Category Archives: Learning

Learning The Languages Of Our Ancestors

Published / by Hunter Barrett

Those of Hispanic or Spanish descent no doubt want to delve into some Spanish language learning.  If you weren’t raised in a Spanish speaking household, then there’s little to push you to learn the language.  But once you realize that many of your friends and family are fluent, that kind of makes you want to jump right in.

There are dozens and dozens of articles online that delve into the methods of learning the Spanish language.  And there are countless software programs that make it easy such as Rosetta Stone, Rocket Languages, and Duolingo.

When thinking about learning a new language, you have to think about how you personally learn — do you do better through audio cues or do you learn more traditionally through reading and writing?  This is what you should look for in any language learning program that you decide to get.

I am personally a fan of the Rocket Languages series.  Their Spanish course is probably one of the better ones out there – and they constantly update it to keep it fresh.  The 2017 version of Rocket Spanish is a great testament to the effort the Rocket Languages company goes to in order to ensure that people keep coming back to their courses.

Not to mention, the reviews of the Rocket Languages courses are excellent.  The New York Times actually raved about it, and it gets consistently high marks from other review sources as well.

One thing that I like to think about when learning a new language is how the human brain actually learns the language.  Here is a very cool excerpt from an article about how children learn languages….not by rules but by sounds and associations:

The past tense in English is almost incrediblysimple. To form the past tense of the verb, you almost always add “ed’ to the end of it, unless it is an irregular verb, such as “go’ or “bring.’ Among the 150 or so irregular verbs, “go’ is in a class by itself. The rest of the verbs fall into about 20 groups, such as the group containing the verbs keep, sleep, and weep. All the verbs in a group form past tenses in the same way.

Because the past tense is so simple, saysPrince, “linguists have not studied it much. When you go to graduate school, it is not the sort of thing you linger over.’

But psycholinguists have discovered thatwhen young children learn to speak, they start out by forming irregular past tenses correctly and then they get worse–they overregularize. Finally they learn the correct forms again. For example, children start out by saying “brought’ and “went.’ Then they switch to “bringed’ and “good’ before they relearn the correct irregular forms.

The standard explanation of overregularizationis that children when they first learn to speak, memorize words one by one without regard for any relations between them. Later, they discover the past tense rule and run amok with it, overregularizing, because they do not grasp the structure of the language. Finally, they learn the exceptions to the past tense rule and their speech becomes correct again. The idea is that children eventually learn the past tense rule for regular verbs and learn the irregular past tenses by analogy.

Rumelhart and McClelland started out byassuming that this standard explanation is correct. Only after they developed their connectionist model of language acquisition did they question it. Rumelhart, in fact, used to illustrate the observation that children learn rules for forming the past tense by playing for his students a tape of his own little boy, who was 5 years old when the tape was made.

In the recording, Rumelhart asked his sonwhat grade comes before the seventh grade. “Sixth,’ the boy replied. Then Rumelhart asked what grade is before the sixth grade. “Fifth,’ the boy said. What is before fifth? “Fourth.’ What is before fourth? “Thirdth.’ What is before third? “Secondth.’ What is before that? “Firsth.’

Then Rumelhart asked the question in theopposite order. What grade is after kindergarten? His son replied “First.’ What is after first? Second.’ Rumelhart continued up to grade seven and, this time, the boy got all the words right.

“I would play this tape for students andwould tell them that it was obvious that the kid had learned a general rule,’ Rumelhart says. He did not worry about the fact that his child got the words wrong when he went in descending order and got them right when he went in ascending order.”

Kolata, Gina. “Associations or rules in learning language?” Science, vol. 237, 1987, p. 133+.

Once you realize how language learning works you can then use it to help you to figure out how to learn another language.