What happens in the brains of infants and toddlers when they begin to learn their mother tongue? What are the processes by which they begin to learn words and phrases of the mother tongue and when a little later they begin to perceive and record its syntactic structures and grammatical rules? Obviously, the learning of the mother tongue begins with the birth of the human being and is entirely based on the intake and processing of the stimuli and linguistic information received from the family environment. From the first day the child opens his eyes, both the child's parents and the rest of the people in his environment start talking to him and interacting with him. Of course, this early communication conveys more feelings to the child than meanings. However, these feelings have enormous value for the psychosomatic development of the young person and lay the foundation on which his rational mind will develop. After all, as we will see later, positive emotions will continue to be of great value for learning in general and more specifically for learning languages, which is what interests us in project Patrologos. But let us return to the learning of the mother tongue because there lies the basis of the whole rational mind of the man.
After the first year of life, the child slowly and gradually begins to reproduce speech. He begins, as we say, to utter words! One does not need to be an expert scientist to understand that the first words that the child will slowly begin to reproduce are words that he has repeatedly heard during the first year of his life. Because the fact that the child did not speak in the first months of his life does not mean that he did not listen and did not register the vocal stimuli he received from his environment. Throughout the first year, the child records and stores in the neurons of his developing brain both his perceptions and stimuli of the world around him as well as the sounds of the names of the objects of his daily life as pronounced by his parents and the other persons in his environment. He records everything from the names of his loved ones to the names of his various foods, his toys, and also the forbidden and dangerous objects and activities that his parents insist on urging him to avoid in a somewhat more intense and strict manner. All these objects and events are recorded in the child's mind along with the sound of the words and phrases that accompany them. Of course, it is not only the words and phrases that describe and establish the world around him. It is also the tone of voice when pronouncing these words and phrases. Because the tone of voice that accompanies the words of the parents and of the loved ones when they express their love for the child is different than when they warn him of some danger or when they control him for some disorder or disobedience. Thus, the child's developing brain not only records the words and expressions but also the feelings that accompany the words and expressions on a case-by-case basis. Inexorably, the powerful human brain of the child records not only the sounds and names but also the contexts, the impressions and the multitude of the emotions that accompany every verbal communication from his environment. Everything is recorded in detail and sorted into the millions of new brain neurons that are created every day in the developing minds of young people as they incessantly absorb the logical world around them.
This process of recognizing and classifying the rational world around us is a process that begins in the first hours of a person's life and continues until his death. It never stops! And a person's language, that is, the word, is inextricably linked to this process. Without language, without words, without expressions there is no human intellect. We can therefore be sure that the human mind is built on the language words and that its development from infancy is inextricably linked to the development of language ability, i.e. the ability of man to decode into meaning the logical information that he receives in writing or orally, but also vice versa, his ability to encode his thoughts and desires in written or spoken language. Despite the progress of medical science and technology, the mankind has not yet been able to explore these mechanisms by which the human brain decodes and encodes speech and stores the vast amount of information and images and emotions and contexts in its network of neurons.
Therefore, since language development begins so early in a person's life, we can assume that there is no specific brain center for language storage and processing in humans, but rather that, the language capacity along with any linguistic data memory, are scattered throughout the human brain. However, in our quest to understand and optimize the mechanisms of human language learning, it is not necessary to have a precise understanding of the anatomy and physiology of language ability in the human brain. We can, for the sake of simplicity, represent the human capacity to receive and reproduce language as a processor with the dual ability to both decode externally received linguistic information into its contained meaning and to encode the human's internal thoughts into linguistic communication that is comprehensible by other fellow humans who also possess the corresponding processor of the same human language, i.e. they speak the same language. There is no need to examine exactly how this «language processor» works or exactly where it is located and where exactly it stores the data it uses for performing its encoding/decoding work. What we want to look at is how this «language processor» is being trained, and developed over the years of a person's life from birth onwards. And after we understand these mechanisms that apply in the learning a the mother tongue in the first years of a person's life, we can then hypothesize that the same mechanisms should probably operate later in the learning of a second or third foreign language by an adult student.
So we return to the first question: What happens in the brains of infants and toddlers when they begin to learn their mother tongue? How is the «language processor» of an infant or a toddler trained? Logic tells us that the first language stimuli that an infant can register should be simple, basic and primitive. No one can imagine that an infant can make progress in language ability if its father next to him begins to recite verses from Homer's Odyssey or some other advanced text. Yes, sure, the infant will be delighted and feel safe and secure at hearing the voice and seeing the face of the loving parent, but linguistically he is not going to make any progress from hearing the recitation. Why is that? Because this linguistic information cannot yet be understood by your immature and untrained «language processor». The infant at such a young age is not yet ready to process complex linguistic information. Of course, he can recognize the face of his father, mother or grandfather and begin to associate these faces with the titles «Dad», «Mom», «Grandpa», «Grandma», respectively. He is able to learn that the domestic animal is a dog or a kitten, that what he is eating is a fruit custard or an egg or chicken soup or spaghetti. And so, in this way, little by little, he builds the auditory databases of his «language processor», which in the following years of his life until adulthood will grow and grow to the point where he will be able to listen and read Homer's Odyssey and understand it. And when we talk about understanding, we mean exactly that. That its language processor will be able to decode a linguistic content information, classify it and store it for future reference. At this point a very important first conclusion can be drawn about how children learn the language and how adults learn languages too as we suspect. We progress in our linguistic ability when we understand what we receive as spoken or written information. In this case, our «language processor» has the ability to evaluate, classify and store the information and possess for future use. Otherwise, if what we hear is not understood (as in the case of the father reading Homer to the baby), then the built-in «language processor» will most likely reject the information and not record it at all!
