Emerging Grammar

Some of you may have heard of Emergent Grammar, especially if you’re at all familiar with Universal Grammar, since the two are rather at odds. Luckily this has little to do with either. At least as far as the scope of this post is concerned.

Emerging grammar is what I’m using to refer to the effect that reading comprehensible input and having meaningful interactions has on a language learner’s grammaticality.

If you’re reading, watching, experiencing interesting material that’s comprehensible then you’re learning grammar. Or in this case emerging grammar. I know that’s a strange way to talk. But you are.

Grammar in a sense is latent at least for humans, concerning human languages. Supposing of course, that you go along with the Universal Grammar theory and are willing to consider it as being a latent human genetic factor.

The point being that we’re wired for language, in the human way, I wouldn’t want to be so species-ist (basically a racist, but in regard to species,) as to claim that human’s are the only one’s with a capacity for language. Also, I might add, (and someone/everyone feel free to debate this,) that judging a species’ intelligence by whether or not it has a language is judging intelligence by human definitions. But I could digress for pages and pages of blog on this.

Back on the imaginary track that is attention span, being wired for grammar, we can exploit this, by interacting and experiencing a new language in comprehensible doses.

So far, my main problem with this, has been, that the material doesn’t exist or isn’t easy to find. And so part of my massive super secret language learning method project has to do with creating a way for this to happen.

But in the mean time, read, and speak and watch things at or around your level. Keep it simple and push simple when simple is boring. Grammar will emerge, and then you can read all the grammar textbooks you want and say, “Ooh, now that makes sense,” or some generic such thing as that.

Advertisements

The 3 S’s. (Reading, Singing and Speaking.)

Okay so clearly there aren’t three S’s, but I kind of wanted to call it that anyway, because reading is arguable a type of seeing, so it’s close enough in my own abstract way.

These are the basics. Ideally you should be doing all three of these, everyday. If you can’t then at least one of these. But realistically, if you don’t have time to listen to (and preferably sing along with) one song a day, read a few sentences and say some words either via text or, or dare you pick up the phone and call a friend…then perhaps you shouldn’t be learning a language, because it sounds like you don’t even have 5-10 minutes to yourself everyday, so you might want to figure out what’s going on and then maybe consider doing one of the three while you’re pooping.

Reading is immensely beneficial in developing, literacy and grammar, without actually studying grammar or doing grammar drills. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSW7gmvDLag  . (Also I should note that I’m not against studying grammar, I just find that it is often better served as a peripheral material or something to be examined in depth once you’ve reached a certain point in comprehension.)

Singing, is perhaps something that’s overlooked in it’s power. I attribute my French accent to having come about after learning to sing along with several French songs that I found interesting. Key point being that it was interesting, and I really enjoyed the sounds of the song as well as the lyrics.

Interest: This is something that needs to be present in all of your language learning aspects as soon as possible and as often as possible. If you’ve got boring content, you’re going to be bored and not want to continue doing something everyday for several months. I find it’s especially important in Reading.

With singing and learning how to sing along with songs, I’d even say that in the early phases complete comprehension is not necessary. There are several songs that I know in Japanese and can sing along to and only have a vague idea of what I’m saying, but often times as I progress in my study, more of the song is unlocked, or when I have a day where I’m bored I’ll actively look up more of the song, but not more than I can eat! As was mentioned in my last post.

If you’re like most people you probably tell yourself that language is language. But you’re wrong. In my opinion, you are anyway. Language is just incomprehensible gibberish sound. Until you attribute meaning. Too often, people who struggle with accents or pronunciation do so, I believe, because they’re trying to say language sounds, using the languages they already know. But forget all that. Just hear it as sound. Think of the way you might try to imitate an animal sound, like a dog barking or a guitar, twanging, you’re not going to give the dog an English or French accent, if you’re half decent at imitating, and I postulate that we all are, because we learned at least one language so far.

Another bonus to singing, is that you get practice speaking faster than you may be ready to, which can in turn help you later on or even currently, because you’re becoming more accustomed to the new way of moving your mouth and to producing new sounds.

And that brings us to the last aspect. Speaking doesn’t always have to be spoken, so long as you’re doing the other 2, it’s acceptable to miss this on occasion, the important thing that I’ve found, is to be producing comprehensible output, even if it’s only two sentences or half sentences. If you’re taking in stuff, eventually you’re going to have stuff that you’d like to express.

Some argue that you need to start speaking right away, other’s suggest waiting a certain amount of time, I think you should do what feels right. But speaking/writing is pretty high up there and I do think it’s better to start sooner rather than later, at least if you plan on ever speaking and being understood by native speakers.
So what’s important? Reading, singing and speaking in your target language. Are there other important aspects? Obviously. Otherwise I would only have one post ever. Along with listening to content, i.e television shows or podcasts as often as possible, I don’t go a day without hitting all of these three aspects. And if you’re serious about being serious then take yourself less seriously, but don’t forget to learn.  Learning when done well is fun and pain free, unless you’re learning how to enjoy sado-masochism, then you might experience some pain…
Until then.

 

 

Want to sound like a native?

Sure speaking correctly and understandably is probably more important for someone who’s just beginning their new language acquisition journey, but I’d like to think that everything is equally important.(And I have reasoning to back this up, but you won’t find it here yet.) If you have flawless grammar but speak french with a heavy american accent then, you’ve lost half the battle. I could be wrong, perhaps your goal was to sound like an american speaking French, but then isn’t part of the draw to a new language also the new (sexy)accent?

