Saturday, September 03, 2005

three day weekend

I got up this morning and had leftover chinese food for breakfast.

There's a show on now about savants. As a kid, I might have been a savant. I remember being able to remember every day of school in second grade; what I wore, what we did, etc. When I was older I remembered all the things my parents said to me, especially when my dad promised me something, like tennis lessons, going to the movies together, using my birthday money.... all of those things he promised me that never happened, I remember keenly.

Compared to most of the people I know, I am a savant when it comes to rhythm and music. Not because I'm particularly talented, but because their critical understanding of music is so impoverished. Also, I think I'm more auditory than other people. There's a classroom that we have our meetings in, which has an fan unit by the window. When I sit that room, the white noise of the fan makes is so constant, it makes my body numb. Others don't notice it.

People also say that I have a 'gift' for learning other languages. It's nice to hear it, but I don't believe it. I have the same instinct as everyone else. If I'm more successful than most, it's not because I have a gift; it's because most people do it wrong. And when I tell people what they have to do, it's very rare that anyone believes me.

Besides, I know plenty of people that have done greater feats of language learning than I have.


bitchphd said...

Ok, so what's the trick to fluency, then? Go live in X country? Seriously, I'm asking.

john patrick said...


You learned your first language by instinct!

Language is a huge system, so big that a computer doesn't exist than can speak or translate linguistic data at anywhere near the speed or accuracy of a human being. Yet every average human has learned to speak with syntactically complex structures before their sixth birthday. Bilingual kids on average trail behind monolingual kids on average by about a month in linguistic development. Thirty days! Can you imagine how powerful the language learning instinct must be?

Some tips to feed your instinct:
1) Expose yourself to the data. Going to live in X country is a good way to do that, but if you're stuck in North America, do everything you can to expose yourself to the target language. Treat the target language like it's gold; write down every new word you hear, repeat it, use it in a sentence. Your brain will file a word when you use it communicatively.

2) Let go of your English. Never ask for an English translation; instead, ask for a descriptin. If you think you know what something means, but you don't know the English word, learn to put up with that feeling. Going from language to language is a whole different skill than learning a new one. It doesn't help you.

3) Get over your shyness and your cultural taboos about making speaking mistakes. Get over them.

4) to be continued