Re: learning languages (fwd) (Long)

Iain Walker (iainw@SUE.ECON.SU.OZ.AU)
Mon, 26 Aug 1996 10:12:32 +1100

This was posted to DEVEL-L the other day: it might be of interest to
those who signed up for more information on language learning.

Iain Walker * Dept. of Anthropology * University of Sydney *

"L'homme qui a deux femmes perd son ame;
"L'homme qui a deux maisons perd sa raison"
"mdru ukana hahe na ha nduhuze"

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 21 Aug 96 08:49:17 EST
To: Iain Walker <>
Subject: Re[2]: learning languages

This sounds interesting, I'd like to read your piece. I've just been
posing the very same question on ANTHRO-L, where there are others who are
also interested. (Although I must confess I don't really see the
connection with housing!)
It's rough. I kept an A average in Arabic for 4 years, working
full time, in college, against people who'd spent time in country,
by way.
Some thoughts on better ways of learning a language
draft piece intended for eventual posting to a community
empowerment website.

This material is in the public domain.

INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

TEXT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

1. MEMORIZATION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2. GET OBSESSIVE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
3. PENPALS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
4. HYPNOSIS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
5. FIND BOOKS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
6. ECOLOGY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
7. JUST DO IT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
9. OTHER THOUGHTS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
10. MEDICINE STORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8


Watch a young child, learning- it's the greatest fun there is!
For some reason, in schools, some people think learning should be
dull and boring. You figure it.

Americans can be kind of lazy with languages, assuming 2 years of
language study will do what any other country takes 8 to do. I
was never told any of the following info in school. I had to
work full-time in College, I never had time to study the way they
tell you to.

I kept an A average in intensive College level Arabic, for 4
years worth, and graduated at the top of my class in another
language. My last 2 years, when I had these methods, I had a 3.5
GPA. Results are the only report card. Following are some ideas
on how to learn a language with less effort and better effect.

I'd acquire or borrow 4 books.

The Memory Book, Harry Lorayne, Jerry Lucas.

Jerry Lucas played ball for the Celtics at one time. In college,
he had little time to study, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. What
does that say to you? Lorayne memorized the NY City White pages,
to show it could be done. The meat of the book is 20 pages, the
rest is application.

Superlearning, Sheila Ostrander.

Education will be forever fun if they adopt these ideas. In the
meantime, use the music during study. I wrote my 4th year Arabic
final over 27 consecutive hours, and the music worked for me.

The Photoreading Whole Mind System, Paul Scheele.

I can't do justice to this book, best to look at it.

Language Acquisition Made Practical E.T. Brewster. Pasadena, CA: Lingua House, 1976.

Recommended in the Whole Earth catalogs. Enough said.


So you've chosen to learn a language. Ever watch a kid under 10
learn a language? They do it effortlessly.

1. MEMORIZATION. Ooooooh. Feel a cold chill in your stomach
already, do you? Baaad word, scaaary, right? Hey. Relax.
Check out The Memory Book. They have methods that date back to
at least the ancient Greeks, that work great. Cut your study
time in half, and make it more fun.

Take your daily dialogue, and MEMORIZE it. Yes. If you have to,
write the first word of each line on a paper, to guide you. Then,
using a rhythm like the teacher, practice it just like you would
a piece of music. Taste the language, make it a song, like a
chant, sing it to the tune of "God Bless America" or something,
PLAY with it. I know you haven't forgotten how to PLAY, right?
Why do you think kids learn so effortlessly? THEY'RE PLAYING.
Use a metronome if you have to, get the rhythm down, pull in your
creative brain. Have fun with it. Do it in a falsetto, do it in
a Southern accent, do it through your nose, whatever is FUN for
you, and just keep doing it till you have it memorized.

