Language can’t be explained

Today I’m here to debunk a myth (again). This is one particularly important myth to debunk, since it’s the main pillar of traditional language education.

Let’s get started.

The myth is that language can somehow be transferred from the brains of a speaker to the brains of a learner by explaining the grammar and the vocabulary. However, in this post we’re going to see how that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

To do that, first we have to explain what language is.

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The nature of words

There’s a big misconception that seems to be common among language teachers and learners alike: the nature of words. In this post I try to clear up the confusion that 99% of language learners and language methods seem to have.

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I realize that I often mention Crosstalk in my blog, but I haven’t really explained what it is. Unfortunately, until now there was no other website where you could get a comprehensive explanation of what it is and how to do it. This is that explanation.

I first learnt about Crosstalk when studying at the AUA School in Bangkok, and it quickly became one of my favorite ways to learn a language. In total, I’ve spent around 200 hours doing it, so let me tell you about my experience with it.

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The 10 commandments of language acquisition

Learning a foreign language is an amazing endeavor and something that can be very rewarding. Especially once you are able to do things like going to the country and mingle with the locals, watching a humor TV show and understand the jokes, or have a conversation with an authentic geisha.

It can however seem a daunting task. Many people, after years of studying, still struggle to have a free-flowing conversation, understand native speakers talking to one another, or have strong accents that make their communication difficult.

In this post I’m going to talk about the factors that I’ve found over the years to contribute to successful language learning. These principles have been designed to allow anybody to make steady progress towards their language learning goal. They’ve proven to hold true both for myself and for most people I’ve met who reached really high levels in a foreign language, including speaking fluently without hesitation, and a clear pronunciation close to that of a native speaker.

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The tyranny of the written word

This post is about how reading and writing in a second language before being able to speak it can cause problems, why those problems happen, and how to avoid them.

In traditional foreign language courses, reading is one of the first things that students are taught. It’s not uncommon for the first few lessons of a beginner’s language class to introduce the sounds of the letters in that particular language or the alphabet of the language in the case it uses a different one. It seems very logical to do so. You need to know the letters to be able to use any kind of textbook, which, after all, is what you’re in school for, right?

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You’re not stupid

I don’t think most people believe themselves to be stupid. So why is it then that we treat ourselves as if we were stupid when we are trying to learn a foreign language? We do that by seeking an explanation for every detail of the grammar, a translation for every word, as well as explanations of when and how to use those words.

In this post I talk about how the brain is a really good pattern-finding machine. It is perfectly able to learn a language without us having to spoon-feed everything to it in the form of grammar rules and translations.

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