From the above we understand what we already know from experience. From the above we understand what we already know from experience. For a child to understand and speak his mother tongue at the age of seven or eight, he needs many years of training his «language processor» with comprehensible language input according to his level. Every comprehensible new word, every comprehensible new phrase or expression, is received in by the ears and eyes of the young learner and is rapidly processed and added to his linguistic database. When the child reaches the age to also learn to read and write, then the language information he receives daily is not only oral but also written. The progress that the child makes every day is constantly added to the linguistic base of his brain and thus the linguistic tree of speech is growing and developing within him. Using this mental language processor, people throughout their lives can study their chosen subject, work, enjoy literature and poetry, a movie or an audio book, communicate their thoughts and feelings to the people around them, and finally become parents themselves and in the same way educate their own children in the use of language and speech.
These generally apply to first language learning. But what about learning a second language? And how is learning a second language different from learning the mother tongue? Is it true what is generally said that adults have a reduced capacity compared to children to receive and assimilate language? Based on the above, we argue that the process of learning a second language is not different from the process of learning a first language. And that not only people do not lose their ability to learn a language over the years, but quite the opposite. Adults already have a fully developed «language processor» for their native language, which leads us to believe that learning a second or third language, i.e. creating a second or third parallel language processor, can be significantly shortened relative to the time that it took their virgin infant minds to create the structures of the first language. All this, of course, with two important conditions:
The first condition is that an adult really wants to learn a foreign language. Not only that he need to learn it, but he also that he wants to! By analogy, someone who wants to develop a nice fit slim body should really wish to achieve it. It is not enough if he needs to lose weight for medical or aesthetic reasons, but he must also really want to achieve this goal because only in this case he will be able to diligently follow the necessary training program. And as it applies to the case of physical exercise where the construction of a beautiful body presupposes the creation of new muscle tissue, likewise the learning of new knowledge or of a new language presupposes the creation of new neurons and new brain connections, which of course require a strong will and a lot of mental energy in order to be achieved!
The second condition is that adults have at their disposal the necessary and sufficient amount of comprehensible input in the language they are interested in learning. Unlike infants, adults already possess a fully developed language processor for their native language and can use this processor in conjunction with faithful translations and dictionaries in order to decode the linguistic information of the target language and progressively train their brain's developing language processor for that language. Thus, given the determination and the investment of the necessary time, the progress of the adults in learning a foreign language can be much faster than that of infants and toddlers who take several years to become comfortable and fluent in their native language. The language material for learning a foreign language by adults should necessarily contain the sound of the narration of its texts and, as we said, should necessarily provide the means for decoding the linguistic data, both verbal and written, through faithful translations of its words and phrases.
The project Patrologos for learning the Greek language has been created around the theory of the existence of a language processor in every human brain that is responsible for its ability to learn both the mother tongue and the foreign languages that people will learn throughout their lives. For both the first mother language and the other languages to be learned, this language processor is constantly developing and learning through continuous exposure to understandable linguistic information, both spoken and written. The subtitled audiobooks that we produce from Greek literature texts are a typical application of this theory. Using literature works at three levels, for beginners, intermediate and advanced students we provide the Greek language learners with the necessary and sufficient amount of language information in order for them to train and develop the language processor of the Greek language in their brain. The advantage that literature provides as language learning material is the large amount of images, ideas and emotions that it contains. Images, ideas, and emotions provide the necessary context that accompany the meanings of the words and phrases in the text. The students who will persistently and patiently use the parallel translations in order to understand the images, the ideas and the emotions of the our audiovisual Greek literature texts, will essentially enable their mighty human brain to sort and conquer a huge amount of linguistic data structures in the Greek language. Over time, and with continuous reading and training, students will see a noticeable improvement in their understanding of the words and phrases of the Greek language, as long as these words and phrases are repetedly encountered within the text.
In the next stage, all these recordings of intelligible Greek speech in the minds of the students will begin to find their way into the first effortless attempts at speech production. Because if there's one thing we can be sure of, it's this: When students of a foreign language are ready to speak that language, they're actually doing nothing more than reproducing their auditory memories of words and phrases they've already heard and comprehented and stored in their powerful language processor in their minds. But we will say more about the production of speech in another chapter.
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