If you have to, set up a peg system, from The Memory Book, to
keep it together. If you do nothing else, DO THIS. Period. End
of statement. Slack off anywhere else, but DO THIS. I used to
overdo, to memorize my dialogue so it was so fast the teachers
had to slow me down to understand it. To this day, I remember
some dialogues... and the language!


Get a shortwave radio, and record programs in your language.
listen to them on a Sony Walkman. I had a buddy who listened to
language tapes from a class he wanted to take, 10 times per tape,
before he ever entered a classroom. Why? Sound and rhythm
habituation. The whole class wasn't new, it was a review. Keen,
huh? Now, make up an imaginary playmate, just like a kid of 5.
OK, so you're older. Want some emotional "juice"? Make that
imaginary playmate a ravishing version of the opposite sex, and
you can only talk to them, and they to you, in your target
language. I was in a Government school when I heard this
technique, and it works! I saw a Spanish course advertised set
up this way, so apparently the idea is getting out.

If you have a buddy in a college, maybe they can copy tapes for
you. I had a friend who wrote the Saudi embassy, for advice on
the best language course in Arabic, that was all. He happened to
be Muslim, which of course helps rapport in that language. He
got a $500 language course back in the mail, free of charge. He
was shocked- and proceeded to make good use of it. No
guarantees, but ask for help and advice. People like to feed
interest, so show it as often as you can. 3. PENPALS Go to your public library, look up "Correspondence
Clubs" in Encyclopedia of Associations, and get a pen pal in your
target language. Period. Just do it. This will ground your
study and make it real in a way you can't yet imagine. If you
can practice with native speakers, so much the better. Trade
useful books and dictionaries.

4. HYPNOSIS The National Guild of Hypnotists, POB 308,
Merrimack, New Hampshire, has a booklist that is pretty good.
You want a good book on self-hypnosis, so you can make a tape
with suggestions about your performance increasing. The only
problem with this method is that you don't feel any different,
it's just that somehow other people somehow seem to be getting
stupider and stupider. That is wierd, let me tell you. Well, it
works, and if they're interested, well, let them know how you did
it. Timeline Therapy ..., by Tad James, is a book I like, as is
Power Hypnosis. There are many many other books on the subject.
Avoid anything that feels negative, and you'll do fine.

If you can find a book with profanity and other inappropriate
language in it, so much the better. Kids learn that language
fast, because there's so much emotional "juice" in it. Just be
careful how you use it! Parodying your basic text can also be
fun. [A friend, in a French class, tired of hearing all semester
about the adventures of Claude and Simone, saccharinely polite
folks, did a parody dialogue with lines like "Claude, you animal!
Take your hands off me, or I'll kick you!". It brought down the
house, and of course his language skills got a boost- he had fun

5. FIND BOOKS in your target language, on subjects that interest
you and have a lot of "juice" for you. Translations of your
favorite English books are a great place to start. The Strand is
a great used bookstore in NY City, and NY City has a lot of
foreign bookstores, too. Check out a Yellow Pages for the city
at your library. I got a great Spanish dictionary, hardbound and
4" thick, as a publisher's overstock for $8 from there.

If you do anything serious in your language, GET THE BEST
DICTIONARY you can afford. Write to a college, and ask what
dictionaries their courses use. For example, the best single
Arabic dictionary is Hans Wehr's dictionary, by far. There are
10 other dictionaries in print, none as good. You can save much
money, effort, and time by knowing that. They also sometimes
have specialized dictionaries, for example Business Arabic, and
letter writing guides, and so on, those are nice to have. Check
out Peterson's Guide to Colleges, or another such guide, find out
the nearest college offering your target language, and ASK what
they use. You don't get what you don't ask for.
6. ECOLOGY Find out as much as you can about the culture of
your target language. For example, you can say in English,
"Excuse me". In French, "Excusez moi" can be very rude, they say
it another way. You need the cultural "context". You wouldn't
say someone runs down the stairs, in French, they descend the
stairs "in running", "en courant". In Spanish, your feet don't
hurt, your "shoes pinch your toes". In Farsi, you aren't
married, you're "enfamilied". If you learn to think in wrong
English, a mirror to your language, it will be easier.


