A mind at time 2


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A mind at time 2

  1. 1. Our Language System“If we went out on the street dressed the way we talk,W e would be arrested for indecent exposure” 1
  2. 2. Ways with Words Robert Frost, in commenting on his trade , once wrote, “A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness…It finds the thought, and the thought finds the words” Frost was describing a miraculous and mysterious process, namely the constant back and forth exchange between words and thoughts. The establishing of this flow is one of school’s most daunting demands. 2
  3. 3.  Students struggle endlessly to get their thoughts into words and just as often to use words to construct their thoughts. That’s where the language system comes in. Language is a close partner of memory – translating facts and ideas into words( especially their own words) helps kids retain information. 3
  4. 4.  Language even helps provide some internal control over a child’s behaviour, it is known that talking through conflicts or temptations, using inner voices, often prevents a child from being rash or lashing out. Verbal demands intrude on less obvious academic territories as well. For eg, using words bolsters mathematical understanding, especially when combined with visualisation. Language even gets into the gamewhen it comes to sports – understandinga coach’s rapid fire commands makes demands on our language systems. 4
  5. 5. Automatic versus Literate Language Automatic English is the English spoken at the bus stop, in the staff room, and at the mall. “Hey, like, I’m gonna chill out instead of goin’ to the party, like, whatever yaar”. It is the English of everyday banter and interpersonal dealings. Literate language, on the other hand, includes sophisticated classroom talk as well as academic reading and writing; it’s the verbal ‘craftsmanship’ and ‘showmanship’ that is exhibited when one is studying or expounding upon concepts like “due process” or ‘energy resources”. 5
  6. 6.  Needless to say, Literate language is harder work. Often it is decontextualised, that is, removed from everyday familiar background settings, dealing, for eg, with major differences between the last four Chinese dynasties rather than, “what I most like to do on weekends.’ Often ‘fluent’ speakers are mistaken as having no language problems. But, despite being so articulate in ‘automatic language’, they might still have virtually no ‘literate language’. 6
  7. 7.  For eg – when a child with literate language dysfunction is asked to read this sentence ‘Linda’s dog chased the kitten and ran away” – and when asked, who ran away, are apt to say – the kitten. Since children with weak literate language have difficulty with sentence comprehension, there is confusion when asked to respond to an instruction such as :Put a circle around the small X that is farthest away from the small square. 7
  8. 8.  Often, then, children with language problems start tuning out of the academic program and look as if they have attention deficits. Attention needs to be nurtured and such children’s attention controls are tuned off by language. Children with literate language dysfunction may initially go undetected but the discrepancies become increasingly conspicuous in middle and secondary school. 8
  9. 9. Concrete versus Abstract Language Concrete language has meaning that comes directly from our senses. It portrays things we can picture, feel, smell or hear. The words “cat”, “perfume”, “spiciness” and “noisy” are all concrete words. Abstract language, on the other hand, is language that can’t be deciphered directly through a sensory pathway. It includes words like “elite”,”irony”, “symbolism” and “sportsmanship” – terms resistant to instant visualization. 9
  10. 10.  As children advance through school, an increasing share of the language inflow is abstract, disconnected from immediate sensory transmission. Thus, students experience severe academic stress as words and sentences become less concrete. Mounting levels of abstract terminology pervade the sciences, literature, and mathematics. That commonly leads to a decline in the grades of many students with language dysfunctions. Students can be encouraged to keep a personal dictionary of the tough abstract terms and review them periodically. 10
  11. 11. Receptive versus Expressive Language Receptive language comprises a child’s understanding of verbal communication ( spoken or written ) This would include her ease at understanding the moral of a story or get a friend’s pun. Expressive language is the language production, the means of translating thoughts into words, sentences and more extended messages. This happens when a student has an idea and has to put it into sharp words during a debate. Receptive language is the stuff of reading. Expressive language is ‘writing’s code’. 11
