Sunday, 2 September 2018

Supersonic Unlearning

My recent interest in language acquisition started in about 2013 back when I was living in Japan. I trace it back to the day of my daughter's third birthday. 

She got the presents. I got a boot up the bum (figuratively speaking). Because that's the day I discovered that she had overtaken me in Japanese. I could no longer understand what she said. I couldn't keep up with her rate of learning!

As a parent, it does NOT feel good to discover such a thing (and neither did it make her feel secure). I felt stupid and useless. I'd been rendered dumbfounded, in the original sense of the word. And me a language teacher!

Not being able to understand her words was one thing. Not understanding how this situation had come about was another. Sure, I’d only been learning the language half-heartedly, but my daughter hadn't been studying at all! 

She’d never been near a school. She didn't know the concepts of grammar, vocabulary, memory, and revision. She'd only just learned to read. She could barely use a pencil.

We all accept that children pick up a language more quickly than adults. But why should that be an acceptable thing? With all the benefits of education, shouldn't we be doing better? 

In truth, language instruction works poorly. If only 1 in 20 adults who set out to learn another language succeed (I suspect that this refers to English-speaking adults), as compared to 20 out of 20 babies, then something is rotten in the state of Denmark. And it isn’t Danish! 

What was the problem? What's the solution?

I concluded that the puzzle is actually a no-brainer. Which is to say that both the problem and the solution stem from how we use our brains. Babies and adults have the same brains. They just use them differently.

I believe that we've been seduced by the achievements of Science. We've been sucked into using only a conscious, left brain style of thinking. The education system whole-heartedly champions logical, analytical learning processes. It has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. "Oh no! That's childish. Let's not do it that way anymore. We're all grown up now."

But really—rather than replace the natural way how babies acquire language with our grown-up notions of Scientific learning, we need to meld the two methods. Quite simply, we've got to balance our brains. We've got to pick up a language and learn it so as to acquire it in the best possible way.    

Long story shortwith what I discovered I set out to . . .
  1. Improve my Japanese
  2. Help my daughter master English
  3. Publish a book showing Japanese people how to learn English, and
  4. Collaborate with innovative people to trial my ideas 
I've done, or am doing, the first three. I'm keen to make a start on the fourth.

Basically, I wish to test my hypothesis that anyone can acquire any language, starting any time, at any rate, and without any study. 

I did it. 
My daughter did it. 
You did it—that was how you learned English—therefore anyone can do it.

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