Monday, September 3, 2012

Imagination in Language

Studies of how imagination works and it's implications on language learning.

   When we "let go" this is what happens.

1-  The medial prefrontal cortex has a surge in activity.
   (This is the area closely associated with self-expression)

2-  The DLPFC (impulse control section of the brain) is shut off.
   (This is basically the area that keeps us from saying things we shouldn't or stealing from a store.)

  In order for true "Improv" to happen though, there has to be a mastery of the subject matter.  In music this is an instrument.  The premotor cortex fires which makes sense since musical patterns need to be translated into bodily movements.  When improv happens, the inferior frontal gyrus also lights up.  This is most associated with language and production of speech.
  The assumption here is that musicians rely on the same brain functions as when they make a sentence when they improv.  This process is like having a toolbox of set patterns and sounds from which to pull from.   When musicians create improv, they take from this box and create but without any inhibitions.  

  Let's now apply these same rules to speaking a foreign language.

  A-  premotor cortex = words translated to sounds in your mouth.

  B-  inferior frontal gyrus = stock of words/phrases/grammar rules/experiences that you can draw from     during an "Improv" section of speaking a foreign language.

What implication does this have on foreign language learning/teaching?
After students have had to time master a language concept (the "tools" are in the box ready for use), should time be given for them to "let go" and feel the language?
How can I create an environment where this is more likely to take place?
How can I then connect many concepts so that they are in the same "toolbox" ready for use?

It is argued that true "improv" can take place only after mastery has been achieved.

At what level can letting students "let go" be truly effective for learning a foreign language?
Is 1st year too soon or should it start right away, even when learning the first alphabet?

Let's go back to "letting go" for a second.

Dan Deacon:
When I think of letting go dancing comes to mind first.
For some it is easy to let go and dance without any inhibitions.
For others they have a "warming up" period before they can truly "let go".
I am in the second group.
Recently some friends and I went to a Dan Deacon show where the performer actually facilitates getting the crowd into dance mode.  I am not sure if this is the purpose of getting us to perform the activities during the beginning of each song or if he just thinks it is funny to get the crowd to do the things that we did.
I do know that the crowd in general, because of these "warm up" activities seemed to let go much earlier in the song and dance more freely than I have experienced in the past.  (Keep in mind also there was no alcohol allowed at the venue)

How do I replicate this in the foreign language classroom?
What "warm up" activities would get students to let go and speak freely without caring about making mistakes?  (I know this is asking a lot of self conscious teenagers surrounded by their peers.)
Are all language learners ready for this?  I know some people who never seem to "let go".....

Applying this to my own personal experience.
It has been very hard to explain what I get out of speaking Japanese.
I am not talking about the type of speaking that happens with students or when teaching Japanese but when I actually have real conversation with other Japanese speakers who are either at the mastery or native level.  After reading about how our brains function in "improv" mode I can't help but think that this is very similar.
It gives me a sense of satisfaction because it is a "letting go" function of the brain similar letting go and making music, drawing a picture, skateboarding, or tinkering with my motorcycles.  The same dopamine flow, the same natural high, just from having a conversation.  It doesn't matter who it is with or what it is about.

I am not the most eloquent writer of English so if you got this far I commend you on your efforts in following my verbal vomit.  It makes sense in my head.  I hope you got something out of this, if only just a headache.  


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