  12. 12. Language levels – Word Meanings( Semantics ) What are the differences between an equilateral or isosceles triangle? What is an adverb? What does refraction and reflection mean? Such questions reverberate from the walls of every classroom every day, as teachers pound away at the meaning of key words, which, in turn, provide access to critical knowledge. Semantics is the knowledge or study of word meanings. 12
  13. 13.  Some of the heaviest sprays of new words occur during preschool ( ages 2 to 5 ) and then in high school. Academically successful students do not necessarily have larger vocabularies than their classmates. What really differentiates many top students is that they know the meanings of the words better than other students. They may learn the meaning of ‘altruism’ and rather than simply memorizing its definition, they note that the word represents a form of kindness and that it is related to charity. They may also note that altruism is the opposite of selfishness. 13
  14. 14.  It is common to encounter neurodevelopmental dysfunctions that seem to blunt or stunt word meanings for certain students. Parents should be suspicious when an elementary school child uses only everyday high frequency words and does not seem to be incorporating in her speech the kinds of vocabulary she is learning in the school. As the child progresses, learning a foreign language may present serious problems, as trouble acquiring vocabulary in your first language portends even more difficulty trying to do so in a second language ( English as a foreign language ) 14
  15. 15. Strategies : To help students expand their semantic capacities, adults can include:  Crossword puzzles  Word games  Semantic maps A d j e c t i v e w it h S o m e t im e s S to r ie s w it h ‘w ild .....c h a s e ’ p a ir e d w it h ‘s illy ’ w o rd “m o th e r’ K in d o f b ir d T h e w o rd R e la te d to a n d w a te rfo w l “g o o se ” duck/sw an S o m e t im e s a C o m p o u n d w ith n o t s o n ic e v e rb ‘b u m p s ’ ‘s te p s ’ Word meanings become greatly enhanced when they are embedded in context. 15
  16. 16. Language at the Sentence Level( syntax ) There is an important difference in meaning between “ That boy who shoved Mary went tumbling down the stairs” and “Mary, who was shoved by that boy, went tumbling down the stairs.” The syntactic difference will determine which child will require an X ray !!  Syntax refers to the effects of word order meaning – which in turn is governed by a complicated set of language laws – which we call grammar or grammatical construction. 16
  17. 17.  As students progress through school, sentences gain weight steadily, acquiring what are called embedded clauses which don’t necessarily remain constant. For eg – a noun closest to a verb does not have to be the one acting on the verb ( The man driving next to my sister skidded into the tree ) The meaning of questions depends a lot on the meaning of the first word ( Why is he visiting? Whom is he visiting? Where will he visit?) Sentences can have more than one possible meaning ( It is too hot to eat. She wondered how the fish smells) Sentences can have figurative meanings ( She went out on a limb for him ) Sentences can be ironic ( You can have a ball studying for chemistry quizzes ) 17
  18. 18.  Students differ widely in their ability to surmount these linguistic hurdles. Imagine for instance, what is must be for a child who has trouble understanding different kinds of questions. He won’t be able respond t questions in science not because he doesn’t know the answers but because he cannot decipher the questions – a frequent, scary, misunderstood predicament. Students are exposed to a seemingly arbitrary and threatening set of rules that teachers refer to as ‘grammar’. 18
  19. 19.  Some students with background language ability are able to at times memorise the rules and benefit. But then, some students find the rules totally confusing, for as language progresses through the years, these rules keep changing. Some are intuitive in their sense of sentence construction – a sentence simply sounds right to them. But there are those who have neither sentence structure intuition nor a very good grasp of the rules. They suffer a neurodevelopmental dysfunction at the ‘sentence level’ of language. They flounder at school as a result. 19
  20. 20.  As students are expected to make use of higher language, the demands at the ‘sentence level’ grow more stringent. They have to draw ‘inferences’ – they meet up with sentences that are ‘ironic’, that express ‘a point of view’… higher order sentences like these become a deflating ordeal for some students. Here is a case in point between Dr Levine and Robin : Dr : Jim thinks Tom is good at sports. Is Tom good at sports ? Robin : Yup ( should have been ‘maybe’) Dr : Maybe the band would have played last night if the drummer hadn’t quit. Did the band play last night? Robin : Maybe ( ‘No’ is the right answer ) Dr : Mary and Sue love to play with each other every night after school. But each night, before going to bed, they keep arguing and fighting. How do Mary and Sue know each other?( what might you answer to this question?) 20
