Natural language learning

From Steve Kaufmann;

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Here are seven concepts of natural language learning that reflect the most recent research on how the brain learns.

1. The brain can learn languages, trust it.

The brain learns all the time, and, in fact, is designed to learn. Throughout our lives the brain retains “plasticity”, creating neurons, and neural connections, in response to what it sees, hears and experiences. The brain draws its own conclusions from the input it receives, and is better at forming its own rules than understanding logical explanations. The brain is always at work, consuming over 20% of the body’s calories. We can learn languages right into old age, and in fact it is good for the brain to do so.

The brain develops its own rules, naturally, from the observation of the input it receives.
The brain takes its time to learn, requiring continued exposure to meaningful and interesting content.
The brain can prioritize what to learn, dealing with easier subjects first, and more difficult ones later.
2. The brain needs stimulus. Give it massive amounts of meaningful input.

The brain likes things that are relevant and interesting. So if the task is language acquisition, the most important condition is massive and continuous exposure to interesting and relevant language content. At first, when the language is new, it is helpful to reinforce what has been learned by repetitive listening and reading. As we progress we need to find new, fresh, interesting, stimulating and meaningful content.

We learn better from stories, real conversations, examples and episodes than from rules and facts.
We learn best from content that matters to us.
It is easier to listen to and read content is at the right level of difficulty, however the interest and relevance to the learner is the most important consideration.
3. The brain will miss things. We can help the brain notice the language.

The brain learns naturally by observing, constantly labeling and creating its own rules. But the brain can miss things. We should, from time to time, review grammar rules and tables, focus on mistakes we have made, or study specific words and phrases that we have learned. We should also attempt to write and speak, if we feel like it. These activities, which dominate traditional language learning, are, however, optional and minor activities in a natural language learning system. They increase attentiveness but should not take away from the main activities of listening and reading.

Good language output can only come from absorbing massive amounts of language input.
When we practice output, speaking and writing, or review vocabulary and grammar rules, we increase our attentiveness to the language.
Heightened attentiveness increases the ability of the brain to notice the patterns and sounds of the language.
4. Learn to engage your emotions in order to increase learning efficiency.

Positive emotions energize the brain, and increase the efficiency of learning. An interesting story, a powerfully narrated audio book, a person we like – these are the things that will engage our emotions. Uninteresting learning tasks, or negative tension, decrease learning efficiency.

We should stay with content we like, and discard content we do not like. We should do those learning tasks we enjoy doing.
We should always combine audio with text, and choose narrators whose voice we enjoy. This will make it easier to listen repetitively.
We need to like the language we are learning and at least some aspects of its culture.
5. When you learn naturally, you will feel motivated by your own success.

Motivation is the basic motor of learning. Success is motivating, as is praise. Any teaching activity which creates frustration, such as traditional grammar based language learning, can demotivate the learner. In a natural learning environment, the main task of the teacher is to encourage the learner to become independent of the teacher, rather than to impose tasks or explanations on the learner.

Many of us want to learn another language but are skeptical of our ability to do so, because we have not done it before.
As the strange language starts to acquire meaning through our listening and reading, our brain feels a sense of reward at this new and unexpected experience. This is highly motivating.
Give language learning a chance, the results will be better than you think.
6. When we learn, we change. We need to accept this change.

When we learn, our neural networks change, physically. When we learn a new language, we adopt some of the behaviour patterns of another culture and our personalities and our perceptions change. Many of the difficulties that grown-ups face in language learning, come from the a resistance to change. It is often more comfortable to follow the patterns and pronunciation of our own language, rather than to commit to fully imitating the new language.

Children are not afraid to change. Moving to a new country, they learn the language of their new friends without hesitation.
Older learners have a stronger vested interested in their own identity, and in what they already know.
All learners benefit from the help of an encouraging tutor and an enthusiastic group of fellow learners, in order to overcome these barriers to learning.
7. The Internet – the new world of natural learning at our finger-tips.

