Terri on dictée and memory

I had been wondering whether homeschoolers use dictée. Turns out they do.

Here’s Terri

Fwiw, many classical homeschoolers do dictee. (Writing with Skill, the writing program by Susan Wise Bauer of Well Trained Mind fame emphasizes it, for instance.)

But it’s more for training kids to hold larger and larger chunks of information in memory.

I do a version of this with my freshmen students. I’ll post an example later. In my case the idea is to help them absorb the phrase-and-clause structure of formal prose. I ask them to write the sentence chunk-by-chunk instead of word-by-word.

I wonder whether dictée exercises are common in foreign language classes.

French L2 classes use dictée. At least, French classes do here in France. I don’t know about French classes in the U.S.

Ed learned French in France, and one of the standard classroom exercises was to listen to a sentence on a filmstrip, then write it from memory. He said it was incredibly hard to do, and incredibly useful, too.

Speaking of, I did my first dictée today. 

I see why French grownups are united in mild dictée-related PTSD.  

And see:
Le Dictée

The most important research on learning I’ve read

Someone has posted it on line, so here it is !

Deferred Feedback Sharply Dissociates Implicit and Explicit Category Learning
J. David Smith, Joseph Boomer, Alexandria C. Zakrzewski, Jessica L. Roeder, Barbara A. Church, and F. Gregory Ashby  Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 447-457

I’ve been mulling this article since the summer of 2014, when it was published. It’s life altering.

Unfortunately, if you’re not in the field, reading the study isn’t easy. The press release is intelligible but brief. 

For the moment, the thing to know is that this study probably proves, finally, that we have two separate and distinct learning systems inside our brains.

Psychologists and cognitive scientists have been talking about “dual systems” and “dual systems theory” forever, but no one had nailed it down. Now they have.

The two systems are separate and distinct in the sense that if you turn one system “off” the other still learns. They’re “dissociable.” 

And: the 2 systems learn differently.

“Deferred feedback” looks at category-learning, but as far as I can tell these two systems learn everything, including physical skills. 
~

Compare and contrast

The chart below is correct (I believe), but it says nothing about the relationship between the two learning systems–which no one seems to understand yet. 

So, while I’ve put “vocabulary” under explicit learning, I’m fairly sure vocabulary can also be picked up via implicit learning. 

And given what I’ve seen in the L2 literature about grammar learning, it seems clear that some explicit learning helps with grammar, too–at least, with the kind of grammar you use in formal writing, as well as with learning the grammar of a second language.

Obviously, no one learns the conversational grammar of his or her native language at school. 

In short, the two systems seem both to compete and to support each other in some way no one has worked out.
~

Information-integration learning Rule-based learning 
“Life” learning “School” learning
Unconscious Conscious
Implicit learning: you can’t necessarily put what you’ve learned in words (& if you can, words come to you later) Explicit learning: you can put what you’ve learned in words
Intuition, everyday categories (good versus bad, dog versus cat), social rules, habit Formal concepts, theories, disciplines, etc.
Grammar Vocabulary
Learns relatively slowly Learns quickly
Can’t learn “offline” (learning stops after a “lesson” is over) Can learn “offline” (learning continues after a lesson is over)
Must have immediate feedback – students must know whether their answer was right or wrong after each answer or no learning occurs Can learn with delayed feedback – students can get their tests back days later and still learn from their mistakes)
Can learn several things at the same time (e.g.: can learn the orientation and the width of a stimulus) Can learn just one thing at a time (can learn the orientation or the width of a stimulus, but not both at the same time)

~
From the abstract:

Deferred reinforcement qualitatively eliminated implicit, information-integration category learning. It left intact explicit, rule-based category learning.

Paul Nation’s “survival vocabulary”

Another fabulous resource : Paul Nation’s “Survival vocabulary” lists in 23 languages.

How much language do you need to learn to cope with being a foreign tourist?

There is good news here. With around 120 words and phrases (which would take a total of four hours of deliberate study to learn), you can deal with the most basic requirements. These basic requirements include meeting and greeting people, being polite (please, thank you), going shopping, ordering food, seeking directions, reading signs, finding somewhere to stay, talking about yourself, and controlling language input.

