dondigitalia

Oh the suspense!

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But it really helps me to remember Latin vocab. if I identify an english word (or group of words) that is derived from that latin word. For example, placere = to please, which I immediately identify with "to placate". This only takes a few seconds and easily "tags" the word in my mind with something familiar ... 

I try to make learning it as concrete as possible. I repeat the word out loud, hearing as well as saying it, no matter how silly it sounds  B)  . I write it out, paying attention to the motions of my hand.

Absolutely correct; two excellent learning aids. The first one integrates new knowledge with prior knowledge. As far as the second, that's why Montessori schools have children trace a sandpaper letter, look at it, and speak its sound all at the same time: the senses reinforce each other.

A third learning aid, is to read, e.g., a play by Rostand or a novel by Hugo in the original language, and simultaneously in translation, paragraph by paragraph.

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I took Latin 101, 102 at a university. [...]

And for words that have no easy connection, I try to make learning it as concrete as possible. I repeat the word out loud, hearing as well as saying it, no matter how silly it sounds  B)  . I write it out, paying attention to the motions of my hand. I use a dictionary to explore its synonyms and connotations, then apply those meanings to familiar stories in Latin. I don't know about Greek, but Latin can be very simple.

As I said in a post above, language-sponges have superior mental skills for learning languages. Your comments quoted here prove that you do have those skills. In effect, what you are describing is what is sometimes called the "five-channel" method of learning new languages:

1. LOOK at the word in a text: SIGHT.

2. SAY the word aloud (perhaps into a tape recorder): SPEAKING.

3. LISTEN to the word (from the tape, if the language is "dead"): HEARING.

4. WRITE the word on paper or a chalkboard: MOTOR SKILLS.

5. "VISUALIZE" (imagine) the word, solely inside your mind: IMAGINATION.

There are additional techniques:

6. CONNECT the word to English (as you did with placere).

7. LEARN THE HISTORY of the word, as Ed suggested (etymology).

8. LEARN THE "ANATOMY" of the word, that is, look at its prefix, root, and suffix, as appropriate (for example aggredior ["I attack," literally "I walk toward"] coming from the prepositional prefix ad ["toward"] in front of the deponent verb gradior ["I walk"], but, following a general rule, with the "d" of ad changing to the consonant that follows, "g," for euphony).

How many of these techniques should a language learner use to remember each vocabulary word? Only as many as he needs. In some cases, only one technique is necessary for remembering meaning. In other cases, even attempting to use all the techniques, a word's meaning may be difficult to remember.

Of course, as you know, Aurelia, all of the above applies to memorizing vocabulary. Memorizing conjugations and declensions can be more difficult, but similar techniques work there too, even for irregular forms such as sum.

I found that using the five channels approach was very helpful in remembering most verbs' principal parts, for example. But here again understanding is not enough. A certain amount of basic repetition is absolutely necessary: amo, amare, amavi, amatum -- over and over again in a sing-song fashion, as kids learn their "ABCs."

For anyone struggling with learning a new language, I have one last suggestion that helped me greatly: Know English grammar. Not knowing what "passive voice" means, for example, can be a great stumbling block for many students trying to learn the active and passive conjugations of verbs, as well as simply being able to translate -- which is the whole point of all this work.

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But, for people like me, Ed from OC hit the nail on the head: the problem with language courses is... memorization! [...]

I don't have scientific references, but I have heard a number of times from plausible sources that those who learn multiple languages in early childhood find it easier (perhaps far easier) to pick up a new language in adulthood. The brain appears to be the most plastic as far as picking up languages, at a young age. Perhaps the act of learning different words and grammars for expressing the same concepts/ideas serves to set up an abstractive mechanism that facilitates adding another language later in life. Consciousness needs at least two examples in order to see differences, preferably more.

If true, it strongly argues that kids should be taught at least 1 or 2 additional languages as early as possible.

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For anyone struggling with learning a new language, I have one last suggestion that helped me greatly: Know English grammar. Not knowing what "passive voice" means, for example, can be a great stumbling block for many students trying to learn the active and passive conjugations of verbs, as well as simply being able to translate -- which is the whole point of all this work.

Most definitely! Grammar in your original langauge is automatic. For example, you don't have to understand subject-verb agreement to know that "the man are brave" is wrong. But when you're learning a new langauge, these guidelines aren't automatic and they need to be learned explicitly.

Has anybody else read Ridley's Genome (clicky), my knowledge of the cognitive foundations of Grammar is amateur.

~Aurelia

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The brain appears to be the most plastic as far as picking up languages, at a young age. Perhaps the act of learning different words and grammars for expressing the same concepts/ideas serves to set up an abstractive mechanism that facilitates adding another language later in life ... If true, it strongly argues that kids should be taught at least 1 or 2 additional languages as early as possible.

from "Heroes, Tigers and Cobras," in The Atlantean Press Review, vol. 2, no. 4, Summer 1995:

"The young Ayn Rand’s brain must have been greatly stimulated by learning French well enough to read [La Vallée Mystérieuse] — a task which would have been much more difficult for her than for a native speaker of English, since English and French are closely related, with thousands of words being nearly the same in each language (remember the Norman Conquest, in 1066?), while Russian and French are not closely related at all ... (I think it’s worth noting that Victor Hugo learned Latin and Spanish as a boy, while the young Dostoyevsky studied Latin and became fluent in French, as did most middle- and upper-class Russians. Such intensive stimulation of what Maria Montessori called “the absorbent mind” was doubtless a factor in their later achievements as writers.)

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I'm spending most of my summer studying Calculus myself. I'm curious, what is "concretizing abstractions"?  I surmise it involves defining relationships/interactions between principles.

I really struggled with calculus at first. I found the book Calculus Made Easy by Thompson very helpful. It's well written, clear, and lays out the basic ideas before proceeding through the detailed math. It does a good job of helping you see the big picture while learning the details.

"Concretizing abstractions" is a process of tying your abstractions back to reality. The purpose is to set up your abstractions in your mind so that when you have a need to use one, you can instantly call to mind a wide range of examples, so that you avoid having a floating abstraction.

For instance, take the concept of "egoism." What does that mean? A common-sense definition might be: upholding the virtue of doing things that are in your best interests. That's not a formal definition, but you have an idea of what it means. But what are some examples of egoism? Here are a few off the top of my head:

-keeping your finances in good shape

-going out to lunch with friends

-going to the movies

-studying philosophy

-getting regular check ups

-taking care of my car

and so on.

Counterexamples are useful as well:

-taking drugs

-spending more money than I can afford

-making sacrifices, like giving so much money to charity that it impacts my lifestyle

-not pursuing the dream career

and so on.

So after thinking these things through, one can proceed to see how to formally define the concept. And then what you have after all of this is a clear understanding of something quite abstract in terms of immediately available, emotionally charged concretes.

Also, when someone comes to you with some question about that concept that you hadn't considered before, you aren't left floating in the air trying to answer the question. You can immediately establish a context for the question by using the definition and pulling to mind the concretes.

Suppose someone asks: "But isn't everyone an egoist?" Well, look at the examples above, and see that there are many, many people who take drugs, don't pursue their dreams, don't go after their values for the sake of peer pressure, and so on. Those people are certainly not egoists! So it becomes very clear what the answer is.

Now you can do this for other subjects than just philosophy. Any abstraction can be processed in this manner. It's easy for this process to become a habit (which is good!) by just walking through it several times with a wide range of abstractions (i.e., different levels of abstractions as well as abstractions from different areas).

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