Thursday, December 13, 2012

Things "coming clear"

A few hours into Potwari growing participation, Angela commented to me that a lot was "starting to come clear". If you have done the First 100 Hours, can you identify with this experience of things "coming clear"? That is, initially the speech you hear, even simple utterances such as, "This is a man," is blurry, murky, dismal. Cognitively, it starts "coming clear" at various levels, especially the auditory and lexical levels after a few hours. There is the blurry, murky, dismal, fast and furious flood of words and in some cases you feel like you are aware that you haven't heard many details of a word--just a couple of details that let you recognise it, and in other cases, you feel like you heard a word completely. In both types of cases, at a later point (in the Phase 1, it is a matter of ours) hear one of those same words with what is subjectively crystal clarity, and what you hear includes segments and syllables that you missed altogether before.

We've been citing a a fascinating article in recent training events:

Rivera-Gaxiolam M. , Csibra, G.,  Johnson, M.H. & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2000). Electrophysiological correlates of cross-linguistic speech perception in native English speakers. Behavioural Brain Research, 111, pp. 13-23

Revier-Gaxiolam et al. found good evidence that the human brain is hearing phonetic distinctions that, try as he or she may, the brain's owner can't consciously ("awarely") hear. I have had the experience of a sound distinction suddenly jumping out at me after months (with an Urdu distinction) or years (with a Blackfoot distinction). Influenced by Revier-Gaxiolam et al., I now think that my brain may have been hearing the phonetic distinctions over and over and over, instance after instance after instance. When the distinction finally jumped out at me, it wasn't because there had been a quantum leap from not hearing at all to hearing clearly. The quantum leap was only in my consciousness-- not in my low-level perception. Learning accumulated at the low perceptual level which reached a certain threshold and then popped into my consciouness.

So be encouraged, that when all appears to be blurry, murky, dismal, a lot of clear detail may be registering in your brain that you aren't aware of, and after enough experience has accumulated, the clarity may pop into your consciousness.

Similar principles may be behind the way whole words suddenly "come clear," later then specific inflected word forms "come clear". When I think of my youthful efforts at word learning, relying on 1,000 English-Blackfoot flash cards, I recognise there was a disconnect between what happened in my actual experience of hearing speech--the blurry-murky-dismal to suddently-clear pattern--on the one hand, and my metacognitive "word learning" strategy with the flash cards, which always involved detailed conscious awareness of the word (in its orthographic representation).

I think one reason some people experience anxiety in the early hours of Phase 1 (First 100 hours) is that they are aiming at the familiar metacognitive experience of "word learning", not expecting accumulated experience of what seems blurry-murky-dismal to form the natural path to experiences of suddenly-popping-into-clarity. Angela's reference to things "coming clear" might provide a helpful new bit of jargon to use in encouraging growing participtors in Phase 1 to recognise and value the pattern of learning that they are experiencing.

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