Awareness as a Foundation to Learning a Language
by Andrew Weiler
In one way it is remarkable that there are such poor results in second/foreign language learning world wide. It is remarkable because virtually all of us were successful learning our first language (spoken) to the level of our peers. So how is it that we lost this capacity?
Infants live in a sea of awareness. They are born into this condition and live in it till the time is right to join the rest of us! We learn and master so many things in our first few years, unlike most animals which are born with many instincts and don’t need to learn all that much. We have to learn everything from muscle control to cognition to speech through using our awareness to light the way forward. There is no magic box that does the learning for us. We learn virtually everything by becoming aware of what we need in order to master what is before us. Awareness is the first step, but continues to be needed to mastery and once the learning is relegated to the unconscious (our habits) very little of it is needed to maintain these objectified learnings.
With language we become aware of the elements that control sound production and then progressively learn what we need to do to master it. As we become increasingly aware of the sounds around us, we become aware that the sounds that we make match the sounds that others make. Isn’t that some awareness! That is the beginning of verbal communication.
As we grow up we are progressively distanced from the powers we were all given and developed by the shoulds, the strictures and the training we receive, most of which taught us to ignore our own instincts and powers and to pay more attention to what others think we should be doing. This progressive disconnection is one of the main reasons why language learning starts to become increasingly difficult as we grow up.
We are told to learn vocabulary through translation, study grammar rules and parrot the teacher, none of which calls upon the awarenesses we need to reach if we are to learn another language to any degree of proficiency. The few who end up mastering other languages are the ones who manage to activate their awareness and other required abilities even when confronted with situations like the ones just described.