I read many books on chipping flint to make arrowheads. I read
pages and pages of theory. It was really complicated. Then
someone showed me how to do it- he took 2 minutes, and I
understood the process, and DID IT. I couldn't carve a beautiful
Clovis point right away, but I could chip out an arrowhead. The
moral is, JUST DO IT. Have you ever watched a weasel walk? Or
even a cat? That is energy in motion. The Weasel, or Cat,
doesn't think, doesn't read, doesn't make excuses or play games
like humans, it just does.

Olympic athletes talk about the "zone" of performance, where the
only existence is in doing. The Japanese have called this "no-
mind". Some performers talk about a "Stage self", almost a
higher or larger self, that operates them when they perform.
Some craftspeople and musicians talk about becoming one with the
task or music, of the task or music expressing as them. Some
public speakers note that they ask the Universe, or God, or
whatever, to speak through them to say whatever the audience most
needs to hear, and "something" takes over, and they give speeches
beyond their abilities. You have a unique purpose and energy.
No one else can take responsibility for what you must do.

You can do this with language! Fred Alan Wolf talks in one of
his books about getting into the French "zone"; all of a sudden,
he was there, and he could speak French effortlessly. French
folks knew he was a foreigner, but they couldn't say from where.
It exists.

Take care of the little things, and the big things take care of
themselves. If you addictively learn the small points early on,
the little grammar points the other students are too lazy to pick
up on, it gets so much easier later. Somehow, in a way you can
only experience to know, something "kicks in", it's like painting
a face, when you add just the right detail, somehow the painting
becomes "alive".
Real education has always been mostly self-trained. Schools
train sheep, not stallions. Boredom only comes to those who
aren't in alignment with what they want. Successful people share
only one characteristic: they were all persistent.

8. HAVE FUN WITH IT I was on a bus once, with a native speaker
of my language. He had no idea who I was. I turned, and said,
"Hello, guy, how are you", in his language. He looked at me as
if I'd fallen from the sky. It was great. I was on a bus once
to North Carolina from Washington DC, I couldnt' sleep, it was 1
AM, and the guy next to me on the bus was... an Afghan! I spoke
to him in Dari. He had fascinating stories to tell. When he was
a boy, they had storytellers to come to the house on Friday, the
Muslim sabbath, to tell stories in return for a good meal. They
always had a cliffhanger ending, so they could come back the
following evening and get another meal. A Thousand and One
Nights has that much more life for me. There are things you can
learn from other folks you can't get anywhere else. People are
fun, and interesting. Speak their language, and you'll learn a
lot of fun stuff.


People like material with emotional content, expecially in
the context of a story. One can look at newspapers like the
Enquirer, for example. Jay Leno did a fascinating show where he
quizzed people on world events, and most people knew nothing on
them; then he quizzed them on popular sitcoms, and they knew
almost every answer. I'm not judging this, only making an
observation. The best education is entertaining.

Storytelling is a "holistic" way of getting info across. When I
was in the 7th grade, 3/4 of the students in the class KNEW how
many times one should chew one's food before swallowing- because
they'd seen that episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC. Primitive cultures
use storytelling in all education, because they know the lessons
will stick. Tamarack Song's book "Journey to the Ancestral Self"
gets into this. B'rer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, for example, is a
powerful African Teaching Story on the power and danger of

Life imitates Art- or, Art is at least a form of fantasy wish
fulfillment. Hollywood used to be called the "Dream Factory" in
the 30's, because people could escape painful reality for a short
time. Wish fulfillment is big business. "Fictional characters
can be more real than real people"- perhaps because they reflect
the archetypes of the deep inner mind, the visceral level of

"Murder She Wrote", my mother's favorite program, by way, has
a niche audience of older women- and oddly enough, the main
character is remarkably bright, and the men she's around
incredibly stupid. Interesting. Consider the prejudices
being reinforced, the dreams lived out from a distance. I remember reading about an American woman, in India,
embarassed because her hosts watched "Dallas" after something
from the Mahabharata. Her hosts said, "Oh no, it is just
stories, about people, just like the Mahabharata", implying that
they enjoyed Dallas just as much. People I knew in college,
loved copying Warner Brothers cartoon characters, or Peewee
Herman's laugh... I wonder what a similar fun program with
useful technical info might look like...

