Training Notes: Day 3

This morning we had an hour and a half presentation about norms for schools and host families followed by perhaps two and a half hours of Georgian class, with two coffee breaks during the course of the morning. After Georgian I feel like my brain is fried, since we are supposed to know and be able to learn perhaps thirty words at this point, and I know pretty much none of them, and am too slow to even read them in time. I heard from a book I read that in general introverts are slower at retrieving words — and I don’t notice this very much in English, since I know it very well (I suppose everyone sometimes wants a word, perhaps even a fairly common one, can’t remember it, and then it comes to them five minutes later), but it’s very obvious when I’m trying to learn a foreign language, because I can’t necessarily tell whether or not I remember a word; I never have enough time to find out. The teacher is good — energetic, likable, engaging, and so on — but I’m not sure how well she remembers that if you throw more than a few new words at a person at one time, not only will they not learn all of them, but there’s a good chance that they won’t learn any of them at all (as opposed to only attempting to learn ten or so words, but actually remembering all of them). I think this has something to do with how working memory functions — we can have perhaps five to seven chunks of information in our working memory at a given time, and a new word would be such a chunk, as would processing the teacher’s question (if it’s in one’s own language; if not, each of the words is itself a chunk of information), as would a new suffix or declension ending. So with a new language, as with numbers, one is likely to work very slowly, especially if all the information isn’t written in front of you in a very orderly fashion. As it happened, I didn’t have all the information in front of me, because it was scattered throughout the book, and I can’t write Georgian and listen to the teacher at the same time; each Georgian letter functions as a separate chunk of information. I once took an algebra class that was run like that: the teacher grossly underestimated the amount of processing time we would need, and would therefore give us the solution before most of us had gotten half way through the problem — so I think most of us simply stopped trying to solve the problems when we were asked to, since we were never able to do so fast enough. I understand that she only has a very short period of time in which to teach us quite a lot, and considering that she has to go very fast she’s doing a good job — but I wonder if perhaps it would be better to focus on less, but actually be sure to know it.

This afternoon in intercultural class we listened to a presentation accompanied by a powerpoint about gender roles and health issues, which was of a very pragmatic bent: things to do and avoid when interacting with Georgians, especially concerning people of the opposite sex. It was fine. Not exciting, but helpful and fine. There seems to be something terribly awkward about generalizing “gender roles in society.” A good novelist can, of course, do it better, but what they show is much more difficult to accomplish.

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4 thoughts on “Training Notes: Day 3

  1. I am enjoying your posts thus far. The technique I had been trying to think of before you left was Total Physical Response (TPR). It seems a little hokey, but can really help at first. Do you have any time to practice on your vocabulary with the other teachers, especially those good at picking up languages? I want to read the chapter on memory from the Willingham book (on why students don’t like school) and see if I find anything useful. 🙂

  2. Now I really know why my Dad said “hang in there”–sort of the equivalent of “procure me coping strategies!!” to echo K. Learn that language!! It is hard to know what to say, but we’re all cheering for you, in a quiet and introverted way, of course. Do you want other people to know your blog post? You haven’t been transferring your blogs to FaceBook, possibly because you want a little privacy. love, Papa

  3. I don’t think being slow at learning language has anything to do with introversion, since I know at least two introverts who are brilliant linguists. Instead I suspect that learning a language requires the mind to not be constantly analyzing, but instead participating. How can anyone memorize anything if their mind is chattering away at the same time? You are in a new place with lots of external stimuli to take in. It makes perfect sense that memorizing is difficult right now. Find a quiet place, relax, and just try (min 20 minutes) and don’t quit even (especially) if it feels like you are getting nothing out of it. Its just like participating in a church service or curing writer’s block. You often get more out of it than you feel like you do. That’s my guess (It sounds like I am telling you what to do, I’m not, I just chose the command form verb conjugation because it seemed to fit).

  4. Wisdom! Be attentive! Memory is the residue of thought! At least, that’s the takaway from Dr. Willingham. Repetition is not the most important factor. Emotional association with the material helps, but a story format is better because it involves thinking about what is happening and why. A good story is interesting, packed with meaning, and engages us with inferences that need attention, but not too much. I remember some of the little dialogues from Spanish class long, long ago because they were stories. They made sense, and some were humorous. Also, perhaps plugging Georgian words into English sentences would help –does you teacher do this? Like Spanglish, but Georglish? Are your language discs helping at all? You may also still need more rest to catch up after all your travel.

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