The propensity that we adults have to ‘test’ everything is not realistic. Though so fast we’re normally not even conscious of most of what our brains do – still time is required for the linking up of information. This is never more true than in language acquisition.
Current brain research indicates that knowledge is increased only when the new information links in the brain to existing information. I is apparent that this is a process that takes time. How often have you been reading or experiencing something new, knowing that you weren’t really ‘getting it’ and then a few days later it was as if a light turned on? In fact, this is a common experience. Between the point in time you received the new information, and the point in time that your ‘light’ came on your brain was at work. What was it doing? What brains do – linking up things. As those links formed, new understanding developed and you saw things in a new way. The fact that the adult brain as well as the child’s brain do this forms the basis for language growth and development.
Our brains soak up things from every experience we have – many more things than we’re aware of. As we rest, our brains work, linking up of information in various ways. What our brains don’t link up, is lost. From this comes renewal to the saying, “Use it or lose it.” Applying this directly to a word or phrase however is a mistake. It moves the verb “use” from a passive activity of the brain, into an active thing that we do. The point of natural language development (ALG) is that our brains are better at it that you are – so stop trying!
Yet I’ve watched teachers present a set of new words to students. Within the same hour, they then run this little test – to see if they’ve got it. While review of material has value, as a test nothing could be more useless. Why? Simply put, our brains haven’t finished with the linking yet. So the students who look like they’re doing the best and are able to recall everything, are actually the ones doing the most unnatural thing and manually taking over the natural work of their brain. Hence, a whole system is developed, (called language education) that is based on testing of things that haven’t occurred yet, and the people who shine are the 5 or so percentile who have the mental capability of recalling this abstract stuff.
Dr. Art Ong Jumsai is the NASA scientist who developed the first successful landing mechanism for the Viking I and Viking II spacecraft to Mars. He speaks about how he came to find the design. After several days of being alone and meditation, the picture came to him and he knew what needed to be done. Breakthroughs have always been talked about in similar terms – a minds that has received input, and then left to rest – links up the relevant information and new ideas are formed.
The creation of the landing mechanism was a form of improvisation. The basic tools are there, but it’s only when our brains are free to ‘play’ with them can we really improvise things.
Applied to language, what I’m saying is this: The input for language is experience. When we gain experiences in a given language, the natural process if for our brains to start linking up relevant and similar information – not only sounds, words, meanings, and grammar, but also context, culture, intonation, expressions, mood, etc., etc. This is far too complex of a need for even the brightest to do manually or through adult analysis. It also takes time.
So the logical conclusion is this: If you wish to be truly fluent, you must give your brain the experiential input needed and the time to sort it all out.
That cannot happen word by word, nor can it be tested hour by hour.