I like to say, language begins from personal experience. As little children, we learn from others how to identify objects around us. Repetition of words occurs in the context of what things in the family home are called.
Language, however, does not end at our personal experiences. Through allegory, comparison, and, as we get older, more detailed explanations, we gain the ability to grasp things that are beyond our own personal experiences.
A key point, however, is that language is not, and can never be, an individual experience. Language is a means of communication. Without others who speak the same language, ideas cannot be shared with us. With a shared language, however, society possesses the means by which to pass its culture – its collective knowledge, points of view, biases, and so forth – to children raised in that culture.
Many argue that children have an innate (natural) ability to learn languages. A child observes the context of words, learns what things in the child’s experience the words are associated with, and imitates others in how words are spoken. This learning method has deep limitations, however. This is for a rather simple reason.
A child is forced to guess as to why something makes sense, and must rely on an assumption that everything he or she hears is, in some way, logical.
This is not necessarily so.
A language not only carries an entire culture on its back; it is the result of the collective linguistic history of the culture.
Many things in a language do not make “sense” out of some kind of logic. For example, a non-native speaker who was criticizing an earlier article I have written on the Learn Out Live blog told me I needed a “crush course” in historical linguistics, particularly sociolinguistics. I am not trying to put this person down. Rather, this is an excellent example of the logic, or lack thereof, of a language.
Why is “crash course” correct when “crush course” is not? Crash and crush both describe force; both are impacts of various kinds. One is sudden; the other is sustained. Why do we not have “crush courses” where knowledge is condensed and packed together (like sardines, as they say)? If you follow logic, there should logically be such a thing as a crush course, just as there is a crash course. Why, then, would any native speaker immediately recoil and say, “No, ‘crush course’ is completely wrong”?
This is because English-speaking society is in the collective linguistic habit of using “crash course” and not “crush course.”
A child, or an adult non-native speaker, cannot possibly know that one is right while the other is wrong, except by learning from the collective historical knowledge of society, or in other words, its linguistic culture.
The difference between “crush course” and “crash course” cannot be explained with logic, with grammar, or with “rules” of any kind. It can only be explained by saying: that is how people speak.
In other words, it is custom to say one, and not the other.
Custom is not something that any child, or any non-native speaking adult, can possibly learn without assistance. Customs are gained from exposure to the society and culture from which they arise.
There are two, and only two, methods of learning customs.
1. The Indirect Method: Move to an English-speaking country, immerse yourself in the language and culture, and slowly pick up the habits of the people around you. Your custom acquisition speed will vary according to your free time, stress level, and whether you can find adequate resources for explaining customs on your own.
2. The Direct Method: Find out from someone who already knows, like a teacher from Learn Out Live. (Hint, hint!)
Keep in mind what a private session over Skype really offers you: the ability to ask questions in real time with no distractions, no artificial limitations, and no hassle. When you order a lesson, you are reserving a teacher’s time; that time belongs to you.
There is no substitute for a language expert’s undivided attention.
In the future, Learn Out Live will begin new adventures: prerecorded audiobooks, e-books, physically printed books, and so forth. Nonetheless, our greatest successes have been, and will continue to be, with live teaching.
The simple fact is, most English native speakers do not have the deep knowledge of their own language required to explain why one thing is correct and another thing is incorrect. Teaching requires more than just being a native; the person must also have an excellent ability to explain to others, especially to people who are learning English (in this example) as non-native speakers.
Learning a language means more than just learning the words. Learning a language means learning the culture behind the words.
I hope you will choose Learn Out Live as your gateway to learning about languages and cultures all around the world.
Thank you for reading.