Monthly Archives: September 2015

Pay attention when people are speaking to you!

I recently finished a nice book entitled, How Languages are Learned. The answer of course is, “Often poorly, and always with great difficulty.”

Ha ha.

But there was an interesting remark in the book about the way that language learners receive feedback, but usually fail to make use of it. (This was in the context of classroom , but I think it’s applicable to everyday learning as well.)

The researchers found that most people correct language learners by repeating their sentence back, but fixing the errors. So if someone said to me, “He eat cookies,” I might say back, “He eats cookies.” Or if someone said, “He smashed his finger,” I might echo back, “He smashed his thumb,” if that was the more correct statement. I know I do this all the time as a parent, and with non-native English speakers, and I know that Afghans do it a lot as well.

The problem is, language learners don’t often pay attention to it! Apparently this is because echoing somebody’s statement is something that we do fairly routinely in everyday conversation—active listening, as it’s sometimes called.

So this week’s encouragement is to develop the habit of paying attention this feedback. When people repeat your sentence back to you, try to learn the better way to say it. It may take a while to develop the habit, but it’s a great source of instant feedback for your production skills—people even do it without noticing!

What the word really is

This is a quirky little post based on a half-formed idea. I hope that it serves as an encouragement for people to learn to read.

Several months ago IAM switched from the old Glassman alphabet to the International Phonetic Alphabet. I fully expected some grumbling, and for people to struggle with the funny new letters (ʃ, ɣ, ʒ, etc.). What was more surprising is that some people don’t want to write [tʃʌ] for ‘well’ because it’s really “chA.” That is, the Glassman way of writing the word is somehow, for that person, what the word really is.

I suspect that this has something to do with being a visual learner—90% of us are visual learners—and something to do with being literate people. Even if we don’t read and write Dari, we still cling to the visual representation of the word.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the written form of Dari words could have that special place in our minds? Then the “real” form of the word would be چاه. Sure, there’s a silent ه at the end of that word, but a literate Afghan is no more inclined to leave it off than you would be to write “bom” instead of “bomb.”

So let this be an encouragement, or an exhortation, or whatever, to get into the written language. Part of the goal is cultural learning is to view the culture from a insider’s perspective; let’s make the same effort with the language!