Neural Pathways,Language Learning and the Call of Nature
Submitted by peter on Thu, 2020-07-23 08:34
The latest research into neural pathways and the ability of the brain to create new connections when needed (and delete when not needed) has helped me to understand why learning language in a real context is so much more effective than other methods. I have always found that a useful classroom disciplinary device is an insistence on target language usage, along with a system of rewards and penalties. If students spoke in English they had to apologize (in eg French). This helped with an agreeable atmosphere of peace and quiet needed for classroom learning, especially with beginners, and prepared the ground for fluency with complex structure required for saying you're sorry for doing something in any language. This complex structure, probably involving pronouns, reflexive verbs, infinitive and a past participle was elicited by me saying something like 'Qu'est-ce qu'il faut dire?' It turned out that the most reluctant learners were sometimes the most adept at recognising the prompt and saying the complex sentence simply because they had to repeat it more often than the more obedient students and, furthermore, perfectly fluently with a good accent. This brought another very important advantage. When the time ever finally came to teach personal pronouns, cases, reflexive verbs infinitives and past participles, their relevance in everyday usage was already understood and, presumably those neural pathways had already begun to grow in the right direction. The method worked extremely well when an urgent need struck the student. ..How to borrow a pen, a pencil sharpener, or anything else in another’s possession which they craved at that moment. I can confidently say that all my students know (subject to neural pathways not being deleted) how to ask, in a foreign language, if they may go to the toilet. This wasn't something they were asked to do in examinations, but definitely a thing to say before operating the pause button if working synchronously with someone online! It stands to reason that neural pathways in the brain are most efficiently created when an urgent need for them is present, so opportunities to reinforce them need to be alluring, immediately at hand, and attractive. Nowadays this usually means 'online'.