Saturday, January 5, 2013

Memorising gender and trying other ways to cheat the system

Well, I think Angela and I are done with the Ladder of Success this time around. It could go on forever, and there are still a lot of words in need of strengthening, but the main thing is, we're really Talking a lot! Tons of scaffolding by our nurturer, too. What an amazing transition it is from listening to two-way spoken interaction! But time to move on further into Phase 1B. We spent 5 hours on the Ladder of Success activity.

Talking brings you face to face with so much complexity on so many levels, doesn't it? It's natural to think, "How will I ever get all of this?" (I was even imagining, "If I could just see 'it' in writing!")

Then I thought, "Thirty hours, Greg. Only thirty hours so far. This stuff will come your way a lot more in years to come, if you keep participating meaningfully."

Like anyone else, I want at once to be doing vastly better than is possible, even after thirty (now thirty-five) hours. And in fact, I think I am! Because in fact, we cheat, don't we?

In the GPA, we emphasize that frequency leads to familiarity. Familiarity helps to provide us with ways to talk. In Russian, I don't typically have to wonder how a particular noun forms its plural. First year Russian students do, and so they work hard to memorise the plurals of nouns. But after hearing and understanding for a few years, it is so often just a matter of "looking in my head and seeing what's there." And how did it get there? By the time you've been in Phase 6 for awhile, you've heard the plurals of thousands and thousands of nouns enough times that the right form will be there, and there will be no wrong forms in there at all that could come to mind (unless they are based on hearing yourself talk too much!). But note that the right form is only in there because you've heard it enough times in speech. Frequency. Speech happens in life. And it happens in great volume—by the millions of words. And thus familiarity happens. You're not aware of it happening for the most part. But you go to express the idea of "trees" and there really is a word form already in your head that means "trees," one that you've heard over and over, and there is no other plural form of "tree" in there to give that form any competition. So you say the one that is in there!

But after thirty-five hours, there is not much familiarity yet. I haven't been hearing and understanding millions of words! And so I find myself trying to commit to memory the gender (for example) of words with which I as yet have little familiarity.

It occurred to me that if I really am not going to gain much familiarity through frequency, the correct gender agreement will be what sounds familiar. Phrases and other word combinations happen and also follow the principle of frequency leading to familiarity. Now it may be that I'll never have that much experience with Potwari that much gender agreement will be familiar. Then I'll sure be glad I committed the gender of nouns to memory. Or well I? My guess is that if Potwari remains that unfamiliar to me, my Potwari will remain pretty crumby and rudimentary, even if I've committed the gender of every noun to memory.

But I'm pretty sure that I won't stop trying--trying to cheat the system into letting me sound host-like without the relevant experience of hearing and understanding host people talk for millions of words. But if I don't stop trying to commit the gender of nouns to memory, neither will I devote a lot of time to it. Nor will I be discouraged when I frequently "forget". Thirty-five hours isn't much time. Neither is a hundred. If I become familiar enough with how host people talk it won't matter whether I memorised noun gender or not. If I don't become very familiar with how host people talk, who will care whether I memorised noun gender?!