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Language and Life

I Don't Remember This Language
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

There are similarities among all human languages.  There are ways in which every language is different from every other language.  But there are also ways in which all languages are alike.  The learner always notices the differences because the differences are what cause the problems in communication and difficulties in learning.  But the similarities are what enable us to learn.

Universal Grammar
A linguist called Noam Chomsky showed how universal basic language patterns are.  He developed a system of language analysis which could analyze every language with the same set of rules.  His grammar system is called Generative Transformational Grammar.

When you start on a new language you can see what he means. Somali, for instance, sure has been transformed from English – I don't recognize anything! And it certainly generates a lot of frustration.

But the positive part is that Chomsky showed that the similarity between languages is based on the similarity between human beings! The way we learn and organize language is a built-in part of our mental structure.  There is a commonality between all human minds.

Logical Structures
Are you human?  Then you have all you need to begin learning a new language of other humans!  Chomsky has demonstrated that there is a definite similarity in the logical structures of the human mind universally.  Thus if another human is speaking this language, so can you!

The hard part is that it is the differences that stand in the way when you first encounter a new language and culture.  The assurance of the underlying similarity in the way humans think may be encouraging.  You can do this! Other cultures can make sense when you get into the language and social patterns.

Your Own Toolkit
This means that what you know about language, you know about all languages.  There are just some differences in specifics.  Every person is born with everything needed to learn any language. Thus when you start to learn a new language, there is a sense in which you are simply reminding yourself of this part of human language.

In a very real sense, you are remembering this new language.  It is just that you had discarded the parts you didn't need for your first language which you must remember for your new language.  I know you language learners are thinking, “I sure don't remember this language!” But the patterns are still there.  The ability to analyze can be reclaimed.

How to Remember
Here are some patterns to follow for “remembering” your brand new language.

Ask for repetition:  “Eh, what say?”  “Come again”  “Huh?”  “What?”  “I beg your pardon?”  Learn to ask for help this way in the new language.  This way native speakers can “remind” you of these pieces of languages you can't quite hear the first time – or for the first five times!.

It is beneficial but not necessary to be aware of those rules in your own language.  Compare your native language with your target language as you go.  Associate or contrast the new with the old language.

The Thinking Format
When learning a language, you are not learning information or another academic subject.  You are learning the format for processing information and handling social situations.  This means the thinking format of that culture in that language!  Your mind does not organize language formats the way it assimilates new informational knowledge in your own language.

To learn a language, you must work on hearing skills, organizing skills and overall understanding. The most productive format is to learn sound and structure then the meaning that can be produced by that particular sound and structure system.  Here is a procedure for learning in this way.

Steps to Remembering
Observe nationals using the language in actual situations and demonstration by language helper/teacher.

Listen to the language segments as spoken by a national.  Hear and repeat many times.  This sets the pattern in your subconscious.

Practice these segments, repeating after the model given by the national teacher, tutor, helper, or ordinary person.

Produce these defined language segments, without a model, to gain independent control over them; for correction by a teacher or helper; and for reinforcement in normal situations at every opportunity.

Record the language segments, with notes on situation, grammar, and other helpful information.  The teacher or language helper should write first any new material not already in prepared sources, then the learner should see it and copy it.

Use the language segments learned in the appropriate situations at every opportunity.  It becomes “yours” only as you use it, incorporating each day's new lesson and situation into your personal language and social “repertoire.”

Evaluate the material's appropriateness, ease of use and your mastery of it.

OLIPPRUE:  This acronym sums up the way to “remember” the new form of human speech of the host society, based on the universal language patterns you already know from your own native tongue.  You can remember that totally new language.  It is really a lot like your own.

Also related:
[TXT] Overlearning
[TXT] Quick Guide to Language Learning
[TXT] Real-Life Learning The Principle of Association


Originally published in the Series “Language and Life” in Afri-Com, a communication journal, Nairobi, Kenya, March 1993
This version written for Orville Jenkins Thoughts and Resources 21 April 2008

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 1993, 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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