This survival vocabulary is available in over 20 different languages. It is very similar to the word and phrase lists that you find at the back of tourist guide books, except that this one has been well researched. You can find these lists at http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/staff/paul-nation.aspx. It is a good idea very early in your language study to make sure that you have covered all the survival vocabulary because this is made up of very useful language items.

What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? by Paul Nation

 

Babadum and “decontextualized learning”

I’ve just found this site today — it’s amazing.

I’m not ready for it, but a couple of months from now — look out !

That said, I should probably add that I have no idea how it works, or whether it has a spaced-repetition algorithm. 

Still, the images are so much fun that the site’s ability to hold my interest is enough to make me use it.
~

Decontextualized learning

I mentioned the other day that I’m using 3 language apps: Duolingo, Lingvist, and now Memrise, too. Eventually I’ll get around to Glossika (because John McWhorter likes it), though maybe not till I’m putting more time into Spanish.

And, of course, one of these days I’ll actually use Gabriel Wyner’s Pronunciation Trainers, which I should have done before I did anything else, but didn’t.

I bought them.

I didn’t use them.

Because Anki.

One day I will be an Anki person, but that day is not this day. (Wyner has an app coming out in August, so, yes, I will be adding another app to the queue.)

Anyway, my thinking in fanning out among apps was that I didn’t want the words I learned to be stuck inside Duolingo. I wanted them to generalize to the real world.

I don’t know whether failure-to-generalize is a real concern, but I did find an interesting passage on decontextualized vocab learning in Paul Nation’s What do you need to know to learn a foreign language?

The most important deliberate learning activity is using word cards …. You need to take control of this very effective activity and keep using it to learn new vocabulary and even more importantly to keep revising previously met vocabulary. You may find that some teachers advise against using this strategy largely because of the belief that all vocabulary learning needs to occur in context. They are wrong. It is important that there is vocabulary learning in context through meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, and fluency development, but it is also important that there is deliberate decontextualised learning through the use of word cards, because such learning is very efficient and effective. Some people also believe that because word card learning involves first language translation, it encourages thinking in the first language rather than the foreign language. Research however has shown that in the beginning and intermediate stages of language learning the first and foreign languages are unavoidably stored together. Using bilingual word cards is a very effective deliberate learning strategy that you should use.

How hard is it to learn English, part 2

Doug points out that how hard it is for an adolescent or adult to learn English depends on what language the learner speaks now.

He’s right, and the original op ed made the same point.

The Foreign Service Institute actually has a ranking of languages in terms of difficulty for English speakers, along with an estimate of how long it takes to reach S-3/R-3 proficiency (which I assume means Speaking and Reading proficiency measured on a scale of 0 to 5).

[pause…]

Interesting.

Looking at the chart now (I’ve seen only abbreviated versions in the past), I notice that they seem to consider French quite a bit more difficult than Spanish, at least in terms of the time they estimate it takes to go from 0 to S-3/R-3. That’s certainly the way it seems to me. 

24 weeks for Spanish, 30 for French.

600 to 750 “class hours” in all.

~

Comic relief

C. and I both decided to try our luck with Duolingo Russian a couple of weeks ago.

Neither of us could get through even one lesson without losing so much “health” that the app froze us out and told us to come back and start over again when our health was “full.”

Normally you can “refill” health by doing practice sessions, but if you haven’t passed even one lesson, you’re out of luck. Duolingo doesn’t let you practice just the two questions you got right before you made 5 mistakes in a row and got the boot.

Our only cost-free option was to wait overnight (Duolingo restores your health while you sleep), re-start Lesson 1 the next day, lose all 5 health ‘bars’ again, then repeat the cycle. 

Either that, or we could buy health in the Duolingo Store.

Needless to say, the idea of getting into a health-buying/1st-lesson failing loop didn’t hold a lot of appeal.

We could have just ditched the app and done the lesson online, but we were in the car at the time, not sitting in front of a laptop. There was no way to get online because Duolingo doesn’t let you log onto Duolingo-online from a mobile device. 

