I don’t really like the term “final thoughts” as it sounds as if I am planning to stop thinking afterwards, or maybe stop existing altogether, which I am certainly not considering if I can help it, however I do need, as Victor Berrjod kindly reminds me, to round this off, hence the title.
Let me just get a coffee, this could be a longish article, maybe you would like one as well?
Right, let’s continue. The story so far is that we’ve divided the things or activities that you can do in a language, be it counting, swearing, praying, reading the paper, watching TV, learning the songs of the language or filling in a visa form or a job application into four basic types or functions, as shown in the above table:
Just about anything you can do in a language bases on one or more of these four functions.
Take a moment if you like to see of you can think of any activity involving language that is an exception, and by all means tell me in the comments. Personally I could not think of any exceptions.
We’ve also considered that for one pair of these functions, listening and reading, the learner is on the receiving end of polished language and therefore is able to use his or her passive knowledge to engage in the function and its related activities. Listening is more challenging than reading because the user has less ability to control the speed, although there are instruments available based on developing listening skills where you can control the pace of listening. We talked about audio courses where you have your pause button, and another good one is Audible where you can buy audiobooks in other languages and set a slower narrator speed, or a higher one in order to develop ‘listening fluency’. However, in the main, for the passive pair as long as a word is known passively the learner will not be put off his or her stride by reading or hearing it as they will be able to recall its meaning when it is given in the language much easier than when he or she needs to generate the expression and knows it passively, but is not in an active state, and the mind goes blank.
Conversely, we’ve recognised that the other pair of functions, speaking and writing, are ones in which we the learner are called upon to generate the learned language and not just fluently recognise meaning and stay with the flow of the presented foreign language material. This represents an additional challenge but one essential to get to grips with sooner or later if you want to SPEAK the language. We are always hearing the term “what languages do you speak?” rather than which can you read, listen to with understanding or even write in. Now more than ever nobody seem to be all that impressed by the ability to write in a foreign language – unless they actually watch you forming calligraphic kanjis with your hand – because things like Google Translate are available. And even though in the main the Google Translate users do give themselves away pretty quickly, seeing that the quality of that service is not yet all one might be led to expect, nevertheless sometimes quite convincing written language comes at you over the internet from people who don’t really know the language in question at all. They are having fun, but it also serves to undermine the value placed by the online community on written foreign language skills and so now, more than ever, the gold standard is really what you can speak.
Despite this, in fact speaking is going to be a small minority of the activity you do in any language, foreign or native. You will listen to at least ten times what you say, just as you will read at least ten times more than you write, even if you are given to speaking and writing a good deal, as in my case.
This means that even though your actual need is to perfect the two functions at the top of the diagram, the passive functions of reading and listening, ten times more than the active functions in the lower row of the box, your perceived need will be to get to speaking as quickly as possible. This is like a baby coming out of the womb. Nobody says a word to this baby, in the old days there was a little smack from the doctor or midwife to get the lungs going, but smacking children is considered child abuse now, so they just get given an injection with mercury in it instead, which is much kinder, apparently, and they immediately start, unsurprisingly, to bawl and yell and scream. They cannot use any words of the language they will one day speak, because so far all they have heard of it has been muffled beyond recognition by the walls of their mother’s abdomen, but still they want to communicate orally their feelings of discontent at being brought from the comfort of the womb into an imperfect world, and I for one will not blame them.
So we understand intrinsically the drive to get on to the skill at the bottom right of the Four Function Diagram, but it is probably clear by now that we need to begin by focusing on the other parts and working towards the ultimate function of speaking.
Of course, we can if we choose start speaking at the first lesson, and if we go to language classes that is precisely what the teacher will encourage us to do, knowing full well that students are dying to get talking, and so they go around the class getting every one to say “Guten Tag” while everyone else waits, wasting their learning time until it is their turn to parrot the two words under advisement, but making a very comfortable few dollars for the teacher who is not doing the bulk of the work, and the promise of more to come as the teacher is playing to the unspoken demand of the student to be able to speak.
These teachers, of course, remind me of the doctors who prescribe anti-biotics for common viral diseases when people turn up in their surgeries expecting them. It is easier for them to pander to the expectation of the masses rather than educate them and stand firm. After all, you don’t get to be a medical doctor in most places without knowing that anti-biotics aren’t going to work on viral infections. Neither are most doctors, hopefully, ignorant of the fact that over-prescription of anti-biotics is accruing a serious biological threat to our whole species as we are basically turning many patients into walking laboratories for the production of what the gutter press call “super-bugs”, namely strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, which developed in someone who had already been taking all the usual available prescriptions just in a vain attempt to heal their colds and flu, and these bacilla have come to regard augmentin or doxycycline as Brer Rabbit regarded his bramble patch.
Similar the teachers who teach language in an ineffective way through pandering to the expectation to speak precociously, they are not doing society any favours either. Maybe they won’t be morally accountable, unlike weak doctors, for the next world epidemic of bubonic plague, but they do create swathes of people who cannot ever pass a certain unsatisfying point in language acquisition and who invariably put their lack of success down to their own “lack of gift” and not on the inadequate method employed by the teacher.
And of course many language teachers are using these methods in good faith, not knowing that there are better ways. I seriously hope many of them are reading these articles. I aim to do good to them as much as to their pupils.
The method I am talking about is something however that teachers may well regard as disruptive technology, though as it means that teaching needs to become more method-coaching rather than the delivery of words and other linguistic chunks to the classmates as a mother bird feeds its nestlings with regurgitated worms and other nutritional chunks. The “mother bird” language teacher gives the fledgling students ill-fated lessons in flying before they really have wings to flap, by making them flap their chins in a never-ending quest for activation of a body of passive knowledge that can never be more than what was covered in the last two weeks – because short-term memorisation was all they ever used in a classroom context.
