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Letter to China




I will be quite frank with you. The time has come when
students and teachers of English must do something to
counteract the dreadful way in which English is taught
worldwide; and come up with an exciting new system which
works.



I have discovered such a system and strangely it depends
on being implemented bi-lingually. In China this could be
done with Chinese and its transcription, alongside English,
or say, with Chinese and English and another foreign
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language which some of the participants want to know. But
ideally use three languages, or inputs, not just two: its more
refreshing. Co-participation produces motivation




The point is that there is free exchange of language
between both parties. Both parties are receivers and givers.
I am eventually looking for an open-minded University
where this could be implemented, and a close-knit
community which will give me the support and friendship I
will need to develop this idea which is for everyones
benefit. We are in the very early days as yet. I have only
just discovered the system. It may be 5, 10 years before it
can get off the ground.
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There will be a major role for competent Chinese students
doing lexicological work, I think; because the more
effective and refined versions of this will require those
trying to speak the new language to refer to hidden
structures in their minds, where concepts are mapped;
conversations and themes will then be evolved according to
simple, memory-based distinctions, which everyone will be
aware of.

The basis for that is a lot of hard lexicographical work, too
much for a single person in a reasonable timeframe. A
possible framework might look like this (for phrases and
verbal usages in common occurrence)


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Or this, looking more at nouns needed in primitive society
(which would have deep resonances in the Chinese
character system)

Click here for larger images








Incidentally there is already a ground-breaking Chinese
learning course operating in the same direction but from
the other side of the mountain in Chineasy [although
conceptually it tackles the same problem] which is a way to
understand Chinese ideographs ahead of learning and
pronouncing the Chinese language.
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And a physicist at a University in Beijing, proceeding in
much the same way, has discovered that Chinese can be
reduced to about 6 basic radicals, in all common words.

See http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130315-a-better-
way-to-learn-chinese

The whole idea is that we must reduce the vast field of
English or Chinese - to a landscape with recognizable
features, just as real fields have fences and gates and barns
and entrances.


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The author of the Beijing study, a physicist called Junshan
Wu, came up with a frequency chart for Chinese
characters




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In much the same way for English, Edward William Dolch
analyzed childrens books and came up with a list of the
first, commonest, 220 words. And more sophisticated
corpus along these lines is the famous General Service
List.

Here is the same list manipulated into a set of Flash Cards
by educator, Jennifer Rosas, borrowed from Mrs Perkins:



However, I take the strongest possible exception to such an
approach, and to all such forcing approaches:

Students in our first grade class will be assessed on their
proficiency in reading the sight words on the first three tiers of the
Dolch List. They will be given an initial assessment beginning
with the pre-primer word list. Any words that your child cannot
recognize BY SIGHT will be given to your child to study. This
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means that your child will be studying from a list customized to
their needs. When they become able to read these words they
will be reassessed. Students will then be assessed on a new,
higher level set of words and the process will begin
again. Students who complete the first three tiers of the Dolch
List will be challenged with words from the rest of the list.

The only good thing here is the idea of recognizing English
words by eye, which again is good news, and it puts it on an
equal footing with Chinese, where I imagine that the
procedure for recognition is entirely, or almost completely
purely visual The idea of testing what you already know is
deeply inimical.

And Russian and Georgian too, as shown on the lesson
whiteboard photo above, are exactly the same in this
respect. The eye remembers the whole shape of a word,
and in good conditions, the mind works off this, not off any
laborious letter-by-letter analysis.

The reason for my antagonism to forcing approaches is
that I have discovered that an agenda-free approach, with
no stress attached to it, actually allows the student to learn
far more, but it is the mind itself which spontaneously
learns, not the student : it does not depend so much on the
will of the student: and the more that the students will can
be circumvented and the free play of passive and
unconscious memory encouraged, the stronger (or maybe
closer) become the neural pathways which mysteriously do
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the job, even completing, in some mysterious way, their
tasks while we are asleep, and the mind is perfectly
relaxed That meditative state is exactly what we need to
introduce in classrooms It is entirely in line with the
Chinese religious tradition.


Not only that, but even in the course of locating the picture
of Northumbrian fields above, I demonstrated the
superiority of the technique of letting the mind lead me. I
had no idea where this picture was, but found it in under a
minute, even though it was taken about ten years ago and I
must have taken at least 10,000 since, and have viewed as
many in other contexts. So trust the mind!

Here is another view of that same, amazing landscape


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The way English, in its teaching, is split up at the minute,
by grammatical functions and especially verb usages is the
equivalent to teaching me to drive by giving me an
engineering diagram of the cars motor; or giving me the
floor plans and elevations of Guangxis wonderful Senior
Center rather than allowing me into this lovely space to
play volleyball...

http://www.archdaily.com/553442/senior-center-of-guangxi-
atelier-alter/



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In the link above you can see more photos of the beautiful
result, and the floor plans! But those are the business of
the architects, not the users!

