Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Implicit Learning

by AJ

I have been naturally and effortlessly acquiring knowledge about an extremely unnatural topic (for Americans): English "soccer". This is a freakish occurrence. Americans simply are not interested in professional "soccer"... much less "soccer" played in another country.

Yet, somehow, I now know the names of the stadiums for Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle, and Man U. I know many of the major teams and players in the league (and the English national team). I know what a "sweeper" is. I know the names of many of the coaches. I understand the basic mechanics of the Champions League. Im even beginning to understand the offsides rule. While non-Americans will consider this unremarkable... I assure you its very very rare knowledge among my countrymen.

So, the question is, how have I learned all of this? Did I study a list of the Priemere League teams? Do I memorize the rosters? Did I study the rulebook? Have I made a great effort to learn this information?

Absolutely not. In fact, it has occurred completely by accident... no only effortlessly, but almost involuntarily. In Thailand, they love English football. The sports section of the newspaper is continually filled with articles about the games, players, coaches, strategies, controversies, etc. At first I ignored these articles. Then, one or two caught my eye and I casually skimmed them. I continued to skim them here and there..... as I learned a bit, my curiousity was tweaked. I began to read more.

And now, I regularly read every article in the sports section about English football. I even catch a game on TV now and then.

Ive learned what I know (a lot by American standards.. not much by Thai or English standards) simply by casually reading for curiousity's sake. Through this simple and effortless process Ive acquired knowledge about the rules, the players, the stadiums, the colors, the history, the finances, and the controversies of the sport. Ive even picked up some incidental knowledge regarding the Spanish and Italian leagues.

This is the power of "free voluntary reading"... or "implicit learning". When the content is fascinating, no effort is needed. And it works for learning a language as easily as it does with English football.

The key... THE NUMBER ONE KEY.. to successful language acquisition... is content. Not grammar. Not technique. Content.

Content must be understandable. Thats requirement number one. If its too difficult, most (90%+) wont bother reading or listening to it... and wont learn much even if they do. Choose material thats easy to understand (you should understand 90% or more of the words/phrases).

The second important requirement is that content must be fascinating. Not "mildly interesting". Not "serious". Not "important". It must be incredibly fascinating TO YOU. English football is fascinating to me... so I now read about it all the time. Tennis is NOT and so I always skip the tennis articles. I still dont understand what the hell "love" is.

So choose books, TV shows, movies, audiobooks, conversation partners, etc. that are extremely fascinating to you. If you are wild about boys and dating... then read about dating. Watch romances. If pet toads make you crazy with excitement... read and listen to target language content about toads. If manga, comics, and anime are super-cool to you... focus your langauge learning efforts on those.

If you love mysteries... watch and read mystery stories. The key to effortless acquisition is in choosing content carefully. DONT force yourself to read/listen to a lot of crap you dont care about. Dont memorize vocabulary lists. Dont, for goddsake, study grammar books. Throw away the textbook (if you can read this post, you dont need it). Dont even read boring or difficult books because they are "important" or "necessary" or "difficult".

The first step towards effortless acquisition is to identify those things that excite you. What do you think is super-cool? What makes you emotional? What demands your attention? Once you figure that out.. its easy. Find books, comics, movies, TV shows, people, audiobooks, internet sites, magazines, and articles about those subjects... in your target language.

[If your target language is English... its very very easy to find these materials]