Classroom learning can be a nice social activity, a motivator to work inbetween class and a place to ask questions arising from the work that the learner does for himself or herself away from the classroom, with the teacher as team coach and mentor, not mother bird.
If you are away from the classroom, on your own and reading and writing for yourself, reading a book or writing the goldlist, you can control how fast you want to do it, therefore you can be relaxed and therefore you can more easily get into a state where the subconscious, long-term memory is the default information pantry and not the conscious memory, which switches on in states of nerves or stress and which remembers in a short-term way, recycling its hastily constructed synaptic pathways after only two weeks.
The unconscious memory may only sample 20-30% of what you cover and place in the short-term memory if it is activated, but then it will keep it for decades whereas the short term memory loses pretty much everything after two weeks. 100% of 2 is much less of course than 20% of 1,000, so a preference to use the long-term memory methods and avoid the short term memory methods should be a no-brainer for all of us.
The problem is of course that people want to be able to speak and listen, they want to be able to rely on their language knowledge in real life situations, and so people want to get to the point where they can speak at will. And language classes seem geared around the getting of students to speak phrases and be able to engage in conversations, as well as getting the students to repeat a lot and rote learn. All of these ways are short-term memory ways, they encourage the learner to feel as though he or she is making faster progress but it will prove to be an uphill struggle as the learner is always fighting against his two-week barrier, and later on blaming himself and not the teacher’s method for the fact that not much gets retained after class.
Those of you who are paying attention will have noted that the last few paragraphs were copied almost verbatim from the earlier part, but that is because this is so important and central that I wanted you to read it again, especially seeing more than two weeks have elapsed since I last wrote it.
Anyway, onwards and upwards.
Let’s now introduce the full version of the Diagram – if you’ve been following Huliganov.TV, you’ve seen this before. In a Brechtian manner I actually showed this before even starting the series of articles, so maybe you know what is coming. I know for a fact that some of you do.
Here we see two routes going from what we have established as the least stressful (and therefore most conducive to long-term memory) function of reading to the desired gold standard function of speaking.
Let me say immediately that these routes are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary you need both. You probably need – unless of course you are studying a language which is no longer spoken, such as New Testament Greek or Volapük (just to combine the sublime with its Napoleonic counterpart) – to be able to listen comfortably to the language and you probably need – unless you are someone who never writes in their own language either – to be able to write the language in addition to being able to speak it.
You probably noticed that there’s now a black diamond in the middle of the diagram. This means that we are not really considering routes that go directly from reading to speaking. There is of course one such activity and it is a mainstay of traditional education, even in our first languages, namely reading aloud. But in the way we’ve defined reading and speaking, namely that speaking is an active function requiring the learner to produce the language and under time constraint (namely set by the patience of the hearer) and that reading is a passive function without time constraint, all that reading aloud is, is in fact an elaborated version of reading. What you are doing in most cases when reading aloud is little more than when reading in your head except you will tire quicker and annoy people who are trying to watch television.
Does this mean that reading aloud is without value? No, I think that there are contexts when reading aloud can have value, namely the following scenarios:
- to read in a social way – to share the matter learned with another learner or other learnerswhen learning in a socialised context which enables the other to practice listening and then they take their turn to read giving the first loud reader the chance to do the same
- in the presence of a teacher, this activity gives the learner a chance to have his pronunciation flaws checked. This then is especially valuable for languages which are not written phonetically.
- it may be more interesting for some people to read aloud than to read in their heads, even if nobody is listening. It can be a pleasure to read aloud a poem for one’s own consumption. Or to read to recording and share, like Moses MacCormick and Professor Arguilles do.
- it could be claimed that this gives the mouthparts a chance to practice the enunciation of the unfamiliar phonemes in the language. When reading aloud for this purpose, again it is useful to read to recording. The recording can then be used for self-assessment and/or placed on YouTube for assessment by helpful natives who are likely to be unhelpfully flattering, as well as detractors, who may be more honest than is helpful, or more negative than is really honest, but in amongst all of that you may get some great free assistance and feedback.
So I hope nobody will misconstrue the diagram as saying there is no place for reading aloud. I just don’t think that it will be effective to spend a large swathe of the time needed to learn the language doing so, especially not at the earlier stages. It maybe a fun activity going forward, from intermediate to advanced. The other thing to note is that you can’t really give people in YouTube comments the kind of feedback which is going to really give them a convincing accent. That sort of thing is illusory. All it can do is point out the biggest areas to work on.
Likewise the route between listening and writing is blocked in the Diagram by the black diamond, but that doesn’t mean there is not a useful activity that goes exactly in that direction. There is. Namely dictation. This activity many of my older readers will remember the dictée from even intermediate level French and given the disparity between pronunciation and orthography in that language it is in fact a great teaching tool for the language, and useful for the classroom if done in a spirit of fun. Even Jonah Takalua became a fan of dictation in a spirit of fun in the classroom.
Similarly many other languages use the technique as part of their national education system. Chinese needs such an exercise for obvious reasons and the 听写 or tīngxiě is something that occupies an important place in their classroom time. Likewise the Polish dyktando, which in true Polish style becomes a national competition for schoolkids of that country like the American spelling bea. Polish of course has more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to a number of their sounds, and monstrosities like “mug zjeść japko” for “mógł zjeść jabłko” need to be hunted down and exterminated somehow, and the wiećmin for this cathartic process is primarily the dyktando.