The internet offers a wide range of content in many languages, many low-cost websites with efficient learning methodologies, online tutors, and people from around the world with whom to talk and interact. The internet becomes the classroom, the library, the source of content, the language laboratory, and the support community. The Internet is the home of the language learning revolution, the natural language learning revolution.

Internet learning is available whenever we want, at no, or little, cost.
The iPod or MP3 player and other language resources on the Web have created a natural language learning revolution.
Join a language learning community on the Web today!

Read more at http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/language-learning/#28d8TXfG6ZFmHzhw.99

How to learn a new language: 7 secrets from TED Translators

From the good people at TED;

SOURCE

By Krystian Aparta
They say that children learn languages the best. But that doesn’t mean that adults should give up. We asked some of the polyglots in TED’s Open Translation Project to share their secrets to mastering a foreign language. Their best strategies distill into seven basic principles:

Get real. Decide on a simple, attainable goal to start with so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. German translator Judith Matz suggests: “Pick up 50 words of a language and start using them on people — and then slowly start picking up grammar.”
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Make language-learning a lifestyle change. Elisabeth Buffard, who in her 27 years of teaching English has always seen consistency as what separates the most successful students from the rest. Find a language habit that you can follow even when you’re tired, sick or madly in love.
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Play house with the language. The more you invite a foreign language into your daily life, the more your brain will consider it something useful and worth caring about. “Use every opportunity to get exposed to the new language,” says Russian translator Olga Dmitrochenkova. Label every object in your house in this language, read kids’ books written in it, watch subtitled TED and TEDx talks, or live-narrate parts of your day to an imaginary foreign friend.
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Let technology help you out. Dmitrochenkova has a great idea: “A funny thing like resetting the language on your phone can help you learn new words right away,” she says. Ditto for changing the language on your browser. Or you can seek out more structured learning opportunities online. Dutch translator Els De Keyser recommends Duolinguo for its gamified approach to grammar, and Anki for memorizing vocabulary with its “intelligent” flashcards.
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Think about language-learning as a gateway to new experiences. To Spanish translator Sebastián Betti, learning a language has always been about focusing on the experiences that the new language would open up, from “visiting theme parks, attending air shows, enjoying cowboy poetry and folk-rock festivals, to learning about photo-essay techniques.” In other words, he thinks of fun things that he wanted to do anyway, and makes them into a language-learning opportunity. Many of our translators shared this advice. Italian and French translator Anna Minoli learned English by watching undubbed versions of her favorite movies, while Croatian translator Ivan Stamenković suddenly realized he could speak English in fifth grade, after years of watching the Cartoon Network without subtitles. So the next time you need a vegan carrot cake recipe, find one in the language you’re trying to learn.
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Make new friends. Interacting in the new language is key — it will teach you to intuitively express your thoughts, instead of mentally translating each sentence before you say it. Find native speakers near you. Or search for foreign penpals or set up a language tandem online, where two volunteers help one another practice their respective languages.
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Do not worry about making mistakes. One of the most common barriers to conversing in a new language is the fear of making mistakes. But native speakers are like doting parents: any attempt from you to communicate in their language is objective proof that you are a gifted genius. They’ll appreciate your effort and even help you. Nervous about holding a conversation with a peer? Try testing your language skills with someone a little younger. “I was stoked when I was chatting with an Italian toddler and realized we had the same level of Italian,” recalls German translator Judith Matz. And be patient. The more you speak, the closer you’ll get to the elusive ideal of “native-like fluency.” And to talking to people your own age.

More good reasons to read

Reading about something and experiencing it firsthand are not all that different in your brain.

From e-180 mag
When I was little, my mother told me a story of how my father’s boss once drove them to his house for dinner. “As we passed houses along the suburban street, I saw one that was made of angel stone – you know that awful fake stone – and I blurted out how I hated angel stone. I said it to fill up the silence. And almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, didn’t we pull into the driveway of a huge, angel stone house. I could’ve died.”

