Looking for a faster way to learn a language? Try historical linguistics

Kenneth Palmer
Q&As

In new decades, language-understanding applications, web sites, and podcasts have exploded in popularity, promising enjoyment and more rapidly approaches to make us fluent.

But a new research carried out by UBC English professor Dr. James Stratton finds that 1 of the finest strategies of quick-monitoring your language acquisition might be to understand a bit of language heritage – at the very least when it comes to studying a traditionally linked language.

In his examine, college students who ended up taught the history of terms and how seems have evolved about time considerably outperformed college students who expended an equal total of time next traditional language understanding strategies. The college students who been given historical education had been also ready to appropriately forecast the indicating of cognates (overseas words that have a common root) they hadn’t encountered before.

“The effects, in my brain, are fairly groundbreaking, due to the fact no one particular has examined this empirically before, at the very least not to the extent that I have and on the languages I seemed at,” Dr. Stratton explained. “It reveals that knowledge of historic linguistics can have a practical operate in modern society.”

We spoke to Dr. Stratton about his study which was not long ago printed in The Present day Language Journal.

How did you carry out this examine and what did you find?

We applied two sections of third-semester German. One particular section gained historic instruction on changes that affected English-German cognates. The other part spent time discovering vocabulary adhering to regular techniques and practices utilized in the second language classroom nowadays – exactly where the emphasis is truly on communication as opposed to an express knowledge of underlying guidelines. Both of those sections ended up taught by the same teacher. The only serious difference between the two teams was the form of instruction.

There were being two main conclusions. To start with, I discovered that know-how of language historical past aided learners don’t forget the meaning of cognates extra properly. Second, and most likely most importantly, I identified that learners who gained instruction on the several historical adjustments ended up equipped to predict the that means of cognates they hadn’t encountered ahead of.

Why are these results critical?

These conclusions have essential programs for language learners and instructors. They suggest that with expertise of just a couple uncomplicated seem modifications, you can effectively give learners entry to the which means of hundreds of words without the need of even inquiring them to memorize their that means. It’s a quite productive way to boost your vocabulary measurement by just constructing on the relationship among languages you now know, like English.

Can you share an example of how historical linguistics could help you forecast the that means of unfamiliar terms?

There are sound variations that took spot in English that did not acquire location in German. For occasion, in English, the ‘k’ sound grew to become a ‘ch’ in advance of specific vowels like ‘e’ and ‘i’. This seem transform points out why you get Käse in German, but cheese in English, or Kirche in German, but church in English. If you know this rule, you can predict the that means of words you have not encountered right before. So, if I question what you consider the German term Kinn means in English, maybe you can perform out what that is: ‘k’ became ‘ch’, so Kinn = chin. It’s the English word ‘chin’.”

Why do you feel comprehending the evolution of text will help with language learning?

Investigate displays that the extra data you have about a specific term or merchandise, the simpler it is to don’t forget. Let us say I divide college students into two teams, which is what I did in my examine. In 1 group, I notify students to master the German term sterben which means “to die”, along with another 60 or so text. In the other group, I tell the college students that sterben is linked to the English word “starve”, which utilized to indicate “to die” in Previous English but throughout the record of the English language its meaning narrowed semantically to refer to a specific style of loss of life, particularly dying by hunger (as a result these days, “starve”).

The phrase started off out as that means “to die” and it continue to does in German, but in English its indicating has narrowed. Which group do you imagine will keep in mind the word much more proficiently? As you may well hope, learners who been given the historical rationalization not only remembered the meaning of the word additional effectively, but they also remembered it months later on. And which is because they have a tale, a historical narrative that they can relate to.

Interview languages: English

(Be aware: Thanks to restricted availability, the researcher prefers email interviews with some adaptability for mobile phone/virtual interviews)

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