When Learning a Language DON'T Study the "Basics"
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here, and today I'm gonna tell you don't try to learn
the basics of the language that you are trying to learn, and I'll tell you why.
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I'm gonna tell you, don't try to study the basics.
Don't try to master the basics.
Don't even worry about the basics in a language, especially at the beginning.
Why do I say that?
A number of reasons.
Uh, first of all, because I have found it impossible to master the
basics of grammar, the basic, uh, vocabulary, the basic anything, uh,
if I deliberately try to do so, and that's despite looking over explanations
and conjugation tables and all this other stuff, it just doesn't work.
The second thing, and I think this might be more interesting, is something called
the Natural Order of Language Acquisition.
It's one of Steven Krashen's, sort of, principles of language acquisition,
and it says that there is a natural order, uh, according to which we
acquire the structures of a language.
And if you were to, uh, Google the, uh, Theory of Natural Order of Language
Acquisition, you will find all kinds of, uh, material on the subject.
It's a bit controversial.
You'll find people supporting the idea.
You'll see people criticizing the idea.
One of the criticism seems to be that obviously if an English speaking person
is learning French, then there may be a natural order of acquisition for that
English speaking person learning French.
However, if a Spanish speaking person learns French, then that natural
order would be different because obviously the Spanish speaking person
is influenced by their familiarity with, you know, Latin based languages.
So assuming that that's true to me, that doesn't in any way make the theory
of natural acquisition less valid, it just says that there is a natural
order of acquisition, which may be different depending on your native
language and depending on the language you're trying to learn, but there is
a natural order, uh, you know, are we gonna learn, you know, uh, if it's
English, I go, or I'm going, which one are we gonna start using earlier?
Uh, should the teacher teach you the, I'm the continuous form first or in Spanish
... uh, before to, you know, the form ...uh, Is it important for the teacher
to sort of determine, you know, in chapter one we will teach you this, and
in chapter two we will teach you that.
And by the 20 chapters of this book, you will have acquired all the basics
of the language or uh, and this is, I think, Krashen's view and my view,
and that is that you will gradually acquire these different aspects of the
language in an order that is more or less the same for everyone, depending
on your native language, depending on the language you're learning,
depending on some other factors as well.
But there is a natural order and the teacher and the instructions will
not influence that order so much.
Uh, so, uh, but if you do a lot of listening and reading, if you, you know,
increase your level of comprehension, if you increase your vocabulary, again, the
vocabulary will be acquired naturally.
Some words are going to appear more often than others, so you'll acquire them
earlier without any particular effort.
You don't have to go and find a list of the most common
a hundred words, 500 words.
They will show up and by dint of showing up more often, probably
you'll acquire them earlier, but uh, some of them may be resistant and
there'll be some order whereby you acquire the, acquire these words.
You know, an example of how difficult it is to acquire something that is usually
taught very early is the third person singular of the present tense in English.
Everyone I think is taught that in English it's, I go, you go, he or she goes, and
then you go, or we go, you go, they go.
So it's only the third person singular in the present tense that has an S.
It's not a difficult concept.
Uh, and, and obviously when you are reading in English, you
don't even need to notice that it's he goes rather than he go.
It wouldn't bother you.
It wouldn't affect your comprehension.
However, when speaking, it's very difficult for people to remember,
you know, on the fly while speaking English that that third person singular
of the present tense has to have an S and, and if they're thinking about
it, they'll probably get it wrong, but when it eventually becomes a
habit, it'll just come out naturally.
And of course, sometimes the third person is hidden because it refers
to a house on the hill that on...
you know, and then when you finally come to the verb, you've forgotten
whether that takes an S or doesn't take an S if you're a non-native speaker.
Whereas if you're a native speaker, somehow or other the, you know,
brain has developed habits so that it will, in most cases hit the S.
And it really doesn't matter if you don't hit the S, the person
will still understand you.
But it's just to illustrate that there are certain habits in the
language that take longer to acquire.
And so for that reason, when I see people say, you know, first master
the basics, and then if I master the basics, then I'll build on that.
And of course, everything that we acquire in the, in the
language is more like jelly.
We can't build on it.
It's kind of this amorphous thing that we...
fuzzy thing that we gradually become more and more familiar with.
A few more things slot in, things become a little clearer and it's not obvious,
uh, which items, which grammatical patterns, which words are gonna sock in
first and which ones will come later.
And it, it's not correction, it's not because, uh, you know, if, if
a child, even an English-speaking child is, is, is used to, okay,
the one pattern that the child will pick up on is "ed" for past tense.
So, uh, you know, uh, I eat, I eated.
Uh, that's a normal thing to say that shows the brain is, is, you know,
thinking in terms of logical patterns.
I eated, and even if the mother doesn't correct the child, Eventually
the child will start to say, I ate, and that'll happen at a certain time.
And it doesn't matter if the child spends six months or a year saying I eat it,
because eventually, I mean, they won't be saying that when they're older, unless
they are surrounded by people who are also saying, I eated, in which case that
will then become an ingrained habit.
But I think it's, it's important to, to uh, sort of, I think, de-emphasize
this idea of basics as if learning a language is like building a house
and you lay the foundation and then you start putting bricks in place, or
you know, wooden frame or whatever, and you build up this structure.
That's not how it is.
It sort of comes at you and you forget it and come back again.
And if you keep on listening and reading and using the language and maybe hearing
the native speaker, what they say, which is maybe a little different from what
you say and slowly but surely you will develop proper habits in the language.
So, uh, you know, the idea that we're gonna nail down the basics
or learn the basics first, I don't think it's realistic.
And I think a lot of people, uh, beat themselves up because they will continue
to make mistakes in some of the most basic things for a long, long time.
I use the word basic, you know, in that understanding we have like,
you know, people continue to not putting an s on the third person
singular of the present tense.
It's basic maybe, but they continue to get it wrong.
And I do the same in languages that I speak I get a lot of basic things wrong.
I continue to get them wrong.
I can still communicate very well.
I understand what people are saying.
I can get my meaning across and I continue to make the most basic mistakes.
And we have to accept that.
And that the only, and, and we can review the rules and stuff and it
may or may not have some effect, but ultimately it's only by continuing to
listen and read and speak and wanting to, you know, wanting to pay attention
to what's happening in the language.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, we improve.
So don't beat yourself up if you can't master the basics,
focus on enjoying the language.
And I'll leave you with a couple of, uh, videos that I've done
on the subject of basics before.
Bye for now.