I WISH WE HAD SOAP OPERAS in a number of languages on cable, or
via Internet, or in some communicable form, as part of language
instruction. Cultural archetypes are a great way to learn a
culture. One needs an imaginary community, working in a pastiche
of real events, just the way novelists do.

Education consists of the repetitive revelation of the obvious to
the unaware. It's more interesting with conflict and real

Other people have had this idea with other things, as noted

From: Charles A Smith <ca[deleted]>

I've been hard at work designing a new 3-credit course to be
conducted entirely over the World Wide Web (on Parent-child
Relationships, grad & undergrad credit). A very important part of
this course will be a "story wraparound." When they begin the
course, students will find themselves in a fictional rural
community called Butterberry Hill. As they move through
Butterberry Hill, they will meet and interact with characters who
will challenge them to think about children, parent-child
relationships, and community investment. I am currently trying to
assemble a group of web-based storytellers to contribute to the
shared story.

You can see how the course is set up at:

You can see a FAQ for contributing to the Butterberry Hill story

If you would like to exersize a little of your own storytelling
creativity and contribute a character to Butterberry Hill, check
out the FAQ and then ask me for the URL address to the story so
you can check out what I've done so far. At the moment, BBH IS
CLOSED TO GENERAL PUBLIC INSPECTION until it's ready for everyone
to visit.

I would like you and anyone else to "get your feet wet" by doing
a little creative writing. You could certainly link to BBH from
the FamResiliency page (some components will be open only to
students taking the course). I'd also like to ask y'all for help
in letting potential students know about this course. It's really
tailored for community-based parent educators like our county

Chuck Smith
Kansas State University

From: martin Butcher <1[deleted]@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Sitcoms
------------------------------- Message Contents
I recall that at the end of WW2 the UK Govt. wanted a medium to
inform the farming community of the country about changes in
agricultural techniques. The good officers saw the problem where
it was one thing to have an agricultural extension worker advise
what were then isolated family farmers on new developments and
techniques, but hard core information required a social setting
to be digestible. The answer was the daily radio sitcom 'The
Archers' centering on a family farm. The programme lasted about
45 yrs, I believe recently being axed as part of cost
cutting measures. My understanding is that it was considered not
just very popular, but extremely successful in its original goal.


10. MEDICINE STORY [address: c/o Story Stone/Another Place, Rt.
123, Greenville, NH 03048, tapes available]

Manitonquat, "Medicine Story", is a Wampanoag [Native American
Tribal Nation] elder, storyteller, and seminar leader. One of
his stories is of dolphins, a favorite animal of his coastal
tribal nation. It seems there was a huge shark terrifying the
people. One of the tribal elders went to the dolphins, and said
he knew they were very intelligent, and that they could figure
out a solution to the shark, but that he didn't and couldn't know
what it was. The dolphins formed a council circle, and each
spoke in turn. The first said that they lacked the education and
training to take on the shark. The second wasn't sure exactly
what they should be doing; they weren't trained warriors, and
couldn't take on such a big fish. The third said that they were
smart, and so could figure out an answer. The fourth said, "Oh,
I know, listen, what we're good at is playing. What do you say
we play the shark to death? Or at least drive him nuts?" They
all agreed it was a good plan. And that's just what they did.
They crowded round the shark, and started turning cartwheels,
jumping and diving. The shark was very serious, and tried to
swim away quickly, but the dolphins were too fast, and kept up
with him. One would bite his tail, and when the shark turned to
get him, two more dolphins would swim in and poke the shark with
their dorsal fins. The shark was driven to distraction, and
eventually dived so deep the dolphins couldn't follow, and went
away and never returned. It is so to this day- if you see
dolphins playing in the water, you may be sure no sharks are
about, as the dolphins will drive them away. He said that when
the creator created things, he put fun as a marker to the
important things to do in life.