Many people struggle with this and I know why. Not because I’m all knowing, although I sometimes imagine that I am, but because I’ve gone through it with several languages. Whether or not this will help you in your journey to sound like you’re a native Chinese speaker or whatever language it is that you’re learning, is mostly left up to you, the scientist and experimenter. Here I offer only, the why and some potential how’s to fix this.

The problem:

1)You’re not listening to the sounds of the new language.

2)You’re trying to say words from another language through your own list of pre-ordered language sounds.

Okay, so what does this all mean and how does one fix it?

The solution:
 1) Stop trying to hear language. There is no language. (Remember the Matrix scene with the little bald boy and the spoon? Well he’s right. “There is no spoon.”) What you think is language is really just an agreed upon series and pattern of sounds, which themselves are nothing but varied vibrations that turn into electrochemical impulses in the brain.

The point of all that is, stop listening for words and stop trying to make sense of things, because then it’s as if you have a wooden box with circular and triangular holes, (these holes represent your native language.) Your new language however is made up of Circles, triangles, squares and hexagons. Excuse the rudimentary example but this serves, hopefully, to highlight what so many of us do wrong. We try to fill in the holes with things that don’t fit.

The solution continued:

2) Pretend that you’re listening to music. In the same way that you usually wouldn’t try to hear English words coming from a violin or a drum, you don’t want to try and hear words in a foreign language. Because they’re not going to be words to you for awhile. Try to only hear sounds. Get good at imitating those sounds or parts of those sounds. And one day when the sounds become words you’ll be better able to speak like a native!

 Admittedly, this is more of a teaser article, as I’m deathly sick and can’t talk without coughing, so when I’m better in a few days I’ll probably make a video discussing this in further detail and possibly offering more tips and demonstrations as to how this can work in practice.

As usual feel free to leave electronic words or open a discussion below.

So you’ve found a language that you want to learn…Now what?

People will tell you, the first step is the hardest, but they’re liars, or they’re just lacking the ability to differentiate semantic variations among words. It’s not the first action that’s difficult, it’s that inside your brain/mind lost in the stream of thoughts and bombarded by internet salesmen who didn’t fail salesmen school and who can sell you the same crappy product twice by calling it something different. That’s the tricky part. So let’s talk about it.

Before we get tumbling down the black hole of my mind that likely leads to tea parties and giant underaged blonde women in torn stockings, you’ll need two things.

A)You know that you want to learn a particular language.

 

And 2) or more importantly you know why.

This number of the second has got to be a good reason too. Like I mentioned in my earlier post, don’t come in here with any of that, I want to learn it because I’ll make more money crap. Money is a lie, at least for the purposes of this example, it is. 

Okay so you’ve gotten past those two major hurdles. Now you search the internet and find…WAY TOO MANY THINGS. And either end up staring at pictures of people you might know on Facebook, or you get roped into buying something useless, or you end up reading someone’s blog who knows more than I do but has way too much information and leads to you spending hours speculating and reading and not doing anything.

So, I’m going to do a plug here. And I’m not the first in the very large and ever expanding polyglot community. Get Assimil, if possible for the language you’re learning, or any other comparable dual language translation text. I won’t go into details as to why it’s great, but it really is. I’ve tried everything out there. Which is why I’m now 27 and no longer 15. Thanks for stealing my life. Not complaining really, I learned a lot and there’s really nothing useless out there. Something can be learned from even the crappiest language program.

So in short check out Assimil. It will get you reading and listening and learning words in context instead of isolated. My favorite part is, you don’t have to deal with stupid sometimes creepy pictures of random children holding balloons or being eaten by dogs.

Reading and listening are your two greatest tools. But also, you’re a tool.

Yeah I just called you that. I’m one too. (More on this toolness in a bit.) Before or while you’re waiting for whatever dual language text to arrive via mail, or however else you obtain things, start finding movies, television, music, podcasts in your target language. Listen to it as often as you can stand and then listen to it some more. One fellow for whom I have respect is ,Khatzumoto of http://www.ajatt.com. He also has a ton of great advice for anyone learning ANY language. (Hopefully one day I’ll be lucky enough to share an awesome conversation in Japanese with him about language and other things that are cool, but regardless, he’s got a pretty great approach and a ton of resources.)

Back on track with being a tool. Eventually you’ll start recognizing words or sentences and having questions in general, that’s where you need to use yourself and the internet and friends and books to discover those answers to your curiosities.

How many times did you have to hear『ばか』(baka) before you looked up it’s meaning? Something like that. Be a tool. Just as language isn’t an unchanging piece of something that only ever sits in one place giving strangers dirty looks, learning a language isn’t a statue. There may be no one way that works everybody, which makes it great and terrifying that there are so many options out there.

And if you don’t like the idea of trying some random product I recommended then do your research and find a book or method that seems to fit your style. But in the meantime listen and watch media in your target language, you’d be surprised at what you can pick up. And at the very least you’ll be getting used to the sounds and hopefully trying to imitate them when you’re alone or walking down the smelly streets of Manhattan.

Also find a buddy to talk to. There are a few free programs, like sharedtalk or italki. If you’re going to talk to someone though take the time to learn basic things like greetings, introducing yourself and talking about the weather. Because everybody talks about the weather and there’s always so much to say about it. I’m half kidding, and half sleep deprived and all hungry. So I’m going to wrap up this sort of ramble here. Things will probably be more cohesive as I progress. But for now I’m just trying to bring up general truths that are not specific to any one method.

You found a ridiculous hat now start wearing it. It will seep into your brain and you’ll internalize the hat and then probably have to go to a surgeon, because that’s kind of scary and shouldn’t happen. Good luck with that.