We would need to know, for example, exactly which verbs
figured in the 3000 or so first words of English and then
classify them by a novel system. I call this Essentivity and
would suggest a scale 1-9 where 1 denotes the verb which
has the least visible impact and 9 the verb which has the
most.

So the sentence The cat kills the mouse would have a
score of 9 for the verb kill; I am OK might score 0 as
there is no transmitted action, whereas, It seems that the
sun is coming out might score 2; with Please give me the
parcel somewhere in the middle: maybe 5 or 6; giving is a
light action: it does not involve damage or stress on the
party actioned upon... Be quiet!, Be careful! might be 1
or 2, as here this is be in a sense of perform...

The sensitive and discerning Chinese mind would be
particularly good at arriving at the appropriate distinctions;
the philosophy of art (in Japan as well as China) uses
concepts equally subtle and mercurial
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Of course linguists (or here, philosophers, more) have
looked a bit at this but they produce unreadable, useless,
un-useable results. I am looking for a home-grown research
movement, linked to guiding students though not just their
course, but that entire system of avenues and mountains
which is English.

You in China, it seems to me, have retained a holistic
vision of your language when you teach it to foreigners, and
Shaolan Hsueh, the creator of Chineasy, particularly
maintains this.

The general point is that, OK if you wish you can subject
words and phrases to the cram, exam, scram technique
[scram is a slang word meaning you must go away, run
away; and here I use that in regard to forgetting on
Wednesday what you learned for the test on Monday]
but that is not a system of learning anyone should be proud
of. It is learning under conditions of fear, fear that you may
not learn. Like playing the piano while being frightened of
playing a wrong note.
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With such systems we are strictly marshaling our brains
and forcing them to behave in certain ways, as an Army
officer commands soldiers to march across enemy
territory.





We have divided our minds into two: or in fact three:
Command and Control, The part which Obeys; and the
Part which checks that the Obeying part is complying with
the Commanding part.

The great Chinese philosophers of ancient times and the
Zen masters of Japan within that same venerable and
ancient Confucian/Buddhist tradition which is at your
fingertips would have had none of that: they proceeded
otherwise...and much more wisely, it seems to me

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Once the whole is broken, the parts need names, wrote
Lao Tzu. We need to take our inspiration from him. It
would be so much more Chinese


Below is that photo of that Chinese English textbook once
more. Russian textbooks were much the same. The initial
problem is exactly the same problem as the problem I was
talking about in my system for English. There are no
landmarks. That is why the only solution would be for
students to memorize chunks of this. And as it is very, very
boring to do that, this system will produce no motivation
whatever in the students, and they will not learn anything
meaningful: they will simply forget it all because it has no
rough edges. So instead, we break the whole thing all its
possible content to pieces.
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Our brains only remember things which are linked to
certain other things (ideally at different levels of memory
and keyed by diverse mnemonical stimuli) and which,
thus, are able to stand out against the millions of items
there




If you are looking at dialogues as this book does - you
need to look at contexts; and I have ideas for this too
(many English textbooks go some way down that route) but
it is premature to learn contexts ahead of a global view of
the language, if that could be discovered

So there is a huge amount of work to do, first transforming
the tools of the trade, next transforming the learning
hierarchy, and finally transforming the performative
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context in which results (which might serve as the material
with which to pass exams) might be discerned.

*
I do not discount passing exams, but it should not be the
first priority. Sadly, English has been degraded, worldwide,
into a commodity like a pair of Nike trainers, a status
symbol, a decoration: and students and teachers worldwide
are held hostage to this ineffective and futile system.

Everyone is running in those Nike trainers and getting
nowhere

It is not a system will not produce genuine speakers of the
language and thus it will not advance real dialogue among
nations and so enable each country to solve its problems
and live harmoniously on the planet with its neighbours
which must be the ultimate goal of language learning
because it is an exhausting and counter-productive way of
learning; whereas true language learning is a joy: and it is a
joy to which I have discovered a key.

If you visit a foreign country knowing that it will be a
pleasure to discover that countrys language on arrival and
with a desire to try out the scraps you have learned as soon
as possible when you get there, then you are on the right
lines: and you are a true, international, diplomat of
language and culture.
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Our job, it seems to me, is to set up learning scenarios
which prepare the ground for such individuals.

Because quite aside for the need to introduce
pleasurable and fulfilling learning the future of the
world, the future of our international co-operation, will
depend on encouraging and producing people like that.


Okhotsk Region, Hokkaido, Japan