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Initial Thoughts on the Four Functions Diagram


I would like to give you today some initial thoughts on the diagram, and to do that I’m going back to a simplified form of the diagram without the flows included as yet.

langfunc2

This is just to get a clearer image of the base ideas before we get onto the various conclusions that can be drawn from it, when we will go back to the diagram including the arrows and boxes showing the auditory and the visual routes of progressing from reading to speaking.

For today I would like to offer for your consideration that whatever we do, whatever applications we use language for, for instance counting, swearing, singing, praying, shopping, skyping, reciting poems, selecting food from menus, asking the waiter what he recommends or chatting up Paul Pimsleur‘s native speaker female on the bus (the way all his courses seem to start), all these various applications and whatever others you can think of, are all based on one or more of the above gerunds: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Therefore every linguistic activity can be reduced to these four functions or skills, and the mastering of each of these skills is essential for a full ability to apply the language in all possible situations.

When we talk about “language”, we refer of course to the tongue – the words language and tongue are connected, and people tend to consider that speaking is the gold standard. “How many languages do you speak?” is the question we hear. Only people who are a bit more thoughtful ask how many languages do you read, write, listen well in and speak, however there are CV formats which do ask precisely that format. If you want to  submit a CV in World Bank format, for instance (this is one of the industrial standards when tendering for public sector work, in case any readers haven’t come across it) you are supposed to make mention of reading, writing and speaking, not necessarily listening.  If you use the Europass format you’ll see from the CV templates available here, that you are expected to give yourself a grade from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which defines what you’re supposed to be able to do to be an A1, an A2, a B1 or a B2, or in the end a C1 or C2. But you have to grade yourself on “Understanding” which covers both reading and listening, on “Speaking” which is divided into spoken interaction and production, but whichever way you look at that it’s still speaking, and finally on writing, which isn’t broken down further, but of course could be when it comes to languages like Chinese and Japanese – whether a person can only write pinyin or kana or if they can go the whole way and know the characters and word combinations which would be known at a certain level of education in the school curricula of the countries involved.

With the above I hope to have introduced the idea that these basic four functions are common to whatever we do with language and underlie everything we do, even though people commonly talk about “speaking” a language.

What are the relations between these four? We already saw above that the EU’s great minds grouped reading and listening together as “Understanding”. Obviously that’s true, but I don’t prefer to regard it that way. One needs understanding in order to speak and write also, so more strictly the distinction should be drawn that when I listen or read I am the passive recipient of language and when I speak or write I am the active generator of the language, unless I am simply copying what I have just read or heard.

Clearly it is easier to be the passive recipient of language that to generate it actively. If you do not have passive knowledge then even reading or listening with understanding will not be possible, but you don’t need to be in a particularly active state to do it. Also some degree of uncertainty as to which registers of words to use or the grammatical niceties may not necessarily block understanding, as context can be the guide and for listening intonation will guide – in the case of face-to-face listening body language also provides a lot of guidance and still as for reading you have context. Listening despite all that can be harder than just reading since you don’t control the speed of input. Not unless you have a recording with a pause button and privacy to listen (maybe with headphones or alone) so that you can repeat or slow down a listening piece all you need. In this case the degree of difficulty between listening and reading is more blurred. Listening presents issues if you have a speaker with an unusual accent or a speech impediment, just as reading presents difficulties when reading the work of someone partially illiterate, but for the purposes of our discussion here let us consider that all the material we would be dealing with is standard language of an adequate quality.

In a sense then we can look at reading as the passive partner of writing, writing being understood as either handwriting or on a keyboard, or on any of the input methods on a mobile device – maybe even voice recognition which blurs the distinction between speaking and writing, but I would class it for our purposes as writing rather than speaking.

Likewise speaking and listening are an active/passive pairing. They have in common that they don’t involve the written word, and that someone with no literacy who is a native speaker of the language could also take part. Normally conversations take place in which people take turns in speaking and listening, or in chatrooms in reading and writing. The very term “chatroom” shows how readily we can transfer the idea of speaking and listening to writing and reading respectively. We think of ourselves as “chatting” to people when not a decibel is heard in terms of auditory noise beyond the clicking of the keys on our keyboards. It’s also not uncommon given today’s technology to find one’sself in conversations with people who are sorting out their microphones where one side is talking and the other writing. This is not unusual in conventional settings either if someone is mute or has lost their voice, but can hear. People proficient in all four skills can naturally feel reading coming in as an automatic substitute for listening and writing for speaking, where the sound-based pair are not available. These days, when someone in an online exchange tells us some bad or good news, we might naturally say “I am sorry/glad to hear that”, even though we only read it, and if the other person were to even raise an eyebrow it would be either taken as an attempt at humour or as an excess of pedantry.

Allow me to bring in one spiritual dimension just for one paragraph – those not liking it can skip to the next one.  The Bible (Romans 10:17) says “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” –  this clearly shows that the hearing is something that is read. So the Bible itself puts hearing and reading on a parity. When we consider the phrase “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5 v 7) the fact that reading does involve sight rather than the sense of hearing is not conflicting, because the act of reading is like listening or hearing but by using our eyes. The “sight” which the Bible places in apposition to faith in many places is the “seeing” of experimenting. Instead of taking a promise from the Divine revelation on trust needing to probe it and see if it the case by means of experimentation. That’s not the same as testing one scripture against other scriptures, which is generally shown in the Bible itself to be the correct way to understand scriptures.

