Friday, October 14, 2011

language--- it's all in the patterns

As, for the past 10 years, I have been teaching English to speakers of other languages, it's a fun social experiment to become a language learner again.  Most often, I am reminding myself to "practice what I preached."  

For example, I recommended my students find patterns in language.  Sometimes, people are mystified by learning a second language.  Well, you learned one to the point of proficiency:  reading, writing, speaking, listening.  So, have some confidence, you can learn another. 

All too often, I find people get stuck at the word level in their second language.  Here's a common thought, "if I learn 50 words a day, at the end of a year, I'll have a vocabulary of 18,250 words."  It is important to have a good memory in second language learning.  However,  in addition to some memorization using flash cards, I advocate the pattern identification process.  

Here are some examples of word groupings (different parts of speech of a concept):

In English class I would teach:  
-ist ending is for people:  Communist, chemist, guitarist, flutist...

-ican ending is for nationalities:  African, American, Mexican....

micro- means really small:  microscope, microscopic, microphone....

chemical (adj.) chemisch*
chemical (n.) e Chemikalie*
chemist r Chemiker*
chemistry e Chemie*

Mexico s Mexiko
Mexican adj. mexikanisch
Mexican n. r Mexikaner/e Mexikanerin

micro Mikro-
microphone s Mikrofon
microscope s Mikroskop
microscopic adj. mikroskopisch

communism r Kommunismus
communist r Kommunist

Let's see how this technique can transfer to learning German (á la "practice what you preach"):

auf Deutsch (in German)
-isch= languages = Englisch, Ungarisch, Franzözisch, Italienisch, Spanisch...
-er= people =  Amerikaner, Deutscher, Franzözer

-ismus= idealogies/philosophies= Kommunismus, Sozialismus, Kapitalismus...

In conclusion, by looking for the patterns (in this case meaning prefixes and suffixes), I am able to expand my vocabulary more rapidly than just rote memorization of individual words. 


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