Tuesday, December 02, 2008

the brain will learn on its own

Steve Kaufmann has just posted a summary of a book about the brain and learning by somebody named Manfred Spitzer. Who is he? I don't know. The book is in German so I guess I won't be reading it, but here is what I found to be interesting from the summary.

Under point 2, The brain controls what it is going learn, it says this:
The brain does most of its learning on its own. With the right input, the brain is quite capable of creating the necessary labels and rules required to organize the information it has received and stored. It is not always necessary, and is sometimes counterproductive, to teach rules explicitly. It is often more effective to let the brain develop its own rules, from the observation of the information received. We all learn to speak our own language and yet most of us are unable to provide rules to explain how the language works. We just know how to speak our language.
This basically means that we need not try to teach ourselves anything. Our brain will just learn! If we sit in front of the Chinese TV all the time, we'll learn Chinese! Sure it takes lots of input. A huge variety of input is best, I believe. You must also have patience, which is what most people don't have.

Just stating that last sentence reminds me of those contests where the person who holds out the longest wins a big prize. Sometimes they are roller coaster rides, sometimes they are just sitting in a lounge chair, and sometimes they have to keep a hand on a vehicle. They begin with a dozen or more people and soon, participants start dropping out. Probably after about a day there are only 3 or 4 people left. Out of those, only 2 will be so patient and willing to continue the wait for days and days on end. Unfortunately, those endurance contests sometimes end tragically.

But for language acquisition, you can go at your own pace. You can go to the bathroom whenever you want! You can take breaks and eat or sleep. Just have patience and don't give up. Get the language input and be patient.

Trying to memorize words is a bad way to go. Here's what you do when you try to memorize words: You look at the foreign word and then to check if you know it, you think of the meaning in your own language. You look at the word in your language and then try to remember the word in the foreign language. That's the only way you can check yourself. But this kind of connection is what slows us down. It becomes a habit. If we get enough input, I believe we overcome this habit one by one, for each word. But some habits, like incorrect grammar, are much harder to break. Speaking slowly is also hard to overcome for myself.

But I think this can all be fixed through exposure. However, it is much harder to fix what's broken than to build something correctly the first time.

And if the brain will learn on its own, then why should we get in the way of that?

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