Even though I was only ten, I pictured my young mother, eager to do her part to impress the boss. Felt her embarrassment in the back of the dark car, saw my father’s profile as he turned, heard the uncomfortable silence as the boss switched off the ignition. In this simple story, without my mother ever having to summarize, I learned to keep my mouth shut about such things until I knew where someone lived.

When someone tells us a story, they transfer their experience directly into our brains. We feel what they felt. Annie Murphy Paul explains in Your Brain on Fiction that the brain “does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated”.

source

What is the best way to teach writing?

According to recent research, explicit grammar instruction doesn’t improve writing skill, but more time spent writing does.

source: educationbythenumbers.org

To teach kids to write well, you need to ask them to write a lot. You’re not going to become a great basketball player unless you play a lot of basketball. The evidence is strong that this is true for writing too. Five studies of exceptional literacy teachers found that great teachers ask their students to write frequently. In nine separate experiments with students, 15 additional minutes of writing time a day in grades two through eight produced better writing. Seventy-eight percent of studies testing the impact of extra writing found that student’s writing quality improved.

Several studies found unexpected bonuses from extra writing time. Not only did writing quality improve, so did reading comprehension. Another cluster of studies proved that writing improves a students’ mastery of the subject; the act of writing helps you learn. (Another reason for teachers to refrain from spoon-feeding printed notes to students.)

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Sleep is more important than studying

If you want to benefit more from the previous day’s activities, then you need to get a good night’s sleep according to research.

Getting enough sleep is an under-valued but crucial part of learning. Contrary to students’ belief that staying up all night to cram for an exam will lead to higher scores, truth is, the need for a good night’s rest is even more important than finishing homework or studying for a test.

A recent study in the journal Child Development showed that sacrificing sleep in order to study will actually backfire. The study followed 535 Los Angeles high school students for 14 days, tracking how long they slept, as well as how well they understood material being taught in class and how they performed on a test, quiz, or homework.

“Although the researchers expected that extra hours of studying that ate into sleep time might create problems in terms of students’ understanding of what they were taught in class, they were surprised to find that diminishing sleep in order to study was actually associated with doing more poorly on a test, quiz, or homework,” Science Daily wrote.

“Reduced sleep … accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs after days of increased studying,” said UCLA scientist Andrew Fuligni. “Although these nights of extra studying may seem necessary, they can come at a cost.”

source: mindshift

Language acquisition vs learning

More research suggesting that the teaching of grammar explicitly is not especially useful, and that the best way to master a second language is through massive comprehensible input.

source

Language and literacy can be”acquired” or “learned.” “Acquisition” occurs subconsciously: While it is happening, you are not aware it is happening, and after it has happemed, the knowledge is represented subconsiously in your brain. In contrast, “learning” is conscious; it is “knowing about” the language. When we talk about “rules” and “grammar” we are usually talking about “Learning.”

Acquired competence plays a much larger role in language use than learned competence does. Acquired competence provides our fluency and nearly all of our accuracy when we speak or write in a second language. Learned competence makes only a small contribution to our grammatical accuracy, and only when stringent conditions are met: We must consciously know the rule, which is daunting considering the complexity of the grammar of any language, we must have time to apply the rule, which is not usually available in conversation, and we must be thinking about correctness, or focussed on form.

This is not to say that grammar teaching is bad and must be forbidden: The point is that it is limited: Only a small part of the grammatical system of any language can be consciously learned, it takes time and effort to retrieve grammatical rules from our memory and apply them, and this can only happen when we are thinking about formal correctness. These severe conditions are met on grammar tests, and it is here where see clear evidence of the use of consciously learned rules (Krashen, 1981). Consciously learned rules are also of some help in editing, the final stage of the composing process.

Motivation not necessarily key

Motivation may not be among the most important factors in second language acquisition. Good thing, since very few of our students are actually interested in studying.

