Your Brain Mimicking Your Body: Language Learning
Mar 20, 2013 English Language Learning (ELL) 2991 Views
When learning a new language it's always great to get out there and interact, get real-life experience and learn from those who use the dialect every day. However, it's not uncommon to seek safety in the traditional non-interactive methods of language learning such as CDs, books and classes. But why is this? When more progressive methods are proven to yield better results what is the lure of sticking our nose in a book and repeating words under our breath?
Think of different learning methods as different exercises for particular muscles or skills: reading stimulates thoughts, speaking exercises your mouth, listening prepares your ears. Let's look at learning methods as fundamental bodily requirements.
The inauthentic conversation used in language classes serves an important purpose, it helps define language rules and formulas for the student - the fundamental structures of a language can be pointed out and memorised. This all seems very simple; until you leave the classroom and try to talk to a native speaker, who just so happens to not be asking 'which direction is the swimming pool' or 'what colour is your cat'.
It's extremely rare that an example of a 'perfect sentence' can be seen in daily life, people are relatively lazy when it comes to speaking the 'perfect' form of a language. This doesn't mean that they are speaking incorrectly (although sometimes they are!) but that all the necessary components for a statement to make sense are all included. There are exceptions to this, such as a common phrase in English is "I don't know nothing", which logic would dictate means "I know something" but in fact it means the opposite. This type of language feature, which although may be highlighted in language classes, is unlikely to be taught as an appropriate way to speak - when in fact conversations with native speakers would include many "incorrect" utterances.
Books! Books! Books! The pillar of the school system, source of knowledge and entertainment, what can't a book teach you?
How to pronounce things, that's what.
As any person who's engaged in formal education will know, textbooks can be boring, hard to follow and simply not especially effective if the content doesn't interest you. As a result it's always best to incorporate reading with tangible stimulus - watch a TV show in the language you are learning and refer to the book to see the grammar rules you are hearing. But be sure not to rely on books, although they are a great tool it's easy to become dependent; so be sure to take a break from stealing glances at your dictionary and hazard an educated guess.
A large portion of advanced language learners know IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) which when used, and interpreted, correctly allows the reader to pronounce words perfectly (or near perfect) without having heard the word ever before. As amazing as that is, reading IPA can be difficult and it can be hard to learn; it has 107 letters!
It is, however, a wonderful tool and if you intend to learn many languages it's an invaluable skill to have. If you're interested in learning IPA this is a great audio guide to the alphabet
Real life conversation:
Getting involved in real conversations opens up a whole new side of the language you may not have realised existed if you're simply reading books and attending classes. The learner can get the benefits of learning slang, natural inflections, social meaning of use of intonation and learn how people actually speak in a casual context. Of course it's virtually impossible for this to be successful if you dive right in with no previous knowledge, you must have the ability to recognise grammar differences and keep an ear out for words similar to your native language in addition to some basic knowledge of the new language itself.
In conclusion, the best way to learn a language is to balance the various different opportunities and resources provided to you in order to take advantage of the time you have and be an efficient learner. Imagine eating only one food group, you'd probably feel fine for a short period of time then requirements for other foods would diminish any positive impact you are getting from what you are consuming. The brain works very similarly, giving yourself information from only one source means you're depriving yourself of the scope of knowledge available to you.