken Hebrew. This is an interactive-corrective method with lots of output and this is why it worked.

We are not told exactly what Armando did in the restaurant, but I think he probably started doing something manual in the back of the kitchen. Think of how much Hebrew Armando learned in his first week at work working the dishwashing machine. A bunch of words and phrases related to washing dishes. He could probably speak a decent bit of Hebrew after a week.

All of this is a far cry from what we usually mean when we have our endless discussions about input only. Instead of looking at thousands of hours of TV in the target language, suppose you were thrown into working in the language from day 1, your interactive proficiency would improve spectacularly.


Why bother with Krashen and Silverstein when you can...output. Brainstorming is good and these are positive stories however I think input should precede output. One should listen, read and discuss rather than conduct monologues.

Interesting bits organized by individual story.

"Picking up a few words of a foreign language--or, in exceptional cases, advanced conversational skills--sometimes is a way to get ahead economically. Rodriguez, for instance, worked his way up from dishwasher to a manager's job, with the help of his fluent Hebrew."

Rodriguez, 29, left school in Mexico at age 16 and has acquired all of his Hebrew in the real world of the restaurant business. He learned by observing and listening to co-workers and friends. Early on, it was tough to make out words, and learning came in small steps: One of his bosses would say he needed bay-tzah, then would grab an egg.

He started picking up greetings and other phrases and got a kick out of the reaction from customers when he used the expressions. "People would tell me, 'Armando, you're the only Mexican I know who speaks Hebrew.' And that made me feel good," he said.

Particularly helpful was one of the Wizgan daughters, Ronit Yakovi, who would both talk with--and tease--Rodriguez in Hebrew. When she speaks with him, Rodriguez said, "I follow the conversation, the way it is, until she's done. Then I say, 'You said this word, What does it mean?' "

The learning process, particularly in the early years, didn't always go smoothly. One time he mixed up bay-tzah (egg) for bat-tzahl (onion). When he would make those sort of goofs, his friend Yakovi would have a quick rejoinder: "Armando, ah-tah lo normali." ("Armando, you're not normal.")

Along the way, Rodriguez, who describes himself as a dedicated Catholic, also became fluent in the mores of observant Jews. In conversation, he punctuates every few sentences with "Barukh Ha-Shem," a Hebrew expression of faith often translated as "Thank God" or, more literally, "Blessed be God."

"Publisher William Jovanovich, in his 1998 autobiography "Serbdom," tells of how as a young boy he was surprised to see his Tata (Papa) launch into a conversation in Serbian with an elderly black man in Denver. Jovanovich's Tata explained that the black man had worked "with us Montenegrins in a coal mine . . . and nobody spoke English. He learned our language in self-defense."

A twist on the Latino-Jewish language connection has emerged at Ventura Kosher Meats in Tarzana. Three Mexican-born employees there have picked up some Farsi, a tongue spoken by Iranian-born Jews who shop at the store. The champion is Juan Sanchez. Although his grammar and accent are described as rough, Sanchez speaks Farsi with little hesitation and enjoys making small talk with customers.

For Sanchez, the learning process began after he left Guadalajara, Mexico, for Los Angeles in 1988 and went to work at a food store largely serving Iranian Jews.

"I was working there 12 hours every day and only hearing Persian, Persian, Persian. So that's what I picked up, the Iranian language. And I love it. After I learned it, I found out that I'm another person," said Sanchez, explaining that the exposure to a new language broadened his horizons.

His old boss at the grocery "used to invite me to parties. Right away, I picked up the dancing. . . . They used to say, 'You've picked up the language, you're picking up how to dance. What else do you want to learn about us?' Everything!"

"Ethnic restaurants are perhaps the most common venues for casual language learning. Marcelino Fructuoso, 26, is a case in point. After working as a cook in a succession of Koreatown restaurants for six years, he has learned how to carry on simple conversations and understand work instructions, in Korean."
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Re: Armando and Hebrew, or What Does It Take to Acquire Language?

Postby s_allard » Wed Jul 13, 2016 5:08 am

Just to add a little postscript to the description of the language acquisition process of Armando, I would like to point out that he started working in the Israeli restaurant at the age of 17. I think we can assume that the hormones were still raging at that age and that Armando probably had some interest in Hebrew-speaking girls in the restaurant. That could be a major motivational factor in the desire to learn Hebrew. You never know.
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Re: Armando and Hebrew, or What Does It Take to Acquire Language?

Postby s_allard » Fri Jul 15, 2016 2:34 pm

Since this thread seems to be winding down, I thought I'd add a little postscriptum in the form of what I think are some lessons that can be learned from these examples of spontaneous language learning. Most of the time, these examples are used by proponents of the "natural method" or the "input-focused" approach to foreign language acquisition. And this is usually in opposition to so-called formal or traditional classroom methods. Just to be clear, I want to say that I believe that the two approaches can go well together and do not have to be opposed. Here is what I think we see in most if not all these spontaneous learning cases.

1. It's best to start as young as possible. In most of the stories I've seen so far, the learners were either young adults or in their teens or younger. This helps a lot for various reasons. First of all, there are more opportunities to meet native speakers in various activities with native speakers, such as school, work, sports, etc. and secondly, there is often an important component of mutual attraction with native speakers of opposite (or same) sex.

2. The learners make a deliberate effort to learn the language. They may not follow classes but they are engaged in the learning process. I don't think that anyone can say that these learners are not trying to learn the language.

3. They observe the language being used in real situations, i.e. they can associate language with actions.

4. They are either required to use the language daily or have the opportunity to do so in real situations. This combined with item 3 above makes for great learning opportunities.

5. They receive corrections from native speakers.

6. They develop excellent pronunciation skills because of the constant interaction with natives.

7. They develop good informal conversational skills. They will be lacking in those skills that require formal education, e.g. reading, writing and use of the formal register. This can sometimes be a bit of a problem for example if these learners have learned only slang.

Basically, what we are seeing is immersion at its best. This works very well within its limits and will produce fluent speakers with good pronunciation. But this is very different from the idea of input only as bandied about in this forum. This is not the same as watching thousands of hours of DVDs in the target language while sitting on the couch.
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