He cited Mother Theresa, who on a visit to this country, said
that people weren't starving for food, but that they were
starving for love. In the Native American world view, generally,
ideal human interaction occurs on the model of a circle. What
goes around comes around, you attract what you are, the cycle of
the seasons, from Spring growth to Summer heat to Autumn
reflection to Winter hibernation, all of this is summed up in the
circle. The circle of the fireplace, the drum, a dwelling, the
horizon, the power of the world comes from circles, as Black Elk
said. Reciprocity, the long spoon story [In this story, a man
goes to hell, and notices that no-one can eat, because they have
extremely long spoons, and instead they fight with the spoons; he
goes to heaven, where they have the same spoons - and people FEED
EACH OTHER] Reverend Ike's "you can't take it with you, but you
can send it on ahead", all of this and much more is evoked by the
circle. Councils occur in a circle, and in a circle, one can see
everyone's eyes, and all are equal. In Chinese Feng Shui, or
design theory, straight lines are regarded as somewhat dangerous,
and meanders and circles as good.

Where does your sense of Self stop? For many Americans, the
sense of Self stops at the skin. This is a very peculiar idea,
one that many people in the world today would find very strange.
A community is a circle of people who have a sense of self beyond
their skin, where people communicate and work together on goals
for their common good. Community is for humans what the hive is
for bees. It might be people who share the same place, or people
who are related, or people who share the same interests.
Isn't "Community" self the web of the small, seemingly
unimportant things- perhaps little courtesies, or favors, looking
out for others, a smile or a wave to people on the street, and
all the other things people used to do without thinking?

Cooperation is what makes human beings what they are. It was
noted that competition tends to make people stupid, and cited
some political speeches, among other things, as supporting
evidence. A nurturing, healthy community is a circle, even a
basket, held together by mutual trust, respect, and
interdependence. Corporations and similar organizations are
pyramids, or triangles, with clearly defined, even sharp, edges.

Manitonquat also does programs in prisons. For him, prisons are
the refined essence of our society. He's very patient. The one
statement that will make him bridle, though, is when someone says
he has to earn their respect. He says, "No, we have to start
over. Everyone has a RIGHT to respect. Respect is the center of
the circle of life. You can't expect people to love others, but
you can reasonable expect them to respect others. Respect
doesn't mean agreement, it means simply regarding other people as
the sacred, precious, intelligent beings in search of joy,
freedom, peace, and play they are. Respect may mean making eye
contact, which is remarkably rare in American society, and
normally an open challenge to a fight in a prison. Manitonquat
cited prisoners in his groups that said that his circle was the
only place in their lives where they felt like a human being,
where they got respect.

In India, people greet each other, or at least the elderly, by
placing their palms together, and saying "Namaste'". One could
translate this as "I recognize and salute the divinity in you".
The maxim "What you concentrate on grows" shows the power of this

He says the following. Babies spend 9 months in a very
comfortable place, and come out naturally full of love. They
come out of the lodge, and find that people are... wierd.
Nowadays we might say that they have their own difficulties to
work out, but babies don't know this, so they start to grow a
mask, to survive. We all have masks. We could think of
relationships, where 2 masks meet, and in time gradually let the
real selves through, and sometimes things don't work out so well,
as the mask and real self aren't necessarily in harmony. Your
public mask is the self that goes on your resume'.