According to Krashen;
“I hypothesize that for most people, motivation plays no role in successful language acquisition. Rather, language acquisition is the result of doing something else: It is the result of obtaining truly interesting, or “compelling” comprehensible input. When this happens, our focus is NOT on improving in another language: Our focus is on the message. In fact, it can be hypothesized that language acquisition occurs most efficiently when the message is so compelling that the acquirer is not even aware that it is being delivered in another language. …

source: Krashen

Language Acquisition without Speaking and without Study.

Massive, compelling, self-chosen input may be key to language acquisition. This article refers to video input, but the same case has been made for extensive reading.

Christy Lao and Stephen Krashen
Journal of Research of Bilingual Education Research and Instruction 16(1): 215-221. 2014.
This paper describes a case of second language acquisition without speaking, without instruction, and without any kind of study. The subject, in fact, disdained study.
Paul is a young man, now a teenager, growing up in a Cantonese-speaking family in California. His parents are both native speakers of Cantonese, but highly proficient in English, and his mother speaks Mandarin very well. His grandparents live with the family and speak Cantonese with Paul and his brother.
Cantonese and Mandarin are different languages. They are related, and share some common vocabulary, but they are not completely mutually comprehensible. With the help of context, Cantonese speakers are able to understand a limited amount of Mandarin and vice versa.
Today, as a teenager, Paul speaks Mandarin quite well, in addition to Cantonese and English. He has a Cantonese accent when he speaks Mandarin and makes only a few errors. When Mandarin-speaking guests are at his home, he has no trouble conversing on everyday topics, and on occasional visits to China with his family he is comfortable speaking Mandarin.
This paper describes how Paul did it. Nearly all of his exposure to Mandarin has been through media, through TV and CD’s, with no classes, no study, and no interaction.
When Paul was a baby, his grandmother took care of him most of the time. Grandma liked to sing Paul lots of Cantonese and Mandarin songs and they watched Chinese MTV for children, which was in Mandarin.

source: Krashen

Why daydreaming is critical to effective learning

According to research, daydreaming and play (and recess) are critical in developing creativity in children.

from Mindshift;

Resting the mind is extremely important for productivity and the ability to focus. “People who take regular breaks — and naps even — end up being more productive and more creative in their work,” Levitin said. “You need to give your brain time to consolidate all the information that’s come in, to toss it and turn it.”

The brain has a natural way of giving itself a break — it’s called daydreaming. “It allows you to refresh and release all those neural circuits that get all bound up when you’re focused,” Levitin said. The brain will do this kind of daydreaming naturally when it is fatigued. The experience of reading a book and suddenly realizing the eyes have moved several paragraphs ahead, but the mind hasn’t retained any of the information, is the brain checking out for a break.

This point is particularly important for students, who are often asked to sit through a long school day with very few breaks. Lots of research has shown the importance of recess and free play time for academic success, but schools still tend to emphasize time spent in class “learning” over a more nuanced view of how and why kids learn.

“Children shouldn’t be overly scheduled,” Levitin said. “They should have blocks of time to promote spontaneity and creativity.” Without that time, kids don’t have the mental space to let new ideas and ways of doing things arise. Daydreaming and playing are crucial to develop the kind of creativity many say should be a focal point of a modern education system.

Homework; an unnecessary evil

Your kids will love this research, but don’t expect many changes in the school system in the near future.

From the Washington Post

And the result of this fine-tuned investigation? There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and “no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”

This result clearly caught the researchers off-guard. Frankly, it surprised me, too. When you measure “achievement” in terms of grades, you expect to see a positive result — not because homework is academically beneficial but because the same teacher who gives the assignments evaluates the students who complete them, and the final grade is often based at least partly on whether, and to what extent, students did the homework. Even if homework were a complete waste of time, how could it not be positively related to course grades?

And yet it wasn’t. Again. Even in high school. Even in math. The study zeroed in on specific course grades, which represents a methodological improvement, and the moral may be: The better the research, the less likely one is to find any benefits from homework.