If you think having a national dictation contest for kids is a fun idea, the Dutch have taken that one stage further – they have an annual “Grand Dictation of the Dutch Language” which is for adults, and televised. They really seem to be a factory of reality shows, that nation. One day some bright spark will come along and combine all the formats they made and we will all be able to watch people writing down what other people are singing while waiting for chairs to turn around in a remote house infested with hidden cameras recording 24/7.
Some languages like Russian or Italian need this activity less. At school I remember far fewer of the German “Diktat” than the bi-weekly dictées we had for French. Maybe the Germans have simply had their fill of dictators, I wouldn’t like to say, but more likely is that the process has a bit less to offer in the learning of this language. However, when I joined the language faculty of Cambridge University the first thing they did was to check our starting knowledge of the languages with an oral exam and a dictation test. And I remember the one they gave us in German to this day, thirty years on. That is, the one small phrase I remembered from it “meist reiht sie als Chronistin” (which had me and most of us flummoxed) was enough to find the whole on Gutenberg. It was the first two paragraphs of Stefan Zweig’s “Sternstunden der Menscheit” which you can find here. Try it out on someone who knows German if you want to put them through their paces.
However, relying a lot on dictation even for the languages which are not phonetic is not going to be a core activity. You need a good speaker there, teacher or friend, to give you the dictation, although maybe the opening exists for dictation to be given automatically on the internet and I dare say that skilled users of Steve Kaufman’s LingQ can get it to work effectively as a dictation tool, since all the texts are read and the system even encourages you to listen first. Still it will be an occasional activity rather than a core activity, I suspect, and the other thing is that if you go in that direction you are strengthening both listening and writing, which is good, but not actually per se moving towards speaking. However as I will show in a minute anything which strengthens listening and writing will automatically work in favour of speaking.
But first I need another coffee. And so may well you also.
One of the routes from the easy language acquisition function of reading to the ultimate challenge of speaking goes via listening and the other via writing. For convenience’ sake, I will call these the Listening Route and the Writing Route respectively.
In the Listening route, we are still in passive reception of the language as we were in reading, but we are moving up to a natural speed in the language. We are starting to get comfortable with the fact that we cannot always control the speed of delivery as we could when reading. It is of course true that when reading a lot we will gradually get faster and faster, and maybe in the end faster than we could possibly speak clearly or even listen clearly, but this in itself won’t necessarily help us develop the natural delivery speed required for normal conversation.
Now as I said earlier, tools like the pause button on audio courses and the variable narrator speed in Audible all enable us to control the speed of delivery of the listenables but they should be regarded as bridging tools. You want to achieve the situation where you can listed to a news broadcast or documentary and have the same information transfer as the native speaker who listens to the broadcast. And this can indeed happen far faster than you will be able to generate your own spoken language in a manner indistinguishable from a native speaker (which actually may never happen given that accent may get in your way, but that actually doesn’t matter in the final analysis unless you are planning to be a spy or work in an extraordinarily intolerant environment) and is an important milestone on that journey, if such journey indeed be your quest.
As we discussed before, reading is wrapped up in listening anyway since even when reading not aloud, we get the voice of the reader or speaker mentally. Listening to more voices and more material enhances this in our reading, and so the two activities feed each other in a virtual circle.
However, listening remains a passive function and therefore doesn’t help us bring in the active side which is what we are going to need if we mean to move from the comfort of acquiring language by reading into a situation where we can also speak. This is where the Writing Route comes in.
When engaging in producing your own written sentences in the language you generate linguistic material actively, but you still have the time to reflect, to recall without stress words you know passively, to look up the words you cannot recall and then encounter them for the first time or realise that you did know that word but couldn’t put your finger on it, strengthening the synapse there, and to put together these words with the grammar you learned and hopefully apply the rules correctly. This all takes time and when writing rather than speaking you have the time, and there is your attempt in black and white, or any other ink colour you may select. But select your ink colour with care, because the Writing Route works much much better when someone else will correct your attempt – hopefully someone who is literate in the language in question, which seems to be increasingly less common around the world, I have to warn you.
Here is of course where the teacher comes into his or her own, but as you can see that is not a technique that makes a great deal of sense too early on in the learning process. Unless one has at least 2000 words, one is condemned to writing really stilted and uninteresting things. Of course, up to that time you have practice questions, and for those in their first inflected languages they had proabably better do some of the practice sentences in their courses to make sure that they have really understood the grammar points being covered, and the most helpful of these example sentences should be Goldlisted in order to commit them and the grammar points they illustrate into the long-term memory.
But writing one’s own compositions is of greatest value once one has covered the grammar and has a vocabulary and has also got used to reading a lot, so as to be aware of the various styles and registers used in the language. Register issues will come out well on writing a composition for a native teacher to correct. Beginners often mix highly formal styles with low register, and it is considered a mistake unless they are actually aware of what they are doing, and even then it is of questionable taste. Whilst this is perfectly admissible in the hands of a native who is manipulating his own written language for an humorous effect to be attained to by the juxtaposition of contrasting styles, ones advice to the non-native learner is that you don’t wanna play dat way no way, no how, blood.
The obvious problem with the Writing route is that you do need a teacher of the right standard to get the best out of it. But teachers who are reading this and thinking that I really have it in for them may well be relieved to see I am recommending something they can usefully do. If availability or price of such tuition is a problem, then there are discussion groups all over the internet, some of which exist specifically (take Russian Chat or English Chat on Facebook as examples) as fora for learners to write something in the language they are learning and opt to have friendly natives or at least more advanced learners give corrections to their attempts.
And you do learn very well that way. It doesn’t seem to be something that triggers just a short-term memory effect. As long as you treat it as fun it will be a good way to move from reading to speaking.
