Human Language Osmosis

So I had this theory, that by hanging around people who speak a language, one somehow magically absorbs language particles through the pores of their skin or the ulna ulterior respiratory tract.

Of course I’m mostly joking. Of course I know that science says ney, that is not how biology and human informatics works. But regardless that passing fancy lead me onto something that’s actually founded in reality.

What happened is, I found while hanging around my Japanese speaking friends, I was almost magically able to understand a very high percentage of the manga I was reading at the time, which is, as you could have guessed from reading my other posts, One Piece.

Now that we’ve ruled out magically absorbing language particles through the skin or respiratory system, let’s look at why this could be. Well honestly a lot of the time it’s just easier, because I can read a sentence I’m struggling with aloud (to someone other than my plush Dalek, who’s frequent response is, “YOU WOULD MAKE A GOOD DAALEK,”) and we can immediately have a conversation about it. Throw it around in a few other sentences, talk about differences in meanings from one language to another, all in all, so much more of an impactful experience than looking up an individual word in a dictionary.

So simply, it’s because they’re there to help me figure stuff out.

At least that’s one theory. And in truth probably a significantly contributing factor.

However, and there is almost always a however. Best used when decapitated by untimely punctuation marks that deviate from standardization.

The other aspect, of this language osmosis feeling is one that everyone of us can benefit from whether or not we happen to have the awesome bonus of hanging out with native speakers of the language we’re learning and talking to them about what we’re reading. And it’s simply: confidence.

I suspect that when I’m sitting in the same room as my friends who speak Japanese and I’m reading in Japanese, I become two things:

4) Certain that I can understand anything I’m reading.

2) Embarrassed to too quickly ask questions before having figured or attempted to figure the answer out for myself.

This in turn accomplishes two other things. Since I’m great at counting numerically, here they are:

1) I’m reading more carefully and digging deeper into my brain space for clues, context, memories, or any abstract impressionist cues that might trigger even a failed guess. But more often than not end in having learned something.

B) I’m thinking in or around the language. Which to be honest at very early beginner levels doesn’t seem like much but as you progress, becomes a powerful tool.

Kind of like:

 

And don’t misinterpret, I’m not saying that confidence = success. In some ways it can be a contributing factor, but also, sometimes so can knowing the real answer, instead of confidently believing your guesses are always correct.

So in summary, be a confident but not foolish reader. Don’t try to read foreign languages in the manner that you do your native language, because you’ll read too fast or too non-paying-attention-to-detaily and probably miss simple things that could have cued you in on unlocking a sentence or word. Which as many of you must know is magical. Also unicorns don’t exist, except on OkCupid or in dive bars.

 

 

(If this post makes little sense, I forgive Benadryl for making such potent hallucinatory drugs. After saying that I decided that I’m unsure whether or not I cited a brand or a drug and refuse to use google to answer that question, so I’ll settle for both until some later date.)

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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.

Only take what you can eat

-Luffy-monkey-d-luffy-34806180-500-265

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.

 

LEARN TO SPEAK ANOTHER LANGUAGE OR (BUY A AWESOME NEW HAT)

It’s a bit cheesy, I know, but I’m going with it because I’m improvising.

In fact, one of the most useful tools in learning a language is improvising. That’s not to say, you shouldn’t ever study, but that is to say to not give up easily the moment you feel completely lost. Which at first, is frequent.

Right now, I’m one voice out of many, many–(so many, many’s)– polyglots, most of whom are probably a lot further along in their abilities and personal language libraries than I am. However, one must begin somewhere and so I begin here, at the beginning.

If you’re looking for academic writing and technical, widely accepted use of the English language, this is not the space. Language is not a stagnant old rotting grandmother to be tucked away in a retirement home– it’s a living beast. It’s carnal. It’s dynamic. It’s sexy.

This first post is more of an introduction and a greeting. To the world of people, (especially Americans) who are tired of being the only people at a party who can’t speak a second language, hello, from backwards greeting land!

If you’re not interested in learning a second language or don’t think you have the time to, then you’re who I’m chasing after. I’m here to convince you that you really want this, that you really need to pick up this awesome new hat. (Well not really) I failed out of salesman school because I refused to lie and give strangers blow jobs. (Not that I’m against giving, it’s just got to be the right person, you know?)

Anyway. Learning a language is as easy to start as buying a ridiculous hat. You don’t debate with yourself the pros and cons of whether or not that hat will benefit you or how long until it gets blown away by the inevitable winds of Time and mortality, or the sun roof of your car–you just buy it because it’s fun and you like it.

It doesn’t have to be a ridiculous hat. Maybe you like fun socks, or overalls, or both, (god help you); whatever it is that you buy at random because you like it, that’s how language learning should start.

That’s to say, don’t tell yourself that you should be learning Spanish because it might help you get a job, if you want to learn Swahili because it sounds cool. Do it. You’ll have fun and meet great people wherever you go. Unless. Unless, you have a time machine and use it to go back and learn German from the Nazis then, perhaps you may not meet great people. But I’m not judging. Greatness, like good and evil and kinky and vanilla are all subjective. But I die grass. Yes that’s a cheesy intentional typo. Because in truth language is a ridiculous nonsensical thing that is fun to play with. So play. Learn a language and butcher it, and maybe even go on to becoming a master butcher.

That’s all I’ve got for now. This ought to serve as a good introduction to someone who’s bringing the weird and hopefully the fun back to not being trapped in one hat for the rest of our short wonderful little lives.

Step 1: Buying an awesome hat

Step 1: Buy an awesome hat