Saturday, August 11, 2007

krashen the hard drive

My new plan is to pull my thoughts about language learning together into a single location; at the moment much of what I've said can be accessed through clicking on the Krashen label below this post. I've had some new ideas but haven't really written them down; tonight I decided to put a few of them here.

Basically I'm organizing language learning by analogy. Learning a second language is like learning to ride a bicycle: it's primarily mind-to-body coordination; it's something that, once you learn it, you might forget parts of it, but you'll pick it up fairly quickly when you try it again.

Language learning is similar to a secretary, or anyone who controls a lot of information, reorganizing the files. You don't do it until after you realize it's necessary; sometimes a good while after. You don't do it unless you know it will make your life easier for a long time to come. You are aware that changing the system is different and much harder than just adding information to it.

But here's the big one: Learning a new language is like cutting through a field, or taking a new route to work. If you just got a new job, you'll take the interstate for a few days, until you suspect that there's a better or faster way. You won't really investigate until you feel more stable at the job, in other words, when you are sure that being more efficient will save you time on a regular other words, part of your calculation, in trying a new route, involves the risk: what about unforeseen problems, red lights, etc. But part of the calculation involves analysis of future gain: if I actually cut five minutes off my time, but do it only once, is it worth the risk? (no...) but, if I could save five minutes every day, would I take the risk to find out if it would be worth it? (yes)...

I maintain that such calculations play a part in learning new grammar: or actually, in making a new grammatical rule part of one's system...that, one will not do it, until that calculation has played out. And I would like to show exactly how people calculate that, and how people have that kind of calculation in common, much as people would, say, all drive from the west side to the center of town; all would calculate in factors such as perceived time taken for each route; perceived risk; perceived atmosphere of the route; yet each driver may come away with a different calculation.

What does Krashen have to do with it? Don't know yet. Lots of good puns come from his name: Krashen burn, after krashen, call the insurance, etc. I will no doubt use a few. But, exactly how I feel about Krashen's theories, I haven't quite nailed down. Obviously I believe in the acquisition/learning distinction: I think it's crucial to understanding. I don't believe that language learning is genetic, any more than choosing a new route through town is genetic. One does what works; life is a series of compromises, many of which are with the traffic gods and the passenger-only lane. But I will say: you read it first here.

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