pandemo (pandemo) wrote,

First Class Assignment - Language Acquisition

My first problems are finding out what the missing student number I need to plug into the personal data without waiting to have a grade for the class to obtain it, and praying the books arrive before the next class so we can do the reading assignment. As of Friday afternoon, no books.

I also question the wisdom of sending everything in as attachments, as the anti-virus software does not stop viruses that are NEW, only the old, known ones, even if the monthly upgrades are done faithfully. Makes me very thankful that both at home and at work, I’m a Mac!

Well, if you’re in a hurry, skim for bold and skip the chat.

What I already THINK I know about language acquisition is that it is easiest for children UNDER five, and gets tougher as people age. Intelligence affects the depth of learning, but most people are bright enough to be able to communicate, even with language barriers. (EX. As a high schooler, I taught English to Japanese brought here by IBM. Most had minimal language skills, oriented around the labels of parts found on the machines they specialized in. These were very BRIGHT folks, and I had a good time doing it. Amount of Japanese I knew: Hello, Good-bye, Nice to meet you. Proper social bow included. Years later, on a trip to Disney in Florida, while eating in a Japanese restaurant there, my sister and I “talked” to a Japanese family based on those remembered greetings, finding out such esoteric things as the contents of the delicious soup we were eating. The wife did a LOT of giggling. The experience of visiting PLACES is enriched by the PEOPLE met there.)

Some other things I think I know about it is that some folks learn more easily by ear, some by sight, and others are more point and say, dance it, chant it, put it to movements some way. I mis-hear the ch/j sound, which can result in some strange song lyrics. I entertained my high school Spanish teacher with a version of “Chamaca” (Little Girl), which I heard as Jamaca, not then knowing that Jaimaca was the country. I thought it was a love song to the ISLAND, along the lines of “Haiti Cheri says ‘Haiti is my beloved land/but I never knew that I’d have to leave it to understand/just how much I’d miss her gallant citadel, where days long ago, brave men served their country well.’
We reviewed the “confusing sounds” stuff again the next day in class, as Jamaca would have been pronounced “Hamaka”. I’d never even the pronunciation a thought as I sang, although if I’d SEEN it, I would have done the sound switch automatically. I know I have to write things down and read them, not just hear them. If I am doing things by ear, rhyme, rhythm and song aid my memory.

People seem to retain new/strange things best by associating them with other things that they are familiar with. (Want another story? If not, skip to the next paragraph.) Once in a college Anthropology class, the professor, a highly intelligent man who had a lecture class of over 60 in front of him, was trying to give study hints to the last rows of raised tiers, where the students were more into rocking to the music wafting up from the band room below through the open windows than taking notes. He was giving a list of ways to enhance memorization. The first row, where I was, he’d dubbed his “A” row, as the most serious students grabbed those seats to be plagued by fewer distractions. I was directly before his podium. Leaning over, pulling his glasses to the end of his nose (a sign something funny was coming) he asked me how I remembered the term “polyandry”.
“For plural marriages, I think of ‘Amos & Andy’,” I answered truthfully. Chaos reigned for a bit. I heard about it for weeks.

People seem to begin to learn language by imitating what they hear. I was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, in a hospital that overlooked the gulf of Mexico, but don’t talk “southern” UNLESS I spend time with southerners. Then the accent comes. I don’t try for it; it just shows up. If I get around northerners again, it leaves. I moved from an area where the language I heard was relatively precise to one where “I ain’t got no” was standard, and anything else was “putting on airs” or thinking you were better than everyone else. After a few years, I was at a Thanksgiving with the extended family, where I unthinkingly answered a pretty obvious question with the standard local form for where I was then living, “I RECKON.” Oh, that still brings bursts of hilarity from my relatives. I’d gone “hillbilly” on them! (The worst grammatical fault around those I was raised by was dropping the –ly off adverbs. Solidly knowing the difference adverbs and adjectives happened in Spanish, but the “why” of the grammar didn’t come until a last grammar class in college where a professor gave the few of us who had never diagrammed sentences a five minute crash course in case we got into old fashioned schools where it was required. Seeing where the adjectives sprouted from, and where adverbs originated allowed me to visualize the difference, and I was never confused afterward. I already knew what good language sounded like, and the rules for what was what. When I began teaching, I am happy to say that I never was required to teach sentence diagramming, but could use it to explain things if that worked best at the time. Like a lot of other things, it is easy if you know how, but if you don’t have a clear picture of language patterns in your head to start out with, diagramming sentences until the cows came home wouldn’t help a bit.)

Most children who grow up in southern Iowa suffer from a vocabulary deficiency, sort of like an epidemic disease. They don’t hear “with alacrity” used, so they don’t recognize it when they read it, and a whole host of other words. When I began teaching, the students trained me not to use my big vocabulary, which further insured that they only encountered the words they were already used to hearing. Not smart! But it was not until last spring that an in-service presenter told us to USE OUR VOCABULARIES and let the students ask/look up, and hear those words in context. I used to tell my Spanish students that they could remember edificio was building because of the English word ediface. Now, when I tell them about ediface, I say that their Spanish knowledge will help them guess the meanings of English words they’ve never heard of before. One college student who worked for me for three years was complaining about the sheets of vocabulary words his college English teacher gave out (margins like your syllabus, just long top to bottom columns of words he’d never heard of. I don’t know where she found a copy machine that would print that close to the edges!) As I was helping him one day, I got tired of his griping, and said, “It may not be your FAULT, but it is now YOUR problem. One of the marks of an educated person is knowing words “normal” people don’t. You can still say “I gots to have it” around your friends, but NOT YOUR BOSS. You want him to be impressed with your intellect, not fear you are too dumb to be able to master one of the most basic tools at your service: the level of language you use.” Now he’s a manager in a Des Moines store, and smiles, and… then fears he’s a hypocrite. Ah, angst!

I guess I don’t have any special wants as far as learning goes. I’m more like a sponge. I absorb whatever is there to be had. I am good at making connections, and will pick out the things that are adaptable to the classroom and incorporate them (who knows, maybe my next novel will have a character with some of the traits and attitudes of someone I meet in class!) You’ll always be able to tell what is edited and what is not: Length. If I write something short and to the point, it is HEAVILY edited. All those connections = loose-knit, rambling documents which may be interesting to meander through when you are reading a leisurely novel, but with 120 students in class, probably is not a joy to you now. But, since it is already after 9 pm Friday, and I have not gotten the lesson plans for the week in hand, the chances of you getting a pared down document look pretty slim… Sorry about that!

It seems to me that “What I learned” would have to come afterward. What I learned last time was that has a more efficient journal set-up, that taking roll for nearly an hour does not hold people’s interest, and is way too many people to be absorbed at one time, and that I wish people would have been asked to move into range of their cameras when they were out of view, those at the back asked to move to the front, etc., so we could actually SEE the face of whomever was talking at the time. The visuals were not suited for the style of presentation. The point size needs to be increased greatly on anything you actually want folks to be able to READ off the TV screens. Experiment with 14 to 18 point, especially if we are to take it down (with huge margins, as the TV clips off the sides when it is sent.) Even with my glasses, I could not read most of what was shown. (Yeah, I know… I’m over 50, bummer!)

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