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2.1. Simple activity 1: learning names of objects:

 

Take twenty objects and put them on the table in a clump. Remove two from the clump. Your friend tells you, "This is a glass and this is a spoon". You are now understanding the language. She then asks "Where (or which) is the spoon? Where is the glass?" You respond by pointing. Then you take a third object from the heap, add it to the first two, and continue in the same way. Pretty soon she is asking you randomly to point at any of the twenty objects. You now have a (weakly implanted) vocabulary of twenty words.

Subsections
2.1.1 Interlude -- Some commercial resources for extending simple activity 1:
2.1.2 Extending simple activity 1 -- simple activity 1a
2.1.3 How do you get enough repetition with these simple activities?

2.1.1 Interlude -- Some commercial resources for extending simple activity 1:

There are many variations of this activity. And it feeds into others, such as the Lexicarry activity (simple activity 2). They are easy for your friend to learn, and what you are doing quickly comes to make perfect sense to her. It may come across a bit like a "teaching 119 activity, but not a familiar one. You will find more natural ways of building vocabulary later by simply conversing about objects and pictures, and yet you can profitably come back to this activity whenever you feel discouraged about slow vocabulary growth. Are you an intermediate level learner who has grown discouraged feeling you haven't made much progress for a long time. Then grab one of the tools listed just below, and conquer a few hundred new vocabulary items. That ought to give your spirits a lift.

The following books are sure winners. If you visit the ESL (English as a Second Language) center of a major university you may find others.

Lexicarry: An illustrated Vocabulary Builder for second Languages, by Patrick R. Moran (1984, 1990) Pro Lingua Associates,15 Elm Street, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301. PH.: 802-257-7779
Action English Pictures, by Noriko Takahashi; text by Maxine Fauman-Prickel (1985, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs 07632)
The Basic Oxford Picture Dictionary, by Margot F. Gramer. (1994. Oxford University Press. )

This is better for early language learning than the New Oxford Picture Dictionary.

Actionlogues, by J. Klopp. (1985, 1988. Sky Oaks Productions, Inc. P.O. Box 1102, Los Gatos, California 95031. Ph.: 403 395 7600)
Longrnan Photo Dictionary, by Marilyn S. Rosenthal and Daniel B. Freeman. (1990, Longman)
Word by Word, by Steven J. Molinsky and Bill Bliss (with Germadi G. Borbatov for the EnglishlRussian version. 1996, Prentice Hall.)
Picture It! Illustrated by Richard Toglia, no author listed. (1978, International communications Incorp., Tokyo; 1981, Prentice Hall)

Most of these are designed for ESL, and so they have editions available in various European (and sometimes Asian) languages. But that is neither here nor there, since we are interested in the words in our friends' heads, and in their communal sharing of experience. For our purposes all that matters is the pictures (and our friends-- who matter infinitely more than the pictures).

2.1.2 Extending simple activity 1 -- simple activity 1a

Some of these books also come with instructions as to how to use them. We ignore those instructions and use them in ways that suit us. Now the pictures in these vocabulary books will function as the objects did in simple activity 1. Your native speaker friend can first tell you what is happening in two pictures: "This man is waking up. This man is getting out of bed." Then she can ask you, "In which picture is the man waking up? In which picture is the man getting out of bed?" (Or she might simply say "He is getting up. He is getting out of bed.) You can respond by pointing. Then she adds another picture. Then another. Before you know it she has you responding by pointing to any of twenty pictures which she asks you about randomly.

Now these vocabulary building techniques are supposed to be simple, and they are. Some snootie language learning specialists will say condescendingly, "But those aren't information questions. They are merely display questions." But if you can acquire, without drudgery, many hundreds of vocabulary items in a few weeks, what do you care what they say? Just think what you are accomplishing. First, you are forming a strong memory of the sound form of each word. Second, you are forming strong links from the memory of the sound form to the mental image of the item or action. (Review the diagram above if this is unclear.)

By the way, verbs appear to us to be considerably more difficult to acquire then nouns.This doesn't surprise us. To acquire the word for "dog , cat", or "man", you need to link thesound form of the word to the mental image of a dog, cat or man. By contrast, you can't havea simple mental image of "running". You must have an image of a dog, cat, or a man (or thelike) first, and then you can have it be running. So linking the sound forms of action verbs totheir mental images is naturally more difficult than linking the sound forms of concrete nouns to their images. We think it helps to act out the verbs as you hear them some of the time. (The reasons are a bit complicated.)

But be patient. Whenever you are understanding your native speaker friend as she talks about objects and activities, learning is occurring. Learning often does not go through to completion all at once. Each time you understand a word used in reference to an object or situation, your memory for the sound form of that word gets a little stronger. And your link from that sound form memory to the mental image of the object or situation also gets a little stronger. Time spent understanding language is never wasted. Don't get discouraged if you cannot recaU a lot of words when you want to use them. That will come. You just have to understand them enough times to make them strong enough. And as we say, by means of simple activity 1 (including 1a), you can quickly come to understand many hundreds of concrete nouns and verbs used in simple but natural utterances. And we have (only) a few more simple activities.

2.1.3 How do you get enough repetition with these simple activities?

It may take many times hearing a word and associating it with the mental image before both the memory for the sound form and the link to the mental image will be strong. At first, your native speaker friend will have a hard time believing how many times you need to understand a word in a meaningful context before it becomes strong enough in your head to function property there. We have found certain ways to increase the amount of exposure we get to whatever we are learning. For one thing, since there are four of us, two adults and two kids, our native speaker friend can do everything once with each of us, while the others watch and listen intently. Then we can engage in a "race": Our friend says the word and we race to see who can point the most quickly. This provides a lot more repetition. Finally, we can have more than one friend whom we visit, and do the same activities with different friends. Or we could let our friend read this section, and then take our word for it that we need a lot of repetition. There is a Russian proverb which says that repetition is the mother of learning.

O.K So far we've been building a large vocabulary of words that we can at least understand when we hear them in context But obviously, we need to be able to say some practical things too. Simple method 2 will help us with that.


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