The language learning process


So, how does a whole language (and culture) get learned?
How do we go from sitting, listening to a group of people and only hearing unintelligible gibberish
to
sitting and interacting with a group of people, even telling a few jokes or giving advice?

Well, unfortunately, you can’t just sit down and swallow it all whole. Like an ear of corn, language has to be bitten into chunks, chewed, and swallowed. Fortunately there is a process for that. I’m not good at following processes, and sometimes I try to swallow the whole ear of corn in one big bite (I usually choke), but when I follow the plan, it works. Want to know the basic outline of THE PLAN.

First of all, sorry Rosetta stone, I think its almost impossible to really learn a language outside of its cultural context, and away from daily doses of real live intearction. So, say you have your community, and you are ready to dive in to learn their language and culture…then you need to spend lots of time LISTENING and watching. Tune your ear so when you start talking you don’t sound SO foreign.

While you listen, note basic things that people do every day. Wake up. Get dressed. Cook. Eat. Work. School. Clean up. Make things. Etc. It might be similar to your home culture or it might be way different. Here, even though people don’t look THAT much different, the things they do every day are very different. And I’m not even talking about reasons WHY, I’m just talking about basic stuff like boiling corn. Because, before you can boil corn here, you have to plant and harvest it, get the water from the river, make a fire, shuck the corn, and then boil it.

Aim to find forty basic, daily activities. I just listed lots: plant, harvest, getting water, making a fire, getting firewood, preparing food, cleaning up…your community might just go to McD’s before school…that works too. Then video or photograph someone doing the activities. From those 40 events you can begin to study basic sentences about what is going on. For example a community member could say “point to the picture of the woman”…or “point to the picture of the corn.” Than later, “point to the picture of the woman shucking corn.” All of this is recorded, and listened to over, and over again.
The only talking that you will be doing at this point is using survival phrases like “what are you doing?” “How do you say that?” “Please say it slower” etc.

After learning basic sentences from the events, its time to learn processes. A community member can say something like: “to make corn, first you plant and harvest it. Then you get water from the river. Then you shuck the corn. Then…”
Somewhere in there you can start talking. Hooray! Everyone will be saying, “it’s about time.”

Then it’s time to learn past and future tense stories. Ask people to tell a story about when they boiled corn, or about a plan to boil corn tomorrow…or one time their aunt boiled corn and it boiled over and the dog got burnt…whatever. You should be doing lots of talking now, even retelling stories, or telling your own stories. And things will be starting to get deeper…like when you ask for a story about coffee, and you get a story about how one of their friends put salt in their coffee instead of sugar (on purpose), and they coughed for a week, and still hold a grudge.
And, talking is now beginning to be exclusively in the new language. Yikes, stretching, but its here that you’ll really begin to blossom.

And that is where I’m at right now. I’ll let you in on the next phases as I do them. It’s life interviewing, and plans, I think.

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One thought on “The language learning process

  1. Pingback: The 30 | 30 | Life Less Ordinary

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