Then there's a less crystallized mask, the mask you wear with
your friends. Then there are deeper parts. There's a master
craftsman part, a "Shakespeare" part, which has the seeds of
greatness. Perhaps there's a "shadow" part, of repressed hopes
and fears. Perhaps there's an "inner child" part. And perhaps
there's a part so invisible that when you do something totally
out of character, you say, "Where did that come from?" and you
aren't sure.

Stress is a natural part of life. Stress energy builds up
inside, swallowed up into the inner landscape, the inner life.
Men sometimes build up resentment energy in their chests, for
years, and perhaps it leads to heart attacks, for energy built up
must always find release. A circle of people can be a very
powerful way to release stress energy. One can think of
Alcoholics Anonymous, and similar groups. The smallest number to
form a circle with is two. If one is allowed to unload built up
poisons from inside, to hear that "it's ok to make mistakes, you
did the best you could with what you had at the time", one can
get rid of masking layers, and get down to one's real essence.

You could have an agreement with a friend, that you get to talk
for, say, ten minutes, and they listen attentively, and don't
interrupt. Then, after ten minutes, you reverse, and they get to
speak. He recommended that one choose success stories, issues
that "have juice", something that "rings your buzzer", something
that looks like it needs attention, as those are markers for
important issues. You might think about what your real nature
is, what your purpose is, to see the story you tell in this
exercise as a lens to define, perhaps, your place in the
universe. It is not spiritual to say that we are made of
stardust- it is literally true. Manitonquat notes that some have
been hurt more than others, and thus have more layers to go
through to their core being. He felt that he could get through
to the humanity of the worst serial killer, with this exercise,
given the time. He noted that none of the prisoners he dealt
with had come from good homes, that all had been subject to
severe control, and pain, and had gone from foster home to foster
home to adult life often without a friend they could trust, much
less a healthy family. This exercise is truly a "Medicine Story"
exercise. ["Medicine" referred to whatever made people whole.
In English, whole, healthy, and hale all come from the same root.
Thus, "Medicine" is whatever makes us whole, and a "Medicine
man/woman" is one who offers whatever is necessary to make people
whole. Regrettably, a better word is simply not available in

I heard once in that the military was the concentrated essence of
America- that it somehow combined small town America with Alice
in Wonderland and Franz Kafka. Is it not also the essence of
competition, of the adversarial approach? I've heard lawyers
where I work say that the best legal solution is one where no-one
is happy. Is that any way to run a society? No-one wins in a


America has experienced an incredible revival of traditional
storytelling. Local groups can sometimes be found through your
library, arts council, or nearest college. The following list is
by no means complete.


National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of
Storytelling POB 309 Jonesboro, TN 37659-0309

National Story League 3508 Russell Apt. 6, St. Louis, MO 63104

Association of Black Storytellers, POB 27456,
Philadelphia, PA 19118-7456

lnternational Network of Biblical Storytellers
181O Harvard Boulevard, Dayton, OH 45406

[SPECIALIZED] NGH, P.O. Box 308, Merrimack, NH 03054-0308
(603) 429-9438 annual conference: August


All Native American Powwows seem to have some storytelling
component, and the Native Americans are some of the best in the
business. Check out your public library, or the events section
of your newspaper, for events happening near you, or contact the
organizations cited as follows.

Specialized storytelling books I like

Journey to the Ancestral Self Song, Tamarack. Station Hill
Press, 1994.

MIND GAMES, The Guide to Inner Space. Masters, Robert, and
Houston, Jean. New York: Dorset Press, 1972.

My Voice will go with you: The Teaching Tales of Milton H.
Erickson. Rosen, Sidney. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1982.
For therapeutic storytelling.

Zen in the Martial Arts. Hyams, Joe. Los Angeles: J.P.
Tarcher,Inc., 1979.

Yellow Moon Press
POB 1316
Cambridge, MA 02238-1316
(617) 776 2230

August House
POB 3223
Little Rock, AR 72203-3223
1 800 AUGUST House [800 284 8784]