The Noticing Hypothesis in Language Learning
I think there are many reasons why people notice certain things better than other people, particularly when it comes to pronunciation. But I'm sure the same is true in terms of noticing things in grammar. Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today I want to talk about noticing in language learning. Uh, there's a thing called the noticing hypothesis, which has created some controversy and in linguistic circles, but I'm going to talk about how noticing influences our ability to learn language.
Remember, if you enjoy these videos, please subscribe. You can click on the bell for notifications. So I have said before that one of the best descriptions of language learning of what is involved in learning a language is something I heard at a conference of language teachers in San Diego where, um, one of the people presenting there said language learning consists of three things: the attitude of the learner, the time spent with the language, not listening to explanations in English or something, uh, so time spent with a language, attitude, time spent with the language and the ability to notice. Now I notice that I notice things when I'm learning a language and I notice them at different times. Now, apparently there is a thing called the noticing hypothesis, which was proposed in 1960 by a professor.
And again, as with so much in the sort of academic approach to language learning, he sort of, as I can understand it, trying to read the explanations online of noticing hypothesis, he sort of presents a somewhat extreme case of the importance of noticing to language acquisition, and therefore it became sort of in opposition to, or in some ways in contradiction to what Krashen said about the importance of input, sort of just naturally absorbing the language.
You know, he implies that you have to kind of deliberately notice things to be able to acquire them. And, uh, so I, you know, I, I invite you to Google for it, uh, Wikipedia or elsewhere, and see if you can make sense of this linguistics debate. I can't really, but I would like to talk about noticing. My impression of the importance of noticing to language learning.
First of all, when we begin with a new language, we don't notice much. It's all noise to us. Like if you're trying to notice the pronunciation, you can't really hear it that well. And so everything is kind of like a blank slate, but certain things start to fall into place naturally. And as we, and so that we start to notice certain things.
We notice that, uh, you know, how certain things are pronounced and some people may notice better than others. But that's... we notice more than other things that had previously been hidden come forward. And we start to notice them a bit like a jigsaw. So when you start a jigsaw puzzle, it's totally blank.
As you start to put some of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle into place, you start to see, you know, greater likelihood of where some of the pieces might fit and, and language learning is very much like that. So you start to notice that there's a gap here, that maybe this is where this piece belongs. And, uh, certainly that's been my experience, uh, you know, in Russian, for example, um, you, you know, any un, um, accentuated syllable that has the letter "o", what we would call the sound "o" in it becomes "a", you don't notice that at first.
Uh, you know, and then eventually you start to notice that, and once you've noticed that, now you're ready to notice something else. And I don't know that there's any special order for these things, except to say that the more things we have already noticed, the more new things we can start to notice. Now, is it a deliberate activity, that of noticing?
Okay. I think first of all, the more we listen and read the more we naturally almost subconsciously notice things because we're naturally, this is sort of Krashen's input hypothesis, we're just gradually acquiring the language. Our brain is starting to recognize certain patterns in the language, so that even without deliberately trying to notice anything, we start to notice things.
All right. Uh, and, but I had the experience as I listened to a mini story for the 30th time, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before. So we are continuing to notice just through this process of listening and reading. However, okay, and some people notice better than others. Uh, if, if someone pronounces something in a foreign language, I will tend to notice that pronunciation, to pick up on it right away.
Right. And I've said, you know, uh, when I was in Japan and I'd have visitors from north America who would be introduced to Mr. Sato, people would say Mr. Sato, because it's written S A T O. So they see the name card S A T O. That should be Sato. Uh, even though they hear him pronounce his own name. So they don't notice the pronunciation.
Other people will immediately hear Sato and go Sato. So, uh, the ability to notice varies with people. Now, are there psychological reasons why some people notice better than others? Some people are more willing to just go with what they hear, whereas other people are more stuck with the way the word is written.
We have all kinds of examples of people. You know, my father who was from Czechoslovakia "word" was "ward" W O R D because to him, that's the way it should be pronounced. That's how it's written. So there was a certain resistance to the fact that in English actually it's pronounced "word" is not pronounced "ward".
Um, so I think there are many reasons why people notice certain things better than other people, particularly when it comes to pronunciation. But I'm sure the same is true in terms of noticing things in grammar. Now, what can help us notice? First of all, we have to want to notice. And second of all obviously a teacher or a grammatical explanation can help us notice.
Like I have very often read an explanation of something and then I start to notice it when I next see that in a text, whether it be a structure or even some aspect of pronunciation, however, we have to be ready. We have to be ready to receive that bit of information, because if it comes too early, we don't know enough about the language, we haven't experienced enough about the language for that hint to be useful.
So maybe having struggled with Russian for a certain amount of time and, um, say I'm able to pronounce certain things at that point. If someone points out that actually yeah, an accentuated, uh, uh, you know, syllables with "o" are pronounced "a". Now I notice it, if that had been told to me right up front at the beginning, I don't think I would have been able to retain that.
And I think I would have missed it the next time and the next time, the next time that it showed up. So there is a question of timing. And so far as noticing is concerned timing both in terms of what you're going to naturally notice and also in terms of what, you know, teachers or grammar resources or other explanations can...in terms of how useful they can be in helping you to notice.
But I do feel that in order to, and I guess this is where I agree with aspects of the, uh, noticing hypothesis, uh, you have to be able to notice things first before you can actually start to use them yourself. And, and we've all had the experience that once we noticed something that for the longest time we never noticed, once we noticed it here, all of a sudden you start to see it there.
And when you see it there and we see... and, uh, there is a term for that, which I've forgotten, but once certain things are either pointed out to us or we, we become aware of them and we start to notice them. Then we see them elsewhere. And I think noticing is very much a part of your brain starting to, you know, recognize patterns in the language so that initially your comprehension improves and eventually your ability to pronounce things correctly or to, uh, you know, use the structure correctly will improve. So noticing is very much a part of the process. I think the biggest contributor to our ability to notice is a quantity of content that we consume, reading and listening. Another important factor is our willingness to notice, our willingness to accept this, that, in other words, we, we leave aside the prejudices from our own language.
That the structure should be this way, because this is the way we say it in our language. This should be pronounced this way, because that's how it's pronounced in our language or that's how that those are the values that those letters have in our native language. So, you know, more willingness to accept and, and also the desire to want to hear what's going on.
So there is an element of wanting to notice, and then there's also the sort of external factors that can help us notice such as a teacher, such as somebody pointing something out, pointing out a mistake, for example, uh, these are all part and parcel of what helps us to notice. And I think we have to be able to notice in order to improve in a language.
So I strayed a bit from the sort of pure noticing hypothesis, but those are the ways I have noticed that noticing helps me learn languages. So, uh, thank you for listening. Bye for now.