How a “wretch” learned his L1

By some strange coincidence, I found myself reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein lately. As I read through, I came across the section where the poor wretch, the daemon, the monster, starts to learn speaking and writing. I think it is a very good example of the input before output argument, and can provide an insight into the way we should learn as well. Enjoy!

“By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it. But I was baffled in every attempt I made for this purpose. Their pronunciation was quick; and the words they uttered, not having any apparent connection with visible objects, I was unable to discover any clue by which I could unravel the mystery of their reference. By great application, however, and after having remained during the space of several revolutions of the moon in my hovel, I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects of discourse; I learned and applied the words, _fire, milk, bread_, and _wood_. I learned also the names of the cottagers themselves. The youth and his companion had each of them several names, but the old man had only one, which was _father_. The girl was called _sister_, or _Agatha_; and the youth _Felix, brother_, or _son_. I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds, and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words, without being able as yet to understand or apply them; such as _good, dearest, unhappy._”

“I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language[…]”

“Presently I found, by the frequent recurrence of some sound which the stranger repeated after them, that she was endeavouring to learn their language; and the idea instantly occurred to me that I should make use of the same instructions to the same end.”

(Thanks to Landorien for putting the thought of literature into my head!)

Source: http://www.literature.org/authors/shelley-mary/frankenstein/index.html

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3 thoughts on “How a “wretch” learned his L1

  1. Very nice 🙂

    On a related note, I find that since I have taken to being a Japanese kid, I can communicate with English kids better because I realize the sorts of things that will trip up their understanding.

    • That is an interesting side effect! I never would have thought of that. It’s kind of like talking to people who know some English or have talked to foreigners before, and those that haven’t. Those that have can understand you better since they can better understand your meaning from experience, that is, where you might be coming from; those that haven’t usually have a harder time understanding you. It’s important to not just focus on being able to talk to the ones that understand you because of their background, it perpetuates a false sense of security that what you’re saying is 100% accurate! Happens a lot of language centers and popular areas with lots o’ foreigners.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lan'dorien, Greg. Greg said: New Blog Post! How a “wretch” learned his L1 https://zhongruige.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/how-a-wretch-learned-his-l1/ […]

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