Just writing for one’s own benefit is a good way to get used to the language, especially ones written in other alphabets or writing systems, but reading back a Russian diary I did (there were no Russians in England in those days so this was a good way to keep secrets, such as the things my first girlfriend and I had been getting up to) back at 16 years of age I can see that there are many mistakes in it which I would only come to understand in the passage of time unless someone read it (and I wasn’t about to show anyone that diary). Writing without a reader who gives feedback is not altogether without benefit, but gives far less benefit. The exception of course is the writing you are doing in the Goldlist, but at least at Headlist level this is merely the writing out of words and phrases supplied in the material you are learning, which is passive. Later on in distillations you can make combinations turning words into small sentences, and this is already a bit more active than passive.
It should be clear that if a person has used the techniques of listening to enhance reading and has got listening up to speed so that the bulk of things that can be read can also be listened to and understood at normal speed, and also a person has got used to emulating the reading done with original language of one’s own (I am not talking about becoming a Conrad or Nabokov here, creating belles lettres in a language one has acquired, which is really a higher school we cannot all aspire to, but at least understanding how to use different registers and becoming accurate in ones use of semantics and grammar) then one has now all the necessary ingredients to be able to fill in the bottom right part of the Diagram and be able to speak. So now it is a question of going ahead and doing it. Once again, in order to speak, you tend to need a second person or more than one other person involved in the process, and unlike with writing they may be more unwilling to correct you – either because they think it is rude or because it interrupts the flow of the content of what you are saying, which may well be important to the person you are talking to, and they prefer to hear what you have to say rather than interrupt it. Of course in the latter case it means you have pretty much made it anyway, you are just dotting verbal i’s and crossing verbal t’s.
Another issue with speaking is the fact that often natives are reluctant to let you even do it. The reasons for that and various things you can do about it are outlined in a recent video of mine. Enjoy.
And with that I think I just about exhausted the things I want to say for now about this Four Function Diagram. Hope you found that useful and please comment on your experiences, or ask questions if I didn’t cover something. As a final note don’t get too hung up about speaking – it is the function of the four which you actually need least. If you can do the other three you may get by with not doing the fourth at all and still know the language better than a native speaker. There are plenty of people who don’t speak any language because they have lost their vocal chords, but they can get by with writing and they have just as much right to be called a speaker as those who speak so much everyone simply wishes they would shut up.
And on that note, I’d really better finish!
- Pronunciation (widyalaksana.wordpress.com)
- comunity language learning (suparnaenglishclassdiscussion.wordpress.com)
- Four Skills in the English Language (rahelcynthia.wordpress.com)
- Why are some adult foreign language learners more proficient than others? (Language Aptitude) (languagesalive.wordpress.com)
- Should Language Students Learn to Translate? (teachingbattleground.wordpress.com)
- Audio Lingual Method (sriartini46.wordpress.com)
- Do you have a passion for foreign languages? Motivation can really help you out! (languagesalive.wordpress.com)
Way back over eight years ago now, on 26th January 2004, I wrote this article in talk.origins, free.christians and alt.fan.uncle-davey which kicked off no little furore, and got me labelled by Aaron Clausen, a talk.origins regular, as a “science-fiction writer” and “the most dangerous and mischievous kind of Creationist“. He called my account “nothing more than a piece of fiction. It’s like good science fiction, it weaves fact and fiction together in such a way as the improbable seems no more surprising than the probable.” He also wrote on 2nd February 2004 “To my mind, Davey, you are the most mischievous and dangerous kind of Creationist. … You even know the holes in the knowledge of the study of language, and you can use the terminology to great effect. People … seeing your essay, would likely fall for it hook, line and sinker. Because it mixes fact and myth so very well, you give it an air of plausibility.” That was in amongst admitting that he didn’t know any better answer to the origin of language families, and when I asked him what he would tell his kids on the subject if they asked him whether there was a polygenesis of language families or linguistic monogenesis, (this being the sort of thing they ask at the breakfast table in American skeptics’ households) he said he would tell them “we don’t know“.
It seems like even no explanation at all is better for these “knowledge-thirsty” evolutionists than the Bible’s one, if and whenever the Bible invokes supernatural intervention by God, as at Babel. And their counter to the perfectly reasonable claim, (straight out of atheist Conan Doyle, by the way) that if you cannot disprove a theory it must be true, is that that’s the ‘goddidit’ argument, also known as the “God of the gaps” argument. They think that by giving silly, mocking designations to the perfectly logical and consistent lines of thought that Christians have, they have somehow effectively dealt with them. Either that or they make out that the questions which we raise are invalid in some way. In all they do they are like lawyers who, having trouble with the evidence, use odd points of law to attack the procedure, so that justice and fairness and true rationale flee out of the window, pursued by the harrying hounds of unscrupulous rhetoric.
Obviously, I’m not out to deceive anybody or produce fiction or stir up mischief as Aaron Clausen claimed, but I really think that if someone knows the facts about where we are in the reconstruction of earlier languages, and doesn’t have a world view that excludes a priori the chance for God to work directly on the human mind, en masse, they will say that the explanation I gave, based on the Babel account of scripture, is just as valid an account of how we got to today’s languages as any other. Only prejudice against the possibility of such action by God is a reason not to acknowledge that I have offered a workable and valid theory, and one that reflects observable fact more clearly than such theories as would dovetail well with evolutionary views of the origin of man.
Anyway, the person who got me started is ‘Sloggoth’ and he/she is in the quotes.
Some of the following is quoted from the time, and some has been added since to improve the communication of the ideas.
