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Real-Life Learning — The Principle of Association
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Think about basketball.  Imagine a coach bringing a set of books to the gym and handing them out.  The books have play diagrams.  They give vivid descriptions of stance, eye-hand coordination for aiming at the basket,the launch and the follow through for shooting.

The authors talk about stamina, passing technique, types of shoes. There are pictures of courts, balls, uniforms and teams  The team reads and memorizes these pictures, diagrams, instructions and guidelines.

Game Time
Then comes game time.  The coach huddles the team and launches them onto the court with these inspiring words:  "OK, boys now get out there and remember the book! " Wouldn't that be foolish!

How does the team prepare for a game?  They drill, they practice, they run to build up stamina.  They dribble, they pass, they shoot.  They run some more, they shoot, they dribble, they pass.  You get the picture.

Books and Motor Skills?
You don't learn to play basketball from books.  Why do people want to learn language that way?  Language is a motor skill, too.   So it must be learned as such — like basketball, or riding a bike.

A strong component in our learning is association with a situation.  In the situation, in the actual communication event, the language component is just part of the whole event.  This adds the social component of language — language is how we handle our interactions with other human beings.  The real purpose for language is to communicate with others!

Untotal Recall!
Suppose you learn a language segment in a classroom, around a table.  Then you get out into the daily-life world, into a situation where you need that language segment.  You remember you learned an appropriate phrase for that situation, but in order to recall it, you must actually recreate in memory the situation in which you learned it — the classroom.  By the time you recall the phrase, the other person has gone home!

This is the problem of association.  We remember things by association.  When we remember something we actually recreate it from bits and pieces.  We fill in the details by association.  It is easier to remember a language segment in a real-life situationif you have a real-life association by which to recall it.

As soon as possible after initial learning in a classroom situation, the language text should be used in a real-life situation to confirm the learning.  Likewise a language segment learned initially in the real-life situation will more like ly be learned and remembered with less effort.

This avoids the aspect of memorization so burdensome to most learners.  This helps you focus, instead, on the thrill of the success, in the real game of communication!

Also related:
[TXT] Overlearning
[TXT] Principles and Techniques of Language Learning
[TXT] Quick Guide to Language Learning
[TXT] Working on Vocabulary


First published under the title “Real-Life Learning” as the lead article in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, November 1993
This version first posted in the Techniques series on Thoughts and Resources 9 June 2001
Last edited 28 July 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright © 1993, 2001 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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