Flashcards as a learning/teaching method

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Re: University Language Center Shafted me, not the fun shafted, the bad shafted

Postby ehophi » 14 May 2012, 01:15

ironlady wrote:Except that a dozen exemplars are not enough for acquisition. Acquisition of structure requires literally thousands of unexpected encounters with structure that can be linked with meaning. That is the crux of the difference between rules-and-output teaching (which you seem to support: memorize and you'll "get it") and CI-based teaching. Rules and output may work for you (there are a small percentage of people who can get languages that way, and many of them become linguists or language teachers out of interest) but not for the majority.


I've got over 40,000 sentences at present, so that covers the first node, and unsurprisingly there's a lot of overlap even among the distinct sentences, even when I filter out redundant sentences. I've never studied a language in which I needed thousands of encounters with a structure to understand it and use it correctly, and neither has anyone I've ever seen study languages. Maybe acquisition of the syntax of the entire language requires that much, but there's no way a student could need as much as that figure suggests.

I've been hanging around the hostels lately. People there who take a passing interest in learning Mandarin and learn a handful of sentences, roughly parse them as they read, memorize a few extra vocabulary pieces, and try out combinations according to what they read and what their base knowledge of languages tells them (so if they know grammars from other languages, they'll approach it from those perspectives first, via rough analogical reasoning). They have a high success rate for what little vocabulary they've learned, and it didn't take thousands of unexpected encounters to get the meaning or to become familiar with the structure of their sentences. They do it like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Example-ba ... ranslation

A dozen exemplars would be used primarily for syntactic comprehension, not overall language proficiency. Those exemplars, would, themselves, contain (perhaps) dozens of sentences, insofar as recursive languages nest simpler sentences into complex ones.

Also, I don't know what encounter would be more "unexpected" than a spaced repetition system for thousands of sentences. I certainly don't keep track of when I'm going to see sentence x again, so it's always a surprise.
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Re: University Language Center Shafted me, not the fun shafted, the bad shafted

Postby ironlady » 14 May 2012, 01:44

ehophi wrote:People there who take a passing interest in learning Mandarin and learn a handful of sentences...

Well, there you go. I'm not trying to give people a handful of sentences; I'm trying to make masses of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, proficient in Mandarin. And most teachers who are trying to do the same thing are not working with the highly motivated, who will look at sentence after sentence on flashcards. They're dealing with wiggly people (often hormone-laden teens, in the case of public school teachers) who want to interact with real language and real people.

There is really little comparison between the problems a language teacher faces and those a motivated self-study learner faces.
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Re: University Language Center Shafted me, not the fun shafted, the bad shafted

Postby Mucha Man » 14 May 2012, 02:44

ironlady wrote:... CI-based instruction assumes that one acquires language through hearing and reading language you can understand...


This is why I am making no progress in China. When people say "yao vu lu" to mean 156 I can't understand or comprehend a bloody thing.
“Everywhere else in the world is also really old” said Prof. Liu, a renowned historian at Beijing University. “We always learn that China has 5000 years of cultural heritage, and that therefore we are very special. It appears that other places also have some of this heritage stuff. And are also old. Like, really old.”

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Re: Flashcards as a learning/teaching method

Postby ironlady » 14 May 2012, 03:30

Yep, and that's why immersion is overrated. It doesn't work as quickly or efficiently as it might, because most things that are heard or seen are not understood. If the brain can't link meaning to form, there's no acquisition going on.
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Re: University Language Center Shafted me, not the fun shafted, the bad shafted

Postby ehophi » 14 May 2012, 04:47

Thanks for splitting the thread. It was getting off-topic.

ironlady wrote:
ehophi wrote:People there who take a passing interest in learning Mandarin and learn a handful of sentences...

Well, there you go. I'm not trying to give people a handful of sentences; I'm trying to make masses of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, proficient in Mandarin. And most teachers who are trying to do the same thing are not working with the highly motivated, who will look at sentence after sentence on flashcards. They're dealing with wiggly people (often hormone-laden teens, in the case of public school teachers) who want to interact with real language and real people.

There is really little comparison between the problems a language teacher faces and those a motivated self-study learner faces.


A few sentences are just how they begin. They compound what they know with what they don't know. That's how anyone does anything which has increasing complexity. Knowing a language reduces to knowing to order x-emes in a way to get other people to know one's own mental state (i.e. their knowledge of facts, intentions to act, emotional states, etc.). If someone wants to know how to do that with sophisticated syntax (i.e. not propositional logic), some sort of memorization scheme is constantly shown to be an effective instrument. But discounting what they know as "not acquisition (enough)" or something of the sort just begs the question in favor of an adopted method, because it simply relabels all other knowledge not learned through CI as aberrant occurrences, when they're clearly not for most people who, without linguistic training, figure that learning a language is sort of like learning to code -- it's done partly by understanding codes, and also by experimentation with codes of one's own creation.

Flashcards address the problem of pacing. The thing about spaced repetition systems and good flashcard apps is that they work at whatever pace is comfortable for them. It drastically reduces the epistemic gap between what teachers think or expect that students know and what students actually know. The problem with flashcards is that people aren't good self-assessors at first, and they aren't as willing to grade themselves lowly on mistaken materials, particularly when students are trained that education isn't education unless there's a letter grade at the end of it.

Also, flashcard study doesn't have to take place in a school setting, which is one thing that makes it superior to any in-class instructional method. I can practice when I ride the bus, when there's a line at the movie theater, or when I am lounging about with nothing to do.

The problem of motivation is a red herring. Problems of motivation are a completely different psychological issue, and no instruction in-of-itself will motivate students toward it. Even the most game-driven, engaging instructors in the world have students who would rather be somewhere else, doing something completely removed from learning a language. There's no "making someone" proficient in anything. There's direction to appropriate and relevant materials, error-correction, and incentive structure (be it high grades, accolades, or feelings of success), but no clear-cut, universal way to make any sort of learning an end-in-itself. The ways in which I handle that have no bearing on how I know a student, should he be proactive in his approach, could conveniently and efficiently learn certain material.
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Re: University Language Center Shafted me, not the fun shafted, the bad shafted

Postby ironlady » 14 May 2012, 11:32

ehophi wrote:
The problem of motivation is a red herring. Problems of motivation are a completely different psychological issue, and no instruction in-of-itself will motivate students toward it. Even the most game-driven, engaging instructors in the world have students who would rather be somewhere else, doing something completely removed from learning a language. There's no "making someone" proficient in anything. There's direction to appropriate and relevant materials, error-correction, and incentive structure (be it high grades, accolades, or feelings of success), but no clear-cut, universal way to make any sort of learning an end-in-itself. The ways in which I handle that have no bearing on how I know a student, should he be proactive in his approach, could conveniently and efficiently learn certain material.


I don't even feel like debating these questions with you, or wading through your prose. I've talked to so many people who share your ideas, all of whom are themselves people who learn like that, and who don't seem to realize that most people do not, and that the fact that most people do not is why the typical response in the US to "Say something in French, since you took three years of it in high school" is a blank stare.

We have diametrically opposed ideas on how language is acquired (or, in your case, learned). So be it. Maybe someone else will continue talking about the topic here.
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Re: Flashcards as a learning/teaching method

Postby Robotea » 03 Jun 2012, 12:12

Give the flashcard method a shot. I wouldn't bank on it, but it doesn't hurt to use it to kill some time.
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