'Language is a process of free creation.' (Noam Chomsky)
A talented linguist and disciple of Noam Chomsky invited Jacob, a young German student, to reflect on which of two sample sentences in English was correct. Jacob was unsure about the exact meaning and structure of the phrases yet, gesturing with his hand to his chest, he then pointed thoughtfully at one and said, ‘I don’t know, but it feels like it’s this one.’ I was stunned. He was correct, and he didn’t know how or why. The teacher explained. Jacob has been exposed over time to English via e.g. social media, computer games etc. He somehow knows the answer; less analytically and more intuitively.
I flashed back in my own memory to a time when, as a teenager, I was learning French at school. I had a hunch, an idea, that if I played French radio in the background in my room, I too would become tuned into the language even if I didn’t understand anything that was being said. Over time, I did start to distinguish one word from another, then to notice recurring words, then to become aware of the contexts in which certain words or phrases were used. I started to hear the accent, word stress and intonation. It wasn’t a conscious process so much as, like an infant child, a learning of language by immersion.
This linguist then invited a wider group of students to play a fast-paced game that involves using lots of different words in English. They didn’t necessarily know or understand the words and the teacher, a speaker of five languages, didn’t translate them. I was puzzled by this and asked why. Pointing to Chomsky, she took me back to the same core principle I had discovered for myself as a teenager. The students don’t know the meaning of the words now, but when in future they hear them used in context, the words and meanings will connect. Immersion enables deep language-learning by intuition.
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
Like what you read? Simply enter your email address below to receive regular blog updates!