Well, Uncle Davey, you’ve confused a lurker pretty well here. If you would be so kind as to clarify:
When you speak of linguistic evolution do you mean:
1) The evolution of the *capacity for language* in humans? Biological evolution must indeed be able to explain this.
2) What everyone else means, i.e. change in language, such as that which produced French and Spanish from Latin? There is no reason why a theory which deals with genetic change should address a purely cultural phenomenon, beyond explaining how it is biologically possible in the first place.
3) If one cannot trace linguistic evolution beyond the known families, (which probably arose at some time in the past that could very loosely fit the Babel account), then the Babel account is thereby not contradicted?
The way I see it is that what happened at Babel everyone received their own language. Even husbands and wives could not talk and little kids could not communicate with their parents. This meant that in order to have an established family language, families needed to isolate themselves, and then they would all learn the language of the mother of that family, as mothers are and always have been the main one to teach the little children language. The men therefore would also have needed to take their wive’s grammar and syntax, but the wife would in return take a lot of the lexicon from her husband, and in the process already the family language would become at once grammatically simpler but also lexically richer than the Babel exit languages each member spoke. We have the expression ‘mother tongue’ in almost every language but Welsh, which is like the exception that proves the rule, exactly from this time, which was only one generation in the history of man.
That’s right. There was only one generation from Babel in which individual languages became family languages. The majority of the languages that came out from Babel would have gone into disremembrance when that person dies. In some cases the vocabulary will have been loaned into the family language, and in most cases the phonetics will have influenced to some degree the family language. People who had no families and no successors therefore had their individual languages vanish probably without trace.
You see, this was the mechanism that would have driven people out of Babel into their own place, so that they could quietly re- establish a common language with those who meant most to them, their family, without linguistic interference from all the others who would come babbling over the horizon, preventing their children from achieving any linguistic competence.
Within a further forty years, that one language per family (already maybe only one fifth of the number actually made at Babel) was similar conflating and merging into tribal languages. The basic model would then be the family language of the most dominant family in the tribe. This process took longer than the family language process, as the new languages were being learned as foreign languages by all in the tribe but the dominant family. These dominant families are the ancestors of the aristocratic families that grew up later in almost every culture.
The tribal languages would have taken over from the family languages so that by about four hundred years after Babel the single family language was as redundant and extinct as the single person language had been forty years after the Babel event. But each of these tribal languages would have been a selection of grammars, phonologies and lexical materials that came out of the Babel event. We are told in scripture that God confused the language, which may suggest that he took things which were already in the Adamic language and mixed them up. However, my personal belief is that none of the exit languages had all of the material that was in the Adamic language. When given directly to Adam by God, this language was a perfect thought vehicle for the man that He had made, and to be able to be taught and used by future generations. In Isaiah 65v20 as well as in the early Genesis chapters we see indications that the original plan for the length of human childhood was 100 years, setting up for a lifetime of up to 1000 years. Up to the Flood we see nobody doing any “begetting” until they are over one hundred, that’s for sure. The language given by God originally would have been a rich language taking the full measure of 100 years to acquire from parents and enabling thought and worship on a level unparalleled by people living today. Because there were relatively few of them and the Flood was such a huge cataclysm, we cannot see any indications of the achievements they had made with this linguistic tool, but they must have been amazing.
Once we arrive at post-Flood times and you see in scripture the lives of post-Flood generations going down to below what would have counted as infant mortality before the Flood, people maturing already in the second decade of their lives and then expected to have finished their educations (one of the reasons why there is this conundrum that we barely use a fraction of our brains’ synaptic capabilities – they are still the same size as those brains were which held Adamic, but now our childhoods are too short to learn it properly anyway) so the Adamic language was probably already deteriorating – probably people started to use a debased, pidgin version of the old language at Babel, although as a Community they may still have possessed the totality of it.
So the size of the confounded languages were probably much smaller – it’s reasonable to suggest about 20% of the complexity and richness of the original Adamic language. Each individual language probably held a unique mix and match combination of about 20% of what was in Adamic, but shifted and confused so that Adamic could not be put back together again.
And of such languages, getting back to the story, tribal languages emerge within up to 400 years and we come to the rise of the supertribal language.
Some of these early tribal languages exist until today. Basque is a good example. It isn’t visibly related to other languages around it, it has simply been there, carried in a small tribe in enveloped in the Pyrenees, for thousands of years.
Other tribes conflated again into the supertribe, and the supertribe is where we find the original languages at the heads of the family trees that we can easily recognise. The Aryan supertribe spoke a language whose name we don’t know, but we know it must have existed and we call it Proto-Indo-European. They themsleves could have called it Yaspriyakis, Blurbnurb or something like that, or just “Smith’s Tongue”, for all we know. It was a supertribe, and as with all supertribes, it fell apart, with people who spoke it leaving
and mingling with the languages of the substrate where they went, which were generally tribal, not supertribal peoples, and could not compete with them.
So we have a tendency for common grammatical elements to be seen, but a lot of different lexical stock from the borrowings. Even the supertribe itself had not been stable long when the emigrations started; some thought the word for ‘a hundred’ should be ‘kentum’ and others thought it should be ‘sati’. About all they could really agree on was the words for beech trees, snow, and about twenty other matters.
So the supertribal language was the turning point. From Babel to the supertribal period, maybe a hundred thousand languages got down to maybe ten thousand. After that time the supertribal languages started to have multiple descendents, and even some descendents had multiple descendents themselves, so that they replaced the exit languages being spoken by peoples like the
pre-Celtic cultures of Ireland, and then many of those languages, like Irish Celtic, themselves became forced into a minor role or often made extinct altogether, like Cornish, by more vigorous languages of their distant cousins, such as English.
