[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Cognitivist theory & language learning

Tony, David:
Last night in my grad seminar, we discussed "the belly button is bigger than the belly". This is a Korean expression we use as shorthand to refer to a whole range of problems, from quite theoretical to very practical, which have in common the underlying difficulty that context is always richer, more complex, and more difficult to understand than any text which attempts to realize it even though when we present it in the form of a picture or a video or a Korean text it looks extremely straightforward. 
For example, when the teacher wants to teach something like "Hi, I'm Zeeto", the teacher needs to use a picture of Zeeto introducing himself to some non-Zeeto, Typically this involves getting the children's attention, giving them information (e.g. "This is Zeeto") and then checking understanding ("Who?"). Even if we break it up into very small utterances, the learning "belly button" is rather bigger than the teaching belly.
The same problem happens when we want the children to repeat. (Now, YOU are Zeeto. Listen, Zeeto! "Hi, I'm Zeeto". Repeat, Zeeto!) and when we want to check understanding. (we end up saying things like "What did Zeeto say when he wanted to introduce himself to Julie?"). We are always left a little like the little Saint Augustine asking Saint Monica, 'Mommy, what does "mean" mean?' 
I suppose it all goes back to Plato's problem. The belly button problem is really all about the attempt to understand a more powerful system (context) with a less powerful one (text). And so too is the cognitivist approach to any quintessentially social phenomenon. The answer to "Who am I?" is really not "Well, who is asking the question?" but rather "Who wants to know and why?"
I think for that reason David Ki's response, which is basically to stand outside Tony's question in such a way that it unasks itself, is really the right one. But Tony probably wants something more heuristic, something that stands inside the question and explodes it.
The two most common verbs a learner of Portuguese probably needs (and needs to distinguish) are "ser" and "estar". But they are neither things we do frequently nor things we rarely do and they are neither mental verbs nor action verbs. More, the all important distinction between them cannot be understood as any of the above.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Mon, 5/24/10, Tony Whitson <twhitson@UDel.Edu> wrote:

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson@UDel.Edu>
Subject: [xmca] Cognitivist theory & language learning
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Date: Monday, May 24, 2010, 9:12 AM

I'm using a variety of tools for learning Portuguese, including dubbed and subtitled movies as well as books written for instruction. In one of these, following a list of sixteen first-conjugation verbs, I find this helpful advice:

In order to learn these verbs, try to first memorize them by putting the verbs into lists or categories. Can you divide the above list into "things that I do often" and "things that I rarely do"? How about dividing the list into "action verbs" and "mental verbs"? Whatever categories you chose to organize the verbs, the important thing is that you find a way to process and arrange these new pieces of information in your brain. Once you have done this, it will be easier to retrieve the information later.

(Source: Ferreira, Fernanda L. The Everything Learning Brazilian Portuguese Book: Speak, Write and Understand Portuguese in No Time. Avon, Mass.: Adams Media, 2007., p. 111)

I see this as an extraordinarily clear and straightforward expression of a view of learning that I find quite common in education circles. I expect that I'll be using it as a clear example of wrong-headed thinking about learning.

Maybe others will find similar value in this example; but I'm also writing to ask if anyone has equally clear and succinct examples to share that could be used to show what's wrong with this, and how to understand learning more appropriately, instead ... things that would be clear and easily accessible for people in education for whom the cognitivist approach seems to be right?

Muito obrigado,

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education
NEWARK  DE  19716


"those who fail to reread
are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                  -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list