Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Art of Communication, pt. 2: the Language Perspective

In a previous post from yesterday, I wrote the following:

 The word communication comes from Latin communicare, the meaning being to share. It is the sharing of thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions etc. When communicating, there is a receiver - a listener, a reader, a somebody. Addition: this somebody always translates the message s/he receives. 

I often like to think of communication in terms of language learning. How much does one need to know in order to be able to communicate fluently? Why is it easier to write than to speak? How does communication differ between languages and cultures? After all, language is communication. Now that I write this, I realize that there are two posts to be written. One on language and the other one on healing. 

Now I would like to continue this topic of communication in language learning. Here are some of my thoughts on the topic. 

Many - if not most - people learn a foreign language because they want to be able to communicate in it, either for business or pleasure. It is probably only read language nerds who feel motivated to learn a language just because they can.

Language learning is commonly divided into four sub-fields: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The more passive fields, listening and reading are often considered the easier ones. One of my questions "why is it easier to write than to speak?" might not be completely correct - it is my perspective that writing is easier than speaking. Some people might not agree with me. Writing is easier because one has more time to check up words, grammar... in other words, to be more precise. However, maybe this preference is connected to personality. Maybe introverts like writing more than extroverts, while extroverts are the bold speakers?

There is also the aspect of perfectionism. I remember when I was living in Russia. I refused to speak to people until I felt "ready". Just imagine how happy I was when the first comment I received was "oh, you sound like a Russian". I have mixed feelings about this perfectionism. Whereas I know that bold people who talk will learn quicker, my doubt is whether they will learn better. How to define better is, of course, again a question of personal preferences. Now we are suddenly touching the topic of fluency. What is fluency in a foreign language? When is it achieved? Maybe this topic is also connected to that of definitions. What is one's definition of language?

Yes, language is communication. But how deep does the language learner want to take the communication? Communication is so much more than the words we produce. It is how we produce them and how we use them, too. Fluency in a language requires a lot of knowledge. What words to use and when, how to say them, how to write them. Communication is about encoding and decoding. We know what we want to say, but we need to express it in such a way that the receiver translates it correctly.

Language-learning, then, is not a simple exercise. The learner, in order to gain fluency, needs to be aware of the ways in which that particular language is encoded and decoded. The ways to gain that knowledge are many; some do it by talking, others by strictly keeping their nose in the books. Whichever method one chooses, I believe it is important to be in contact with the target language, as often as possible,

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