In sum, if we have had six thousand years since Babel, one of those thousand has seen the rise of the linguistic supertribe, and the other five thousand has seen mainly supertribal languages disintegrating into the language families we know today (and others which have gone extinct with no trace). In some parts of the world smaller languages, even ones that have resulted from supertribal disintegration, have started to grow again into supertribal languages, so the whole ebb and flow described here is something which didn’t necessarily happen just once in that length of history.
Incidently, even broader groups than Nostratic have been proposed, including attempts to reconstruct words of Proto-World. Unfortunately the only one I recall at the moment is rather indelicate.
There’s every chance that we can guess at a word that was in the vocabulary of somebody who walked out of Babel, maybe in a sound-shifted or abbreviated form. After all, all the material in every tribal or supertribal language came from someone or other’s Babel exit language. It’s not common for languages to invent words, so even ‘shit’ has good cognates in Greek. If we say that ‘skata’ is closer to the Babel exit languages, because we can tell it didn’t go through the Germanic sound shifts which we know all about thanks to the Brothers Grimm, then we can assert with a good probability of truth that some rather powerful man or his wife, with a penchant for talking about his or her bodily functions, received the ancestor word for ‘skata/shit’ in his or her personal language at Babel. It is very interesting how reluctant mankind is to introduce linguistuc material out of nothing. Almost everything is a loanword or a calque or an omatopoeia, or a contraction of other words. Even on the internet existing language was massaged to create the terms we are now using worldwide over the last 25 years. Very little by way of truly random words have been used. Even the search engine “Google”‘ links from “go ogle” and “Facebook” comes from two very basic monosyllablic English words.
Anyway, this account, which has no shortage of fantasy in it as I am more than aware, and make no apology for in the face of the fantasy required to make a dinosaur drawing complete with colours and habits from a couple of bones, this being the sort of trick on which most people’s understanding of evolution seems to base, is consistent nevertheless with both on the one hand the observable fact that we cannot get back any further than PIE or PFU, and find further common ancestors, obviates the absurd and counter-intuitive notion that language systems fairly equal in complexity could have evolved in the human race at different times and places, but without the organs of speech of the races then changing so that an infant could not acquire a perfect accent in a non related system, and where we do not see easier grammars compounding into harder grammars, but rather the reverse, and one the other hand it is consistent with what scripture says about language origins.
And so, in conclusion, evolutionary science is at odds with what is known of philology, and the Bible is not.
By the way, in the rest of the original talk.origins discussion, it became apparent that the evolutionists have nothing to offer but rhetoric, and try to divert the uncomfortable topic onto archaeology, where they attempted to argue from negatives assuming that Babel hinges on the archaeological work of Babylon, when there is no reason at all to expect to find any traces of Babel and its tower. However large it was, it was doubtless less in terms of mass of fabric than the Berlin Wall was, and people recycled that in the space of a few months, let alone a few thousand years. If anything has changed, and any evolutionist has something to offer which is new, please go ahead and make your comments.
I remind evolutionists reading this article of their right of immediate and public reply on the bulletin board of this site, which as I said earlier is not edited or moderated except for things that are illegal and for spam.
I hope Christians are encouraged by all this not to believe that science has all the answers, it doesn’t. But as we see evolutionists, especially those who are only using the evolutionary fallacy as their charter for atheism or apostasy, will fill in the gaps between real science and their world view and then try to convince us that this philosophical putty of theirs is good science too.
(DJJ, based on material added to the old site usenetposts.com 29/4/04, original debate from Jan-Feb 2004, now with 25% added material)
- Babel…. (maddmedic.wordpress.com)
- The Bigger Picture (kenyanvoice.wordpress.com)
- God’s Mass Deportation Policy (vridar.wordpress.com)
- Creationist: Science Begins with the Bible, Not the Facts (patheos.com)
- Ruse: creationism the fault of Gnu Atheists who don’t study enough (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
An excellent comment appeared in the Goldlist page, which I thought deserved to be elevated here as a main article together with my answers. So here goes:
I just thought I’d write a bit about your Goldlist method while I’ve got a few spare minutes. I have just started using it and wonder what your thoughts are on a few issues I have.
First a little background:
I had, by chance really, happened upon my own method of learning vocab but without really thinking much about the function or structure . Like yourself I had an instant aversion to the standard mnemonic memory tricks, thinking that I just didn’t need all of that extra baggage to learn simple words. I also didn’t get on with flashcards very well. Since I was getting all of my vocab from reading literature I was looking up a lot of words in order to simply follow the story. This was time consuming and I would frequently realise that I had already looked up a certain word, sometimes several times already, only at the point of once again looking it up.
This all changed when I purchased a brilliant dictionary for my Iphone which had a ‘favourites’ folder where you could bookmark words for learning later. However I found that I didn’t ‘learn them later’- I simply looked them up again and again. It was much quicker to type half a word than search through the pages of a dictionary and it would also tell me if I had that word already in my favourites list. After about a month or so, I would go through the list of favourites and delete the ones I definitely knew. So, depending on how common the word was, I was, by default almost, using a spaced repetition system, though I knew nothing of this type of system at that time. I found that I was learning the words without trying, just by reading them. And it won’t surprise you to learn that some words would ‘stick’ first time and others took many ‘passes’. There are obviously problems with this rather disorganised method , for instance the slow rate of vocabulary acquisition and the limited source of the vocabulary to name but two.
