Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spanish Learning Chapter Two

learn to speak spanishThe way in which adult Africans, and I believe many of the adults I've met in the resort areas of Mexico, have developed a high degree of spoken fluency is the same way in which we learned our native tongue as children-Passive Listening. If ever there was a "natural way" to learn a second language, this is it. If ever there was a way that one should use as the primary step to second language acquisition, this is it.

Passive listening would be the direct opposite of how we are taught to approach the learning of math, history, or science. It is not the cramming, drilling, cold memorizing of facts, or mindless repetition of vocabulary words. It is, rather, the silent assimilation and consequent registering of sights, noises, smells, and action pictures within the new language. It is something that goes on even when a conscious effort is not being made to pay attention to things within the language. I know of one language school in the States that uses the Learnables products with children and suggests playing the tapes while the kids play and sleep.

During the period of silence in which children say little in the new language and play a lot, passive listening is happening. There is no classroom in which a teacher is instructing the child in the language. The need to fit into play with the foreign children whose language must sound like gibberish at first is so great that lots of passive listening is happening.

As adults, we have to engage in purposeful activity, one that is designed for massive exposure in the new language (acquisition first, learning second), as well as passive activity. I not only use home study courses that offer me "comprehensible input" in the language, but I watch lots and lots of television in Spanish. This can be done in the States as well as in Mexico where I live. The Simpson's is an ideal program for this. It used to be available on Univision television as well as other Spanish cable networks.

Exactly how the brain stores language, spoken and understood speech, has not exactly been known. Recently, however, there have been more clues to what goes on in the brain when spoken fluency in the primary and secondary language is acquired. Our brains, when exposed to hundreds of thousands of repetitions in the target language (First, second, third, etc...), organize and store the visual and auditory impressions. But, what is absolutely amazing is that with regard to speech, these impressions are not being stored in long or short-term memory.

When your child reached the point where he or she could say, "Mommy, I have to make pee-pee," the words in that spoken sentence were not "learned" but "acquired." Your child didn't have to engage in the memorization of the vocabulary within that sentence. The process in which your child acquired these words in order to tell you he had to go to the bathroom is the identical process in which you, the adult learner of a second language, have to engage in order to say that sentence without thinking.

To develop fluency in a second language you must develop a SPEECH CENTER in your brain for the new language.

A study, done by two major research centers in the United States, was reported in the 1997 issue of Nature scientific magazine. In a study entitled, Distinct Cortial Areas Associated with Native and Second Languages, a major discovery was made in the understanding of memory and speech acquisition. This study and its results have been replicated in Germany, reported by Nature in 2002.

The study revealed the amazing fact that autonomous speech centers, located in different points in the brain, exist. If someone spoke French, English, and Spanish, there would be a SPEECH CENTER for each language. When you speak in English, there is an English Speech Center that fires in your brain. If you are bilingual and speak in both English and Spanish, then you have a SPEECH CENTER for each of those languages. If you speak in Spanish, your Spanish Speech Center fires off. These points, or Speech Centers, are distinct and separate for each language and are not connected. But here is the most amazing item this study revealed.

Not only is each Speech Center for each language you know separate and distinct, THESE SPEECH CENTERS HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION TO MEMORY.

If you react like I did when I read this, you are now picking yourself up off the floor. But this study, done at two research centers in America, has been replicated in Germany-we need to pay attention. What this is saying is when we speak in our native tongue there is a point or center for that language that fires off. This enables us to speak without defining words or wondering about grammar. When you learn-ACQUIRE-a foreign language, your brain has developed a separate and distinct point, or center, for that language. When you speak in that new language, you are speaking from that speech center and NOT from your memory.

Stories abound about people who took five years of Spanish at the University level but cannot string two words of Spanish together when speaking. They can read or exegete a written text but cannot speak the language or comprehend speech. The reason is that there is no speech center for that language in their brains. There is a lot of long- and short-term memory work that has taken place for translating in the language but they have no speech center for speaking the language. They have tried to learn the new language by associating it to their native language-the results speak for themselves. You will fail if you try to associate your native language with the new targeted language you are trying to "learn."

The way every one of us began the Acquisition process of learning our native tongue as well as any additional language in which we are fluent is through the development of speech centers in our brains.

What traditional language-learning methods do is try to program the short-term memory in hopes that it will land somewhere in the long-term memory and "stick." They try to force you to learn something about the language. What is needed is to resort to something as closely related as possible to how you learned your native language. You must develop a speech center. You need a method that approximates, as closely as possible, the same method that produced your native speech center.

The most promising thing is that there are commercially available products you can obtain that closely approximate this Natural Language Learning Order!

Aptitude never enters the equation until we try engaging in "learning" something "about" the language.

Acquisition always comes first and learning second.

Acquiring language is as instinctual as any of our basic human needs.

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