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Re: [xmca] Cognitivist theory & language learning

The Davids have provided professional answers to your question, Tony.
Just a couple of thoughts of a different sort.

The message got me to wondering, again, about AA Leontiev's work on second
language learning which was discussed here a long time ago (at something i
code as "here" but not sure where it was except on line and somehow
connected with LCHC).

My own limited experience is that learning a language outside of the context
of its use in locally organized activities in that language is
extra-ordinarily problematic. Perhaps, as David Ke suggests, because one has
to solve Plato's learning paradox. But my solution to that paradox is to
place it inside of culturally organized activity which presupposes it has
been solved, which is exactly what Tony cannot do.

I learned a lot more Russian in Moscow the first time we went than my wife
did, although once we were there with a newborn, she did a lot more learning
than I did. Why?

First time she was not allowed to work and only got out of the student role
when she got into a practicum journalism experience, but unfortunately from
the perspective of language learning it was at the English language
Newspaper, Moscow News. Made perfect sense in its way. Meantime, i was in
the middle of a group of Luria co-workers whose English was minimal, who had
serious work to do, who had to get me to understand and coordinate or risk
harm to someone. Never mind saying it just right,
just get what has to be said out there in a way that others can work with,
and over time, you improve from myriad and confusing sources of feedback.

Second time I spent most of my time reading over horrible translations of
thesis for a conference from Russian to English and fixing them within heavy
constraints while my wife had to be darn sure our two month old survived,
which required her to deal with a tough old nanny, curious Russian
pediatricians with ideas she did not love and had to argue with,
and the ability to elbow her way to hot water in a dorm full of folks with
sharp elbows and tongues.

Pushkin is said to have said that the best way to learn a foreign language
is in bed. That presupposes various linguistic and non-linguistic forms of
interaction with a fair amount of emotional infusion, but the idea seems

Wonder what Plato would have advised?

On Mon, May 24, 2010 at 5:35 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> 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
> twhitson@udel.edu
> _______________________________
> "those who fail to reread
> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
>                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
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