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Monday, March 19, 2012

How to Teach Yourself a Language [part 4]

Sow a Habit, Reap a Destiny
Do you remember the quote that basically said “Sow X; Reap Y” by Ralph Waldo Emerson? If you don't, it preaches that you're made by what you do, and this holds especially true for when you're learning a language and establish the way you absorb and use what you pick up; it's much like the feel you developed from learning to ride a bike, the feel that comes through when you hop back on it for the first time in however many weeks or months it's been since you swapped it out with a car for your primary means of getting around. 

            To develop that feel, however, you can't just do something right once, you gotta do it right several consecutive times and then do it until it feels breathing, then it'll be able to come back to you no matter how much time passes. (If you need a guiding principle in how many times,  try repeating the key info or skills in 3s/an odd number; for some reason this makes the info stand out when it comes time to use it.) After you get that down, the natural thing is to move on the next skill you'll need to nail on your way to the big end goal, which raises the question of which skill should be the next skill. To decide that, ask yourself if the next has any elements of the one just got down, and if does, that should be the next one you take on. Why?

            Let's say you just learned how to cook a piece of meat and wanted to keep the flow going. Would you rather go learn how to change a tire or how to cook a piece of fish? Because you have a good grip on the art of making dead animal tasty, you have more of the tools in your mind at the ready to deal with the fish and its unique challenges versus going right to the garage and trying to figure out how to use a wrench and looking for where the trouble spot is. You can certain learn how to change a tire if you stick to it, but if go with the stuff using your already learned skills, you'll learn something new a lot faster and a lot easier; if you want to, you can make each new thing you wanna learn even easier by applying Chunking, or breaking one big block of many bits of info into more manageable bits. Why Chunking? Let's find out!

Working Within the Brain's Memory Limits
The human mind can manage only manage 7 pieces of info at a time before things start getting fuzzy, so  Chuking makes something easier to both absorb and recall. For example, could you remember a phone number if it looked like this(13455764325) or like this(1-345-576-4325)?  If you get the first one down, great, but the second, broken down one lets the brain do more with it to try and make it stick stronger, like using it in a mnemonic(memory device used to strengthen how we remember things, like setting someone's phone number to a rhyme or song you know).

            In using a language, this is crucial to helping you speak the way you want to and weening you off of set phrases and scripts to express your thoughts and feelings, which means you can be more creative with your words and focus more the subtleties of what you want to convey instead of scrambling around in your brain for that one phrase you learned from that book that's right on the tip of your tongue, but just won't come out. When it gets tense and the next words out of your mouth could change the way things come to be, getting tongue tied is the last thing anyone would want, and chunking that info will make it that much less work to find, cutting down the chance you stick your foot in your mouth.

            For big info with lots of little things to remember, Chunking can be used  to condense related info together and make it easier to manage and pull from your Working Memory, which is the stuff that's immediately on hand and ready to go when you are. If you're getting a call from one of your buddies and they say “Hey, that guy from the Harvard lecture is coming at about 7:15-ish, be sure to have some grub ready. He really likes Chocolate bacon, so if you can, have some on hand for him-and maybe the rest of us to snack on,”  Chunking can prevent all that from overwhelming you.

            When you're on your way home from work and thinking about the stuff your friend said, your brain is working double time to get the details right, and with Chunking, each bit of info starts to come together and eventually gets connected like so:  Hey, that guy from the Harvard lecture is coming at about 7:15-ish, be sure to have some grub ready. He really likes Chocolate bacon, so if you can, have some on hand for him-and maybe the rest of us to snack on. While you may have a bit of a time getting Chocolate Bacon prepped, at least now you can have a little less stress on your mind while you get your place presentable for the impending company. As you get better at this, you'll feel more ready to take on the next big challenge, which, as a whole, can be very intimidating, but can be made less so with Scaffolding. 

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