  21. 21.  When asked to make a sentence using the words ‘walk’, ‘road’ and ‘until’, he finally said ,”Walk the road until I tell you to.” Thus, both the building of sentences and interpretation were a problem with him. Interestingly, Robin had no language difficulty till grade 2. In fact, he was at the top reading level in his class. That was because he had no problem with phonological awareness and visual memory. But when complex sentences were introduced in grade 3 and 4 , he was sunk ! This means that language problems may emerge at any point along the way as verbal demands intensify,and different languages become accentuated in the curriculum. 21
  22. 22. Strategies : Reinforce by giving ‘key words’ and getting students to make sentences with them. Read to the students – one or two sentence jokes Puns Riddles and absurdities……and ask them to explain them 22
  23. 23. Language in Big Chunks - Discourse Understanding discourse calls for active working memory. Readers and listeners need to remember what they are interpreting while in the process of reading or listening to it. They have to be able to extract meaning from a particular sentence without forgetting the information or events that led up to it. Discourse has its expressive side. Students should be able to go beyond the dispersal of simple phrases or sentences while speaking or writing. 23
  24. 24.  Speakers need to make use of a kind of verbal organisation where they need to sequence their ideas in the best possible order. They need to think about topic sentences, concluding sentences, and appropriate sequencing of their thinking. Not surprisingly, students who harbour neurodevelopmental dysfunctions at the discourse level of language are unlikely ever to be caught reading for pleasure ! They become bored and restless when expected to finish a novel or listen to a prolonged explanation in class. 24
  25. 25. Challenges of language production Effective oral serves an abundance of purposes. For one thing, it correlates highly with writing skill. Quite understandably, “If you don’t talk so good, it might be you’d not write too good neither.” Children with expressive language problems come up with communication barriers at home and at school. They need plenty of practice. They need to build up their language ‘muscles’. 25
  26. 26.  They should be encouraged to tell a lot of stories and describe experiences, even if it is hard for them. In school, they need opportunities to make oral presentations, especially on topics that excite them. 26
  27. 27. Two languages Most often children who fare poorly with second language harbor ( knowingly or unknowingly ) neurodevelopmental dysfunctions in their first language. A child who has never fully managed to absorb completely the phonology, semantics, or sentence construction in his native language is likely to encounter even more serious problems doing so in English. 27
  28. 28.  In many cases with bilingual children, it is best to stress English in school and work hard on the language levels while maintaining for at least a portion of each day the native language for everyday conversation at home. English speaking children with language dysfunctions should postpone foreign language learning until they show substantial progress in English. In fact, it is fair to say that you shouldn’t be speaking a second language until you are reading and writing well in the first one. 28
  29. 29.  Incidentally, the myth abounds that very young children pick up foreign languages faster than do middle or high school learners. This is not the case !! In fact, several recent studies have shown that 14 year olds learn foreign languages much faster and more effectively than do 5 or 6 year olds. 29
  30. 30. Keeping a watchful eye… Oral language needs to blossom progressively in all children – and we can help it along through rich verbal interactions. Children should be encouraged to elaborate, speak in full sentences, avoiding conversational deterrents like,”stuff’,”thing” and “whatever”. Parents should be mindful to what extent a child’s entertainment and recreational life is monopolized by visual motor ecstasy and non verbal activities. 30
  31. 31.  Children need to see their parents reading, and they need to be read to as early as possible. Children can benefit from language oriented out-of- school entertainment such as scrabble, crossword puzzles and word building games. Keeping a diary is another good way to promote language skills. All students need to work on their summarization skills - since this works as a perfect bridge between memory and language. 31
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