Here in Romania I’m busy learning new languages. But learning a new language, how does that work? Everyone is unique so it works different for everyone. Curious about the facts and how this works for me? Continue reading!
You have several departments in your head, including a language acquisition department. You could compare this to building a house. You need stones to build a new language. How those stones look is different for everyone. After all, everyone is unique. The similarity between people is the presence of a foundation. This foundation consists your native language, your mother tongue. You didn’t have to study hard for this. You just learned this. This can be a spoken or a sign language. For many deaf people, the spoken (and written) language is a second language. Their first language is sign language.
Some facts with learning a new language:
– The more (sign / spoken) languages you know, the easier it becomes to learn a new language.
– Learning a new language before puberty is easier than after puberty. In linguistic terms, this period is called the critical period.
– A language knob is actually the presence of (meta-linguistic) insights of different languages. An example of this are cases that are not only present in Czech but also in the Romanian language. Knowledge of one language provides insight into the other language.
How does it work? How do you learn a new language?
If you want to express a message/thought, you start to search (consciously/unconsciously) for a way to express this. To express this thought, you reach out to your so-called mental lexicon. Here you will find concepts that you know that can give a translation to the thoughts you have. After you have found the right concepts, you will form a sentence and connect this to the grammar of the language in question. Then you start talking/signing and your message/thought is translated.
But that search in the mental lexicon, how does that go when a new language is added to your mental lexicon? This is different in a sign language than in a spoken language. When you hear or see a concept, do you see the written form in your head or an image? Many spoken languages have a translation of the sounds in a written form. In sign language, there is no written translation of the sign. As a result, remembering new concepts will be different than with a person who learns a (spoken) language with a written form. Be aware though! There are also languages that do not (yet) have written forms. What do they see in their brain?
Your mental lexicon is linked to the long-term memory. To add new concepts to the long-term memory of the mental lexicon you are labelling. You are looking for a connection with something you already know. Out of my experience, this goes in the following ways:
1. Connecting a new concept to an existing concept in the mental lexicon;
2. Connecting a new concept through the context of the concept;
3. Connecting a new concept to an image of the new concept;
4. Connecting a new concept to an event that becomes a memory.
What exactly do I mean by these ways? Please proceed on reading then you will know.
What does it look like in your head with all those different languages?
In the beginning I made the comparison of a house. Imagine my entire brain is a house. There are several rooms available. Each room contains its own knowledge and skills. There is also a room with “languages”. That room looks like this to me, a bit confusing at times.
When a thought enters my language room, it searches for a translation in my mental lexicon. This is not always Dutch (my mother tongue) but jumps back and forth between different languages. It sometimes happens that I use different languages in one sentence.
I like to philosophize, I like languages and I like cultures. This article I have therefore written out of my own experience and conversations with people around me. Are my thoughts recognizable? What does your brain look like? Ever thought about it? What would you compare it to? I’d like to hear it from you! See the opportunity to post a comment at the bottom of this page