Universal grammar ?

I have always felt that Chomsky’s universal grammar hypotheses made no sense, that humans were just good at identifying rules. Therefore children identify the rules that govern the language that they hear, and that these rules can be quite different in different languages. I never accepted the idea that there are language rules built into our DNA. Here is a study that supports this skeptical view of Chomsky.


Grammar rules or patterns

We have an interesting discussion going on at a forum at LingQ on whether we need to learn grammar rules or patterns. Here is my latest comment on this subject, but there is quite a variety of views there.

I agree that correct usage is all about mastering patterns that are generally accepted in the language as spoken by the natives. Of course the patterns may vary according to which tribe of natives we want to emulate, but language mastery is still about patterns.

I believe that massive input, with a little help, whether from teachers, the odd correction, grammar books, self-help tools like LingQ or Anki, is the shortest path to the mastery of these patterns.

I find the explanations of the patterns using a lot of grammatical jargon hard to follow. I prefer, “in Japanese they say things this way and it more or less means this”. Then I watch for the pattern and gradually get a clearer and clearer sense of what it really means, the more I come across it in my reading and listening.

The US consumes 25% of the world’s resources and has 5% of the world’s population.

I often see this statement, and it is usually meant as a reproach. But what would happen if the US stopped consuming so much of the world’s resources. Would the third world be better off? In all likelihood, exports from third world countries would fall, prices for these products would fall, third world economies would suffer, poverty would increase, income and health levels in those countries would decline.

Is it not a good thing that the US, and the developed world in general, creates a market for the world’s resources, many of which come from the third world. In addition the rich developed economies create new technologies that benefit everyone. Life expectancy just keeps getting longer and longer, health and education levels improve, and expectations everywhere increase. Is that a bad thing?

The Three Keys to Successful Language Education.

I guest posted an article on Kirsten Winkler’s blog today, largely in response to an earlier guest post by a language educator,?? warning learners to beware of new language learning start-ups. I?? tried to point out why learners need to be wary of traditional classrooms, and teachers need to be interested in what is happening on the Internet.

If you are interested please have a look and tell me what you think.


Formal, non-formal and informal learning.

A report was brought to my attention, see below. I skimmed the report, looking for useful information. To me it just seemed like a very long-winded bureaucratic, “touch all the politically correct bases”,?? statement of the obvious fact that we all learn all the time, and not just in formal situations.

There was no new useful information about how to make literacy and language learning more effective, nor much else of genuine interest to me. I am sure, however, that there are all kinds of people prepared to discuss these well-worn themes at a few conferences, at public expense.

??If anyone has the patience to read this, let me know if I missed something. Needless to say this report is widely copied and has met with much praise.

formal, non-formal and informal learning: the case of literacy, essential skills and language learning in canada??

In this report Sarah Elaine Eaton investigates the links between formal, non-formal and informal learning and the differences between them. In particular, the report aims to link these notions of learning to literacy and essential skills, as well as the learning of second and other languages in Canada.

[From the Executive Summary]

Read the report??

The philosophical underpinnings of this research are:

??? There is value in learning of all kinds.

??? Learning is a lifelong endeavour.

??? An interdisciplinary approach is valuable.

Notions of formal, non-formal and informal learning may be briefly outlined as:

Formal learning This type of learning is intentional, organized and
structured. Formal learning opportunities are usually arranged by
institutions. Often this type of learning is guided by a curriculum or other
type of formal program.

Non-formal learning This type of learning may or may not be intentional or
arranged by an institution, but is usually organized in some way, even if it
is loosely organized. There are no formal credits granted in non-formal
learning situations.

Informal learning This type of learning is never organized. Rather than
being guided by a rigid curriculum, it is often thought of experiential and

(Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development / Organisation de
Coop??ration et de D??veloppement
Economiques (OECD), n.d.; Werquin, 2007)

Examples are given for literacy and essential skills, as well as second and other languages for each of the categories mentioned above.

Finally, the examples of systems developed value different types of learning using asset-based approaches are given. The tools developed by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada are explored for the case of literacy. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages developed by the Council of Europe is considered for second and other languages.

Read the report??

First placed in the archives February 2010 with permission of the writer.


Why pleasurable listening works so well in language learning.

An interesting article that further supports the idea that listening, lots of pleasurable listening to interesting content, is effective in language learning.

A couple of comments from the article.

“Just perception – listening – is helpful. Our volunteers didn’t repeat the words.”

“Dr Shtyrov’s method struck a chord with Paul Noble, a language teacher whose gets pupils to “forget” what they have just learned.

He thought repetition was the key – but the brain learned best when it was relaxed and not trying to remember anything at all.”

South Carolina; friendly people, lovely old towns, great golf and enormous breakfasts.

My wife Carmen and I are visiting South Carolina and playing some golf. Charleston is a truly lovely town, clean, historic and quaint.



What really impressed us was the size of the breakfasts and the quantity of food that people ate in Myrtle Beach, a resort town. These pictures show a sampling of the range of heavy sausages, pork, meat patties, egg, grits, biscuit with gravy, other stuff, not to mention cheesecake, waffles doused in syrup, bread, and I am sure I forgot something. Most eaters take two or three heaping plates of all of it. Cost?$8, all you can eat, and for many of the patrons, that is a lot.




The importance of language and translation. A contest from April 11-15. Just tell your story and you may win a prize.

I think many followers of this blog enjoy languages and the diversity of languages that we experience, every more vividly, in today’s interconnected world. Are you a translator, or do you have an experience in translating from one language to another? Tell your story to Fox Translate and you may win a prize.

As Fox Translate puts it ” We want to hear about??the??greatest experiences you have had as a translator.??From the significant impact you???ve had in someone???s life to the cultures and challenges you???ve encountered, your story reflects the importance language and translation has in all of??our lives. “

I am often approached to promote various services on my blog, and I usually say no, but this is one promotion that intrigued me. I am looking forward to reading the many contributions. Incidentally, prizes include copies of my book The Way of the Linguist, annual Basic Memberships to LingQ, and an annual Plus Membership to LingQ!

I encourage you to tell your story to Fox Translate. Visit the Fox Translate site for all the details, where you will also find out about their convenient translation service.