don't define a term or word with another term or word. Define
it instead by pointing to what it depicts.
--A principle of General Semantics.
The major concern
of Jean Piaget was that the child would not be allowed the chance
to build that conservation-of-quantity concept directly through
play experience, that the amount of water would remain the same
regardless of the shape of the container. --And with that constant-quantity
concept, the concept of reversibility of actions, and with that
the concept of irreversibility of actions. He feared that adults
and schools would, instead, teach him the fact of that concept
so that his understanding of everything thereafter in which those
concepts had bearing, would be correspondingly diminished, forever.
in power of understanding - "intelligence," if you please,
may derive from a concept's earliest experiential roots being several
levels of abstraction above the most concrete level of experience.
The human brain may need for the beginnings of that conceptual context
to be thoroughly grounded in sensory and sensori-motor concrete experiences.
A sufficient rooting of context in appropriately concrete sensory
experience may enable far more of the individual's available intelligence
to operate in that context.
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Project Renaissance, Box 332
Gaithersburg, MD 20884
reference to the learning of foreign languages, one major reported
hurdle is the student learning to operate directly in the new language
without having to translate back into his first language. Herein
is proposed a simple procedure, to be used from the start of encounter
with a given foreign language, which may facilitate not only this
hurdle but the first phases per se of learning a foreign language.
One or more instructors, departments or even schools of foreign
language are requested to experiment with this proposed, simple,
The basic problem of human intellectual functioning may be that
of a mismatch. The first experience, in context of a given concept
or set of concepts, often may be learned in the abstract or in word
terms before one has assimilated enough sensori-motor-concrete
experiences which exemplify that concept. Thus the learner may never
assemble those experiences into the kind of concept with which he
processes and understands further experience. Instead of becoming
a perceptual and cognitive tool for reflexively understanding, the
concept learned-as-fact may become instead part of the load of factors
which the person is burdened and bound to take into conscious account.
for example, was greatly concerned that because schools and adults
are in the business of teaching concepts as facts, they may in fact
too successfully do so. That by adult persuasion they lead learners
to accept as fact that the amount of water stays the same whichever-shaped
container it is poured into. Instead of building a reflexive grasp
of how quantities remain constant, he child then fails to assemble
his own experiences into the concept of conservation of quantity.
Taught instead the fact, already several levels of abstraction above
concrete experience, he is burdened with yet one more thing to memorize
and try to take into formal account - and usually doesn't bother
to do so. --With the kinds of result in failed understandings which
newspapers delight in reporting about our schools and their students
and graduates. Worse, not only does the child not assemble as reflex
perceptor this essential sense of the constancy of quantities, he
does not go on to assemble the closely related further concepts
or reflex-perceptors of reversibility of some actions and the irreversibility
of other actions. Without his own concrete experiences assembled
into these most basic concepts, the child does not have these concepts
reflexively working for him, rendering meaningful and understood
all those wide ranges of phenomena around him in which those principles
play a role.
who also did much to advance the science of cognitive development,
pointed out that even when one has advanced from the level of concrete
operations to the level of action-response (a stair is to climb;
a chair is to go to and sit on; a door is to go through) to the
level of abstraction (or of "formal operations"), one
continues to have all three levels continuing.
The human developmentalist
model, in its many forms, posits an upside-down pyramid of development,
higher levels encompassing far wider ranges of experience and competency
than the layers below them. In this developmentalist model shared
by many different programs and professional disciplines, the child
needs a great amount of experience at the base level in order to
encode to the next, and broader, level of operations and, again,
much at that level before he can encode there into the next level
up, again encompassing far more than the previous level. Too little
experience or damage at one level attenuates or even prevents the
ability to function at levels higher up. Enrichment and therapy
models both try to identify the lowest level which was impaired,
build in extra experience at that level and then work stage by stage
through higher levels to enable the individual to function as well
as possible at the higher levels.
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Semantics, founded by Polish Count and philosopher Alfred Korzybski,
found nearly all of us to be virtually at the mercy of flaws in
the structure of our language, and of connotative manipulations
of language by advertisers, demagogues, etc. We are especially vulnerable
to confusion because, among other problems, we have misunderstandings
in word meaning, and try to wrestle these misunderstandings out
high in levels of abstraction where our errors compound themselves.
