IEML No.2 #change11 Chinese students

After learning so much just about learning, I decided to miss the week covering research about research. IEML has struck a chord, I have almost continually re-read the readings (chps 1,4,7 Semantic sphere Vol1) until I finally understand and grasp at least the foundations. As I’m absorbed in creating a language learning experience for L2 learners online, reflecting on the functions of the brain with respect to communication of meaning has been helpful.

You don’t need to be in China very long to realise that Chinese students are very adept at ‘grammar’. They have high syntactic ability. That is to say, they can manipulate symbols with ease. This is combined with (or a result of) learning in an environment requiring little or any autonomy. A lack of ‘meaningful learning’ with respect to what I am now labelling for myself the ‘IEML Sign Being Thing philosophy’ relates to weak application of meaning (semantic – Being) and even less respect to ‘pragmatic’ Thing as the concepts are certainly not learnt (memorised) for any practical objective (I am not including ┬ápassing the high school grammar test gaokao as practical here). Therefore, it’s clear that as an English teacher, materials creator etc in China, the focus is on developing the semantic and pragmatic sides to language and ‘symbolic processing’ (another self-made term). The students need to develop the ability to actualise sounds (speak) accurately as well as develop an semantic and pragmatic abilities. Therefore ‘speaking’ becomes a particular focus of the many private language schools of which I was a part.

The ‘Sign’ also can help explain why the same students are good at Maths and even writing code.

I can now reassess what it means to develop language skills. In particular I wonder if the Chinese students are often able to answer the Reading section through application of semantic and pragmatic awareness or through simply knowing all the words – they are able to score highly simply as a result of their syntactic awareness. A valid test would require synthesis of the information – perhaps by asking the students to read one article arguing ‘for’ and another ‘against’ and then asked to write a quick summary would be evidence of this as the students would need to group the arguments together and write a balanced view point. Summarising questions (IELTS summary completion, sentence completion) assess these areas. I will re-evaluate the question types and apply the awareness to the online IELTS prep course I’m currently building.

IEML – the ‘affect’ seems to be the ‘key’ still. Surely, we organise concepts based to a large degree on how we have always done it. This is determined by our childhood experiences, the roots of our psychology. Awareness and control of how we organise concepts determines our ‘plasticity’, ability to incorporate new concepts. How does IEML account for individualisation of conceptual organisation, relating to actualising these on a page. For IEML to represent knowledge and convert natal language information, would it not need to understand the individual (more than the individual knows him/herself) to represent the ideas accurately?

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