So we have two active/passive pairs, one involving an aural/oral convention and the other eyes and hands with symbols. However, these things are heavily interconnected, and can cross over. A person reading in a foreign language on their own will usually “hear” what they are saying with a kind of “inner ear” – when we are young we start out by reading aloud and are led gradually to “read in our heads” at which point we are invited to allow our voice to continue in the head, but unuttered by the organs of speech. In due course this may become a voice doing accents or having a quality that we cannot even imitate with our own voice, as we imagine the voice of the speaker.  However in the main one is limited to the voices which one might be able to make a fair attempt at imitating oneself, those of us who are at all inclined to do imitations.

In this way, the act of reading and the development of that inner voice can directly influence speaking, although on my diagram I have not drawn or even allowed for a direct route between reading and speaking, as one will never develop this inner voice from reading alone without the opportunity to listen, and I have come more and more to the view that  the more one “front loads”the listening aspects in a language learning programme, the better this effect works. That’s one of the reasons I now recommend doing audio-only, listening based courses prior to any of the reading and writing required by the Goldlist method. There may be only 10% of the material you need, but it makes perfect sense to do this part right at the start, and that’s also consistent with the way we learn the first language – we have heard it all before we ever try to write it or read it.

That’s all I’ve prepared for today’s article, but I have more to say and we’ll get onto that  during the week. In the meantime your comments are as ever most welcome.

Imbecile’s guide to the EU


Playout date: 30 September 2006
Camera: Hypercam
Post Production: Windows Movie Maker – medium use
Location: On the net
Other people featured: None
Genre: Quirky
Music used: None
Languages used: English
Animals featured: None

 

This piece is a Hypercam piece with a voice-over.

The voice over was an imbecile based on the level that this awful EU propaganda film appeared to be aimed at. It was a little influenced by Brookers’ successful “paste” character in the early days of YouTube.

In April 2009 I took this down and today I have replaced it by as unlisted – you won’t find it in any of the standard in-site links in YT, and only follows of this blog and anyone you’ve shared the link above with will be able to see it.

The reason was not that the EU became less objectionable to me or the propaganda film from the EU site which I’m showing here any the less pathetic, quite the contrary. I just did not want random people coming along to think that the object of my mockery was people with speech impediments, or genuinely low-intelligence people who don’t deserved to be mocked, as they didn’t choose to be dull and where less is given less will be required.

I believe I can trust the regular viewers of this blog to be more discerning than the at-large YT population, hence the chance from private status to unlisted today, for this blog only.

EU’s “Most Dodgy” List, and how you can make a difference.


Ali Hassan al-Majid, hearing in Baghdad, Iraq ...

One man's terrorist is another man's hamburger stall customer...

The EU keeps a list of people you need to keep well away from. You’re not allowed to enter into business deals with these people. Not so much as a choc-ice should you sell or buy to them. If one of these people comes up to you and asks you what time it is, then you should give a refusal to answer, or at worst a misleading answer, and then immediately tell your local EU anti-dodginess enforcement officer about the contact.

If they come up to you and say “good morning”, they’ve already lied to you once. It can’t possibly be a good morning if you met one of them on it.

This list will go out of date almost as soon as it appears, so for the latest one head over to this place and get the latest list of total world scale hooligans to avoid.

Now that this is up on the EU’s site for public consumption, nobody in the EU has any excuse for failing to comply with sanctions. If you run a hamburger stall or a small taxi company, you could be liable if someone from this list buys a good or a service from you and you don’t tell them to get the hell outta here. So it’s up to you to ensure that the whole list is memorised the whole time, or at the very list look up people you are doing business with if you’re not sure about them or their organisation. Read the rest of this entry

Huliganov’s Winter Tips for the British


Windbeeches on the Schauinsland in Germany (Bl...

Bowed under by too much snow?

I see on the news that the UK is in for another bout of what they are calling “extreme weather conditions“, by which they mean the sort of weather which is absolutely normal anywhere from about Berlin eastwards. Since that’s where I live, I thought it would be a good service to the British people to give you at this time my observations on how Poles, Russians and others in a climate that seems to be causing a lot of ructions as it moves across the Britain. It seems that these colder winters are not going to go away as far as the UK is concerned and so you may as well get used to them. I have about 20 East European winters on my climatic CV, so my experience is something which may be of use to you.

Dress

  • The first item is dress. There’s a Russian saying “Нет плохой погоды, есть только плохая одежда” – that means “There’s no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad dress”. And the thing to go for is many layers of clothing rather than a few layers of what appear to be warm clothing. If you’re going to work in an office which may be well heated, you do not want to be sweaty all day long so you don’t need to have anything more money that you can’t take off when you get there. That’s the disadvantage of thermal vests.  A jumper on the other hand can be taken off quite easily.  The scarf is very important because that protects the throat which can be an Achilles heel. It is better than a beard as the beard will make a person feel too warm in a heated location. A decent hat is critical as 30% of heat loss goes from the head. A hat with flaps that can be brought down to cover the ears is particularly useful as you will not want to walk around with your ears uncovered once the temperature goes below about -6°C.  Really big headphones can also be helpful to keep the ears warm, but in extremes of cold you can also damage the headphones, although I will say that I haven’t yet. On that note digital cameras need to be used sparingly when its cold, as I have ruined one that way, on stocktakes. Read the rest of this entry
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