Even looking up definitions in the dictionary, we compound our difficulties
because of what we misunderstand in those definitions! General
Semantics orients to a reality which our senses and concepts seek
to map, but which at best we can merely approximate. One works toward
sanity the way science works, seeking to make his sensory and conceptual
maps of reality correspond more and more closely to reality. One
of the fundamental principles of General Semantics training is that
wherever possible, one should define his words or terms by what
he can concretely point to, rather than abstractly by word definition.
there appears to be extensive professional opportunity for investigating
the hypothesis, that to ground each concept area sufficiently in
concrete sensori-motor and sensory experience will enable one to
engage much more of his intelligence in that area. --And that to
the extent that he has not built such a concrete sensory base of
experience in that context, much or most of his intelligence remains
essentially unavailable to him. Formal investigation of this hypothesis
could well prove fruitful in terms both of the most fundamental
of further scientific findings, and of human benefit.
The main thrust
of this present paper, however, is to propose a simple experiment
in the area of the learning of second or foreign languages. The
writer is not set up in any way to be able to pursue this experiment:
yet virtually any institutionally involved or supported teacher
of a second or foreign language, or any school or school department,
should have little difficulty in pursuing this study as proposed.
at which the study is directed:
Two of the
greatest hurdles in learning a second or foreign language, for those
who experience this process as difficult, are:
1. The early
phases of learning the language, before enough context has been
built up to sustain and reinforce ongoing learning, or to support
much reinforcive processing in that language.
2. Having to
translate back into one's own first language instead of working
directly in the new language.
game-like, experimental procedure addresses both difficulties. It
would be used, in fact, almost entirely in the earliest stages of
language learning, while using Psychology's most fundamental principle,
the Law of Effect, to directly condition the learner's new language
to the most basic sensory experiences.
- several hundred common objects, distributed around tables. At
each table, 4-6 students are seated. The instructor - or a pre-programmed
tape - pronounces one of the objects in the new language. Object
of the game is to be the first at your table to touch or hit the
object in question - like being the first to become able to call
out "bingo!" It is important to keep this activity as
a light-hearted game and not a real competition. Early on, levels
of difficulty may be differentiated between tables with one tape
or person at each table to sound the object, participants sorted
from table to table by their level of performance. In this process,
running by conditioned reflex faster than thought, a basic sensori-motor
conditioned recognition vocabulary of several hundred nouns is painlessly
built. This activity, as well as Stage Two, below, is meant to be
only one in a mix of several activities and procedures used in the
learning and teaching of foreign languages, and so can well complement,
or fit unobtrusively with, Lozanov-based method or other advanced
systems of techniques such as those variously practiced by many
of the professionals of the International Alliance of Learning.
or thousands, more nouns and basic verbs in the language being learned,
are to be depicted onscreen via computer, the basic game modified
to keyboard and emphasis of the game becoming more and more a matter
of surpassing one's own previous scores, as distinct from players
surpassing one-another. In large part this is because learners are
expected to further differentiate in their respective levels of
ability as more and more of the language becomes learned. Again,
this computer-based version of the game is intended to be only one
of many various elements and techniques used in the ongoing class.
The experiment, here and in the first stage above, is to determine
what differences in learning rate and subsequent performance result
when this "game" is included among the mix of procedures
with some classes and not with others.
Given the above
discussion, the prediction is that the students with whom this game
is included will learn the initial stages of the new language at
a somewhat faster rate than the controls. Further, the later stages
of language-learning will proceed at a substantially more rapid
rate with the experimentals than it will with the controls. he experiments
should enjoy an accelerating advantage over the controls. Retention
for years past the time of teaching should also be at least somewhat
higher for the experimentals than for the controls. Last and perhaps
most significantly, the experimental group should develop, by end
of training a substantially higher proportion, than will the controls,
of people who can think and act directly in the acquired language,
instead of having to translate back constantly into their native
The proposed experiment involves more than simply a test of a possible
new technique for learning and teaching languages, desirable as
that may be. If the hypothesis is supported, then greater weight
of attention may be brought to bear on the entire issue of levels
of abstraction in cognition and in human intellectual performance.
If consequent further findings point in the same direction, considerable
opportunity for improving intellectual experience and performance
is indicated, extending far beyond matters simply of learning a
second or subsequent language. The writer requests discussion and
Copyright 1996 by Win Wenger, Ph.D., Project Renaissance, 301/048-1122
or Box 332, Gaithersburg, MD 20884-0332 USA.This paper may be reproduced,
however, in whole including this copyright notice but not in part,
for non-commercial sharing with those whom you care about.