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1.3. Now what do you do with your resources?


So now you have people, or at least one person, and you have agreed to meet for, let's say, one hour three times a week for language practice. Next, what experience should you join around? Well, lets start with the physical objects of everyday life. Of course, these will vary from culture to culture. But every aspect of life is full of objects. Think of rising in the morning in the authors' culture. Objects: bed, pillow, blanket, sheet, pajamas, robe, belt, slippers, door, bathroom, toilet, sink, soap, washcloth, towel, shower, water, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, curling iron... The point is, life is full of objects.

People can recognize objects. You have some memory of what it is that beds look like, and you use that to recognize beds when you see them. Let's call this memory of what beds look like a "mental image" of beds. You also know the sound of the word "bed", so that you can recognize that word when you hear it spoken. To know the word "bed" is to have a link in your brain between the memory of the sound, and the memory of what a bed is when encountered in the world. So you want your language activities to lead to forming many such links between the sound form of words and the mental image. Perhaps the best and quickest (to say nothing of funnest) way to do that is to have the actual objects present when they are talked about It also enables you know what is in fact being talked about!

Figure 3:

(Don't take the mental image business too literally if you are relating the word "dog" to a dog that you can see,or even a toy dog that you can see, or a stuffed dog, or a picture of a dog, then you are making the right link. Later when you hear the word it will call up the "image" even though you may not experience any vivid mental picture.)

Switching from beds to dogs, the following diagi= is an attempt at illustrating the way the word for "dog" will be represented in your head. Learning this word is a matter of getting two things to become very strong: item 1 in the diagram, the memory of how the word sounds; and item 2, the link from that memory to the mental image. We are assuming that the mental image itself is already there, though this may not be the case when there involve new cultural objects or actions. And there is a further matter of using the word in your own speech once it is strong enough that you can retrieve it and speak it as you need it. This is a matter of getting what comes out of your mouth to match your memory of what the word sounds like (that is to match item 1 in the diagram).

Initially your memory of the sound of the word (1 in the diagram) is likely to be weak, and the link between the memory of the sound and the mental image (2 in the diagram) is likely to be weak. But something will have changed in your head, just the same. With some words, your memory for how they sound may become strong first, while the link to the mental image remains weak. You hear the word, and think, "I recognize that word, but I can't think of what it means". In other cases the link to the mental image may be strong, so that you start to say the word to express that meaning, and suddenly you realize that you are not exactly certain of how it sounds when spoken. Eventually both the memory of how it sounds and the link to the image become strong, and then, once you have used that word a few times in your own speech, it will be a secure part of your language ability.

Names of objects are by far the easiest things to learn first, so "go to town". Gather up a whole bunch of the objects of everyday life, and take them to your native speaker friend for your language learning visit. And collect more at her house. (We actually think it is better at first to have her come to your house, but this is not essential.) Or go outside with her to find objects galore, some of which, of course, cannot be gathered up. This brings us to the simple activities. All language learning activities, whether for beginners, or for advanced learners, have one or both of the following purposes:

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