So when I found out about your goldlist system I immediately thought of the similarities to what I was doing and thought that it could definitely be an improvement. I agree with you about our relationship with the subconscious long-term memory and that explains why words can simply ’appear’ into my vocabulary without me remembering even remembering having heard them – if that makes sense. My subconscious has ‘sampled’ them from a radio program or somewhere without me realising. I also see the same process occurring with my kids who can grab the strangest words and phrases from seemingly nowhere.
I have only been using the goldlist for a month or so and so have only done a hand-full of distillations but I was wandering what you thought about a couple of issues I have come across so far:
If I still get most of my vocabulary from reading literature then I cannot avoid coming across a certain amount of the words again, by accident, before its time to distil, simply by looking them up whilst trying to follow the story.
I would be inclined not to worry about that unduly. These are probably the words which are coming up so often that in the grander scheme of things you won’t get too far in the language without automatically knowing them very well anyway.
I sometimes find that I am very familiar with the word itself but have trouble remembering the translation. This can be exacerbated when I look again at the headlist and remember the word itself very well but not necessarily the meaning. I have ‘sampled’ the word but not the meaning.
You could find it useful just briefly to think about the object or activity or idea of the word while saying it aloud, but don’t repeat it or drill it or construct contrived mnemonics. Just the way you woul have done it for yourself as a child when you met a new word you had some kind of image in your head that it got associated with, and that has stood you in good stead till today even though it might have been a very childish image or a very idiosyncratic, personalised image.
I don’t yet find it easy to remember the genders of words using this method.
The genders of nouns (which are the words carrying implicit genders, not all words do so) can be learned best by applying general rules to them. For most languages that have gender, there are rules that enable you to predict the gender of most words. A clear example are languages like Italian, Russian, Czech, Spanish, where if a noun ends in ”-” then by default it’s feminine unless there’s a reason. Beyond that there is what you might call ‘natural gender‘ - nouns talking about men are usually masculine even if they have an ending that looks feminine. The next thing is etymological gender. In Spanish you will find that a lot of words ending in -ma are el and not la because Castillian likes to reflect the classic origin of its vocabulary, and in Greek nouns like sistema and problema were neuter and so they are subsumed as in most of the vulgar Latin fall-out languages into the masculine.
If you look carefully at most languages with genders, rules giving the gender from the structure of the noun cover from 30 to 90% of cases. If you are learning a language with 90% then you are nearly home and dry, but for 30% ones you have to rely more on the natural gender clues and the etymology. They are least will help you make sense of it. Taking for an example three feminine nouns in German, Leidenschaft, Mutter and Jugend, we have an example of each kind I am talking about. Leidenschaft you learn as feminine because there is a rule that any book worth its salt should be telling you and that is that all the words ending in -schaft, heit, taet, keit and several others are feminine. So that is structural gender. Die Mutter has no structural gender, it ends in -er like Vater but it has a clear natural gender. You would automatically say “she” for mother in English. Maedchen (girl) you would say ‘she’ for in English too, but in German it remains “es” because the structural gender of -chen is stronger than natural gender, and neutral gender in German doesn’t carry to quite the extent as in English the dehumanizing effect when applied to people. It simply carries a desexualising effect. But why “die Jugend”? It doesn’t look like a feminine word, there is no real reason why youth should be seen as feminine, but it is down to the etymology. Assuming we don’t want to look at OHG and Gothic and try to reconstruct a version of “jugend” in which the gender is more visible, we can simply learn “die Jugend” as an exception and always Goldlist it with the appropriate der/die/das form (which you wouldn’t have to with more obvious cases), but it we do start to scratch the matter using Wiktionary or some other etymological sources we see that it goes back to “jugunth” in West Germanic and “geogiuth” (pronounced “yoyouth”, becoming later “youth”) in Anglo-Saxon. How does this help, you may well ask. Well, consider a common ancestor of ‘geogiuth’ and ‘jugunth’ and you might see something that could also be related to the French “jeunesse” which is structurally feminine. So going down the etymological road can help!
Simply asking yourself “why might this word be the gender it is” can do a lot to help you remember, even if all you do is speculate for two seconds. Glossing over it entirely as you Goldlist may not be as helpful, but trying to rote learn genders by senseless on the spot repetition is even less helpful.
My active vocabulary can only be increased by ‘needing’ to say a word and I still may need to look it up to do this. Therefore, have I really learned the word if I can only recognise it whilst reading?
In fact yes, as you will always slip back into not having words on the tip of your tongue and the reactivation perio is three days of immersion only, whereas language learners waste time on this Holy Grail of imagined fluency and it prevents them building up a larger vocabulary base in the language. There is nothing wrong with being able to follow a written text and spoken text without losing the drift. If you can do this then you are fluent and the difference between this latent fluency and active fluency is being there in an immersed situation for three days. The brain by that time switches on the whole synapse set you need to be finding the words you actually know at speech speed, and the fact you understand them when someone else says them – and would know if they were using those words wrongly or saying them wrongly if it were for example another learner – means you do know the word and ought to relax on that score.
Language schools make a lot of money by the way out of cultivating the learner’s expectation that they will be able to do the performing seal act in a language at the drop of a hat. That’s how they pad out a small amount of course material in class over a longer time, and take years and years of your money to do what can be done on your own and in months not years.
Still, some people just enjoy going to language lessons. Some enjoy the social setting. Fine, it’s their money…
I don’t see these questions as problems as such since my goal is increasing the speed of my vocabulary acquisition and that is already working. It was just to find out what you think.
Well, the above is what I think. What do you think of what I think?
Also as a separate question: How would you define being fluent in a language.? At what level do you consider yourself fluent? Or is this question relevant at all anyway. I only ask this last question because it’s one I am asked a lot and cannot usually give people a satisfactory answer. I feel it’s a distraction at best. It’s easy to tell when someone is fluent and just as easy to say when someone isn’t. As for the in between?