So, long story short, we’re not learning Russian on Duolingo.

C’est la vie.

And see: How hard is it to learn English?

How hard is it to learn English?

(Test prep and writing instruction in Paris next month)

Quite a few of my students are L2 writers, and now that I’ve immersed myself in language apps I’ve been thinking even more than usual about the challenge of needing to be fluent in a second language in order to go to school, find work, etc. Those of us born in Anglophone countries are incredibly lucky not to have to do what my students must do–if only in terms of the opportunity cost involved in devoting many hours to reaching fluency as an adolescent or adult.

I should stress that I’m not remotely saying English-speaking students should stick to English and leave the language learning to other people.

Not at all !

I think English-speaking students should learn other languages, and should do so as early in life as possible. (This was a chronic bone of contention in my erstwhile school district, where parents have been lobbying for early foreign language instruction for decades and still don’t have it.)

I’m saying only that any child who is born into a family of native speakers of English has an advantage in not having to learn English as an adolescent or adult (a massive advantage when it comes to learning a different accent).

That’s all.

Here is Michael Skapinker on the question of how hard it is to learn English (behind a paywall):

At first glance, English looks an easy language to learn. Anything that is not obviously male or female is “it”. There is no need to worry about the gender of “phone” or “stapler” or “stupidity”. (Lloyd’s List, the shipping newspaper, stopped calling ships “she” in 2002.)

Adjectives remain the same regardless of the gender of the associated noun: a brave woman, a brave man, a brave new world. Apart from the -s in the third person singular present tense (“she sings”), verbs do not change, no matter what their subject is (“he ran”, “they ran”).

The word “friend” remains the same whether you say “he’s my friend”, “hello, my friend”, “I kicked my friend” or “it’s the house of my friend”. In Greek, as I discovered in my Piraeus days, these require an array of noun endings, which differ depending on the gender of the friend.

But there are aspects of English that are devilishly complex. The spelling fails to provide consistent guidance to pronunciation. Consider “cough”, “through”, “bough”, “though” and “hiccough”.

There are the irregular past tenses: arose, became, fell, swore, and many more.

There are also phrasal verbs — verbs followed by prepositions, with wild swings in meaning. Learners have every right to feel put out when they put up someone for the night, only to discover that they can’t put up with them. They may want to put off learning English for another time.

My guess is that the new language-teaching apps, not to mention sites like forvo.com, will be a huge help with pronunciation and listening comprehension.

They certainly are for me.

And see: How hard is it to learn English, part 2

More fun with cringe-worthy phrases

In the Post last Friday: a highly enjoyable list of supposedly cringe-worthy phrases you’re probably using in the office ! (Note punctuation placement, please.)

re: cringe-worthy, I dissent.

There’s nothing wrong with expressions like “heavy lifting,” “win-win,” “paradigm shift,” “elephant in the room,” etc. All of these mots mean something real. That’s why people use them.

That said, I do agree that neither “Give 110 percent” nor “There’s no I in team” have much to offer in the way of communicative oomph.

I also admit to being tired of hearing “going forward” and “reach out.” Blech. My feelings on the subject are neither here nor there, however. Both expressions still mean what they mean, and people will continue to use them.

One more thing. “Boil the ocean

What is that?

If I have to ask, then you’re probably not using “boil the ocean” in the office, at least not often enough for “boil the ocean” to have become cringeworthy.

In short, WAPO has published a perfectly fine list of things to say at the office — so perfectly fine that if I were teaching a course on Business English for L2 speakers, I would advise my students to commit it to memory.

Here’s my beef with the list.

Toolkit.

Toolkit ! 

The word toolkit, which people demonstrably are using way too much in the office, (not to mention in book titles) is not on the list of cringe-worthy things people spend too much time using in the office.

[pause]

I was thinking I could end this post with some kind of reference to boiling the ocean, but I guess not.

Bonus points: Here’s McKinsey using the word toolkit to make no sense whatsoever.

Extended lean toolkit for total productivity

See?

Useless.