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「1973年のピンボール」 村上春樹
"One Foot In Eden" Ron Rash

[Learning Languages] Developmental Stages of Language Acquisition

I’d like to share another tip I picked up from Gabriel Wyner‘s book Fluent Forever.

There are developmental stages in language acquisition.

Basically, both children and adults pick up certain grammatical forms before others. These stages are (ostensibly) universal, and can’t be skipped.

The order of developmental stages for verbs is thus:

  1. Progressive form – “she running”
  2. Simple past – “She ran”
  3. All other forms – “She runs”; “She has been running”, etc.

To me, there are some interesting takeaways:

  • These stages seem follow the ontological order of experience: (1) what is happening right now -> (2) what just happened -> (3) increasingly abstract explanations of habituality, temporality, etc. 
  • The order in which we are usually taught grammar in textbooks is fundamentally opposed to the order of developmental stages.
  • We can learn grammar & verbs much more efficiently by following the order of developmental stages.

For example, my textbook probably wants to teach me something like this:

to run – “She runs every morning for exercise.”

However, this is too abstract for a beginner, according to the order of developmental stages. It’s virtually impossible for a beginner learner to produce the grammatical construction “she runs”.

Instead, a better way to learn this would be to see a picture of someone running, and produce the correct answer: “running.”

I’d go so far as to say even “she running” is ok in the early stages of production (i.e. speaking/writing).

Then, we could memorize an example sentence using a cloze deletion test such as “She […] away from the tiger” (with the answer.

Developmental Stages in Learning Korean

For Korean, I’ve started changing the verbs in my example sentences that are often in the dictionary (aka infinitive) form into simple past tense, and using cloze deletions to learn them. I think this makes them more concrete, and useful.

Here’s an example (with translations for readers who don’t know Korean; there’s no English on my Anki cards):

Word: 기어오르다 (v. “to crawl”)

Example sentence: 마치 거미와도 같이 벽(壁)을 기어오르다 (“to climb up the wall just like a spider”)

Cloze deletions in Anki: {{c2::마치}} {{c4::거미}}{{c3::와도 같이}} 벽(壁)을 {{c1::기어올랐어요}} ({{c1::기어오르다}})

Cloze deletion test c1: 마치 거미와도 같이 벽(壁)을 […] ([…])

Translation: “[…] up the wall just like a spider. ([…])” (the answer is “climbed” + “climb”)

This format requires me to supply the simple past tense for the verb, which fits my developmental stage for learning Korean. Also, according to research cited in Fluent Forever, testing myself is 5x more effective than simple repetition.

I hope this is helpful to some learners! 😀

Your thoughts?

Kieran Maynard

Kieran Maynard

Writer, translator, researcher, traveler specializing in Japanese and Chinese literature.

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