Language learning is both fun and challenging. If you already know speak one language and wish to explore a new language, a language very close to the language you know, the first few weeks of language learning may be fun. You find and even try to find the similarities between the two languages and, you enter the state of confidence that this language learning is not as difficult as it seemed. However, reality strikes when we venture to listen to a few videos and TV series. We finally realize that though we can get some words in the program, we have not understood the vast majority of them, and we are lost somewhere between our pronunciation and our comprehension. This is indeed a difficult phase, which each one of us needs to traverse to avoid giving up completely.
Having done my studies in computer science, I tried to reduce the challenge of language learning to some concepts that I had learned in computer programming, notably, the concept of object-oriented programming1. In object-oriented programming, we need to create classes, specify their properties, and define the relationships among classes. Once our model is ready, we create instances of these classes. For example, we may create classes like Language, Book, Author, etc., for describing languages, books, authors, etc. Example properties comprise the name of the language, the number of speakers of a language, the book price, author name, the author's place of residence, etc. The relationships include written in between the classes Book and Language and creator between Book and Author. And examples of objects include the instances of these languages. English is an instance of Language and hence an object.
It may seem that language learning is not very close to the above approach of object-oriented programming. However, I considered all such classes as common nouns and, I tried to learn their translations in the new language. The choice of such common nouns may depend on the context and purpose of your language learning. The common nouns that I learned initially included bus, road, train, food, bread, pen, pencil, some important vegetables, fruits, etc.
What about the properties and relationships? This is indeed a difficult question and often a matter of multiple discussions by programmers and system designers. Should I use written by or creator as the property name? Is wrote a good relationship compared to written by? However, I approached the properties as a way to learn verbs. Hence, I focused on the translations for the words write, create, etc. Another important group of verbs includes the verbs associated with the five senses: see, hear, taste, touch (feel), smell, etc. Learning the translations for these verbs is essential.
Every object has a state, depending on the current values of the properties. A book may be a recent work of the author. Thus the state is interesting, and this may seem close to adjectives in languages. Yet states are expressed in different ways in different languages. For example, the sentence "I am hungry" may be translated to "J'ai faim" in French, which can be literally translated to "I have hunger" in English. Now hungry is an adjective, and hunger is a noun. So, the mere translations of words may not sometimes help in language learning.
Relationships and properties may bring us to prepositions. For example, written by uses the preposition by. Thus the next words to learn were the prepositions: in, on, before, after, above, below, etc. These prepositions can express the relationships between different objects. In real life, these prepositions can also specify the position of objects relative to the other objects.
So, how will I describe my initial days of language learning and even my future language learning objectives? Given below is a refined approach considering the shortcomings of my past learning methods. Walking in the streets or standing at a particular place, I look around and observe different objects of daily life. For how many objects do I know the translation? What characteristics interest me? The height of the tree, the length, the breadth of the road, etc. These are interesting properties and reminded me of interesting nouns. But these properties also opened the way for new adjectives like long, short, tall, wide, etc. And how to talk about the relationships between the objects or about the objects composed of other objects? How could I talk about the position of objects relative to each other? The car is on the road; the cat is in the house, etc. How comfortable was I with the translations of different objects in the streets, their properties, and their relationships among one another? Did I have words for each of these different aspects? I could measure my language learning level with this approach at any place and any point.
But language is not just about words for objects, properties, and relationships. Language needs to express much-complicated aspects, like past events, possible dreams, future events, etc. Computer scientists often cite Bunge–Wand–Weber2 model for its expressive power. I wish one day I would write about it comparing my language learning skills with this model. But until then, I am happy to share the progress that I made with the approach shared in the article.
- Object-oriented programming
- Fettke, Peter, and Peter Loos. “Ontological Evaluation of Reference Models Using the Bunge-Wand-Weber Model.” AMCIS 2003 Proceedings, Dec. 2003.