I think that ‘fluency’ is a funny concept when you really get down to it. Let’s imagine someone who likes to say very little even in his own language, but reads a lot and listens a lot. He understands everything but like the wise old owl in the nursery rhyme, “the more he heard, the less he spoke”. Someone else , let’s say his brother, talks nineteen to the dozen and can speak about 200 words a minute and will if you let him, but doesn’t actually know half the words or understand half the concepts of his silent brother.
Who in this case is the more “fluent”? Why, according to the standard definitions of fluency, it is the one who can talk and not let anyone else get a word in edgeways. He is so fluent he is superfluent, and one might even say effluent! But who has the more useful knowledge of language? Who can use the language to get at deeper concepts? Who, when it comes to sitting back and writing three lines that express perfectly what they mean, will prove the more competent in their language?
And there are many mileposts. For the missionary, he is not fluent until he can pray in the language of the people to whom he is sent. The accountant working in a foreign country is not fluent until he has mastered the technical terms, but may still prefer to address God in his native tongue, that is, that of the learner, as we don’t know for sure if even Adam spoke the Divine language, if there is one. The mileposts should be set as individual KPIs for the individual learner, and one of them is the individual learner’s definition of fluency. We shouldn’t set “fluency” in a language as meaning to be able to talk for half an hour for somebody who like the taciturn brother above has no inclination to sound off like that even in his native language. For the other brother, who wants to be able to talk like that, then for him the definition of fluency might well be that he can get the same points over and with the same style and persuasion, or lack of it, as he has in his native language. Their individual definitions of fluency are determined by their individual need profiles and the applications of language that they are likely to encounter.
Given the above, decide what fluency is for you, you’re welcome to share that here, and for you that becomes the goal, if fluency is your goal. Don’t call fluency in German being able to do the Frankfurter Allgemeiner crossword in ten minutes if you can’t do your own paper’s crossword in ten minutes, though, because that is asking for more than equivalent functionality in the new language than you used in the native one, and that’s not a fair definition of fluency in language. That doesn’t make it an invalid goal, it is just something other than pure language acquisition. And please don’t confuse the performing seal act you tend to see done by YouTube polyglots as necessarily genuine linguistic fluency. You don’t know if they’ve memorised a text or not.
Many thanks for some excellent considerations!
- Introduction to nouns ការណែនាំអំពីនាម (rckbook.wordpress.com)
- What is meant by gender in nouns (wiki.answers.com)
|Playout date:||3 October 2006|
|Other people featured:||None|
|Music used:||Abide with me Karaoke track|
This is, obviously, Abide with me sung in Esperanto and it has been very well received by Esperantists, some of whom have asked me to do more similar pieces and I have always intended to do them – for reasons of the way my family has developed that intention hasn’t been easy to put into fruition.
For the record I didn’t do the translation – as explained in the comments, most of which are in Esperanto on YT – I took the Esperanto version from the standard little green Esperanto hymnbook “la Esperanta Himnaro” which contains hundreds of well translated hymns from around the Christian world and is a great joy if you can but lay hands on a copy.
- The Esperanto Trap (espliego.wordpress.com)
- VN bestseller now in Esperanto – Viet Nam News (abcrsstest.wordpress.com)
I received these questions in one comments area, but I decided to answer as a full article so that more people see it. The questions are ones in this case that I have tried to answer in other articles, but there’s no harm in answering them again as they are important and sometimes these important details get lost in the amount there is here and need to be reiterated, so that’s perfectly fine.
Good morning! I have dived into videos and your print post and am now almost two weeks into using the goldlist method (I hope it helps, other forms of vocubulary memorization haven’t been that effective for me). I have a couple of questions I hope you will answer:
I hope so too.
- when you talk about “including all the grammar”, i am wondering how this applies to verbs. do you suggest including the verb root and the different tense forms on one line? for example, in tibetan, chye pa is the root form, followed by chyas chye chyos. all on one line?
There’s more than one way of doing this, and it really depends on whether in the language you choose there are a lot of irregularities or not.
You say that you are learning Tibetan, which I take to mean Modern Standard Tibetan and not one of over 200 other alternative languages spoken in that place. Your biggest issue will be to get your head around the fact that the language is ergative. There are not many ergative languages left and I don’t know any. I have know idea how big a challenge it will be for you to get around that whole underlying aspect of Tibetan grammar.
You ask specifically about verbs, and so what you need to know when you head list a verb is at least the following, and if I were you I’d either include this in the head list or make space for it:
1) whether it is a volitional or a non volitional verb
2) whether it’s transitive or intransitive
3) the root and the present-future, past and imperative stems
4) any irregularities in the way that the inflecting suffixes are added to these stems (in as much as they are regular and predictable from basic paradigms, you don’t need a separate line in the headlist for every possible form.
5) differences between the spoken form and the written form. Often there’s one spoken form, but spelled two or three different ways. You need to probably note most of these at Headlist stage and only the odd ones as you distill will go forward. Ones which become predictable from general rules you would not need to write over again.
- when still adding vocabulary and distilling simultaneously, does it matter how one numbers the mix of lists? my first list will have approximately 1000 words on it before i begin distilling. does the distilled list start at 1001. what if i keep going, adding new head lists? does it matter?
OK, I get asked this a lot and it’s one of the hardest things to just explain without showing it, and then it’s a toughy to film as well. Let me try and explain it this way. take this a paragraph at a time and let each one sink in before the next paragraph. (Sorry, I’m not being patronising, this really can be tricky to envisage, I’m trying a new way now to help envisage it) Read the rest of this entry