Good Teaching: Should You Try To Make The Word Patterns You Ask Make Sense?

I have already written about what I think language teaching should be. I would really like to get a lot of courses where languages are taught like that and then I believe we could really make a difference in how fast and accessible language learning would be. Creating courses following this methodology is something I have been trying to do and I want to encourage others to do in Project Labs.

It is no secret that my current attempt at teaching things has been inspired by Michel Thomas who used to teach languages like that: he would introduce the basics step by step and he would ask short questions. Michel Thomas, however, did not cover nearly enough languages and did just a tiny bit of courses while I believe a similar method (moreover, this new method would also be improved through field tests and feedback) could really be spread to teach many languages and in the long run perhaps not only languages (teaching is teaching, after all).

There is another thing to add to the method which has been suggested to me in my e-mail correspondence with Cainntear. The basic idea concerns the way questions are being asked. To illustrate this, here is an example. Say you want to teach that Interlingua for “I want it” and “I have it” are respectively “Io lo vole” and “Io lo ha”. Normally, you would ask questions such as: how do you say “I want it and I have it” or “I want it, I have it” and similar ones. Now, Cainntear suggested that this is wrong (and, he states, Michel Thomas avoided this as well).

This is wrong because these sentences do not make sense. The wring way would be to make it make sense thus asking things like “I want it because I do not have it” or similar logical phrases that stick in the mind of the person the questions are being asked to. If you can’t come up with logical phrases (which you should be able to come up with if you try hard enough), you should just not bother and split the phrases into two parts: “I want it” and “I have it”.

The point is that the human mind tries to make meaning of everything it hears and therefore you should never let your learners mechanically repeat the words and you should always try to make the sentences meaningful. So while “I want it because I do not have it” is memorable and has a meaning to it, “I have it and I want it” is just a sentence which a person can say but is less likely to remember because he is just mimicking the sentence and not really putting meaning to it. Quoting Cainntear:

The brain is a remarkable thing.  When you hear something in a language you know, the brain instantly starts to build a mental picture of what the other person is saying.  It’s completely unconcious and takes no effort at all. When someone says “I want it but I don’t have it”, it doesn’t matter what “it” is, you still empathise with them — you understand the feelings that they are experiencing, and it’s a feeling you can express in the same words (for many different values of “it”).

I have to say that really made me think about it. I might have overlooked this thing when making some of the sentences in the courses. Fortunately, the courses were just started creating and I can easily fix this. As for now, I just wanted to say that it sounds like a valid point and it might very well be the next addition to ”
my ideas about how language teaching should work. If you are interested in the topic, I suggest you give this some thought as well.

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15 comments

  1. We are literally meaning making machines. This is how hypnosis works.

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