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The Probable Language Brain

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viedums
Hexaglot
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Thailand
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 Message 1 of 5
16 February 2013 at 6:48pm | IP Logged 
The linguistics paper I've linked to below seems relevant to language learners, and is also a fun read. The following lines jumped out at me:

“The power of the personal memory in word relationships is very strong. It is called the collocational probability. That is, when we hear the word stream ‘We never knew what he was going to…’, as native English speakers we know that the following words will probably be ‘do next’ or ‘say next’, even though ‘propose’ or even ‘ingest’ would be perfectly grammatical in the sequence. Knowing a language means knowing the probable relationship between each word in the language and all the other words, and groups of words in your vocabulary. […] When we add our internal knowledge of probable word associations to the prompts of an external social situation, the outcome for meaning is usually highly predictable. Of course, speakers of a second language learned later in life have no such advantage.”

Does thinking about language knowledge in this way mean we should change the way we go about learning languages? Any thoughts?

The Probable Language Brain
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Arekkusu
Hexaglot
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 Message 2 of 5
16 February 2013 at 7:21pm | IP Logged 
I've mentioned exactly that in many of my posts. I've also said that when learners concentrate on oral
production, they become much more aware of these patterns and become better at understanding native
speakers precisely because they get better at predicting.

However, if the author claims that speakers of a second language are unable to benefit from this
predictability, he is entirely wrong.
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Bakunin
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 Message 3 of 5
16 February 2013 at 7:24pm | IP Logged 
Isn't that what extensive reading and listening tries to address? Reading and listening to absurd amounts of stuff in your target language will give your brain those collocational probabilities.
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sans-serif
Tetraglot
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 Message 4 of 5
16 February 2013 at 8:31pm | IP Logged 
Bakunin wrote:
Isn't that what extensive reading and listening tries to address? Reading and listening to absurd amounts of stuff in your target language will give your brain those collocational probabilities.

That's without a doubt part of it, but I wouldn't be surprised if output—having used certain words in conjunction with one another hundreds of times—were even more essential, as Arekkusu suggested.

Moreover, I wonder how scriptorum and other activities that require one to hold chunks of language in the working memory relate to all of this. Intuitively, I'd like to think they tap into and reinforce the very same collocational awareness.

Edited by sans-serif on 16 February 2013 at 8:31pm

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Bao
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 Message 5 of 5
17 February 2013 at 9:55pm | IP Logged 
viedums wrote:
Does thinking about language knowledge in this way mean we should change the way we go about learning languages? Any thoughts?


Actually, many second language learners use heuristic knowledge to make up for some of their shortcomings in phonological awareness. Even if you can't hear the difference between 'ship' and 'sheep', when it's surrounded by nautical terms you'll guess that the word you just heard is 'ship'. And you're most likely correct in your assumption. I'd even expect a native speaker who talks about a sea-faring sheep to include several bits of redundant information about it being a real, wooly sheep to make sure the listener doesn't automatically correct the word they hear to 'ship'.


For me, free output does not help a lot with automatization and probability heuristic, as when in doubt, I tend to rely on conscious knowledge and corrections are remembered as the same. What I use to build my knowledge of probability are the mentioned techniques: extensive input and memorization of patterns and chunks using sample sentences and drills.


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