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.

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Only take what you can eat

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If you’re anything like ルフィ(Luffy), then you can eat a lot and of course you’re made of rubber and want to become the Pirate King. Or maybe you’re lacking the last two traits. Either way this awesome gif is food related and language relevant.

Most people don’t feel accomplished unless they’re fitting into the stereotypical media promoted study habit model, where you’re hunched over a desk with papers and computer and books scattered everywhere, working frantically for hours. (Yes, I did just say that there is computer scattered everywhere. No, that’s not what I meant. But on occasion, I refuse to kill my darlings.)

Anyway the point is simple and coated in sugar like almost everything we eat.

Only study what you can take in.

In terms of applying this to language learning, it means two things.

Thing A: Read or work with materials that you can understand, for the most part. You do want there to be a little bit of a challenge. But if you’re new to a language, don’t start out trying to read an epic novel or abstract poetry. Start with something interesting to you and something written simply.

Thing 2nd: You’re not going to learn 2,000 words in one day in the same turn you’re not going to always immediately understand everything that’s written on a given page, but if you’re following along, keep going! Don’t stress over remembering everything. Because you’re going to forget.

Fear not noble strugglers! The more you begin to understand the general concepts the more pieces will fit together, meaning, more connections, more context, easier to remember.

 

Part B of Thing 2nd:If you try to eat each grain of rice individually it’s going to take you longer to get full and you’ll probably get bored and walk away without having eaten much.

-The End of Things-(but not this post)

Sure you could learn some pretty awesome ways to improve your memory and most of them work, but if you’re lazy like most humans and you have no intention of changing your lazy status, then this works too. It may take a little longer, but it works for busy (lazy) people.

But really what I’m saying is don’t binge, don’t cram. Just enjoy. Maybe Luffy is binging and cramming, but he’s also made of rubber and in the show it somehow works. If you read five pages in your target language and you start to think about other things or you find yourself staring at the same page for 10 minutes, then put the book down. Not forever. That’s a long time and kind of hard to measure. Come back to it when you’re hungry.

Share your language learning struggles/achievements 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.