Sunday, January 27, 2013

Storytelling and the Three Levels of Language Development

There are lots of theories about language acquisition and what is the best way to achieve it.  This post is about the three types of language

The man who first postulated this idea was E. D. Hirsh Jr.  He is a controversial person in some education circles, but regardless of that, this idea makes sense to me.

There are three levels of language.

Aural Language is all the language you've ever heard.  If you've heard a word often enough, it is stored there.  You might not know what it means, but you know the word.  This is the sort of language that starts the day we are born.  We have quite a vocabulary of language that means nothing, but it is in there.  The more language you hear as a child, the more language you have at your disposal as you grow.

Oral Language storage includes the language you use in every day life.  Most people do not plumb the depths of their language storage for words, they use the ones that are most readily available to them.  Any word that is not in your aural language storage, cannot be called upon for oral language.  An example of this would be the word Octogenarian.  Most adults have heard that word, it means an eighty year old person.  There are probably enough words in your aural storage to be able to work out the meaning of octogenarian even if you are hearing it for the first time.  The truth is, most people don't use that word in conversation, even if they know it.

Experiential Language is the synthesis of your aural and oral language.  Any word that is not in your aural or oral language is not available for experiential synthesis.  Experiential language is the ability to encounter a word or phrase that you know in one context that is being used in a different context and be able to figure out the meaning of the new usage.  Example:  Let us say a child is reading along and they encounter the sentence: The old man was bitter.

If a child has never heard the word 'bitter', then that old man is a 'biter' as far as that kid is concerned, and that is a completely different thing.

If, however, the child has encountered the word 'bitter', but only in the context of seeing an adult taste something, make a pinched face and announce the concoction is bitter, then the child knows that bitter is something that puckers your face and does not taste good.  The child can make one of two conclusions.  Either somebody licked the old man and discovered he did not taste good, or perhaps there is something about the old man that is akin to a puckered face and a bad taste.  Only experience will help a child or any reader make the proper connections.

All of this reminds me of being in AP English one million years ago.  Every week the teacher would put ten words on the board we had to spell correctly by friday.  We didn't have to look up definitions because she assumed we knew the words, she was just tired of having them spelled incorrectly.  One week,  she put 'epitome' on the board .  On friday, she read the words out for our spelling test and when she came to the word e-pit'-o-me, we were confused.  We had no idea that word was on our test and we all spelled it incorrectly.  it was only after she wrote it on the board did we realize we'd thought it was e-pi-tome'.  Despite knowing the word epitome, we did not recognize it simply because we'd pronounced it incorrectly.  We did not find the word in our aural storage and we were to snotty and full of how smart we were to look the word up if we didn't have to.  If we'd been forced to define it or use it in a sentence, we would have figured it least, I assume we would have!

So, three  types of language.  The beauty of storytelling is that it is an art form that synthesizes all of the various levels of language acquisition.  It improves vocabulary by exposing children to language in conjunction with images, it improves oral language through modeling and call and response, and it models experiential language with similes, metaphors, and descriptive language.  Storytelling is a treasure trove of language building and development.

Happy Telling

Motivations and Meaning- What is your best possible world?

I have been home most of January writing and hanging out with my family.  As I get ready to go back on the road and start a mega tour, I'm sure my mind will be more attenuated to the work of storytelling and I will have something or other to say.

I have a show for adults today.  I often have adults in an audience, but I am not typically a storyteller people hire for straight up grown up shows.  It allows me to pull things out of my repertoire that don't get a lot of air time.  It is always fun.

Today, I put up a piece on my Facebook page about motivations and choices.  I wasn't going to post it here, but it seems like perhaps I should.  It is more about philosophy and politics than storytelling, but I think it articulates ideas I have about education, parenting and art pretty well.  So, here it is.

 have had a theory rolling around in my head for a while that has finally found its way onto paper.  It is not a new idea, by any means, but it is a simple one. 

In order to figure out why an organization does what it does you need only ask one question:

What is the best possible world for this organization?  Once you understand their best possible world, examine what they are doing and consider how close they are to achieving that.

In the best possible world for an insurance company, everyone would pay really high premiums and the company would never pay a dime of it out in claims.

In the best possible world for a for profit prison, lots of people would be locked up all the time, even for crimes that wouldn’t seem to carry a need for a jail sentence.

In the best possible world for government, every citizen would be productive, safe, healthy and law abiding.  (How to achieve this is the basis for the turmoil all governments face)

In the best possible world for professional athletes, they would play in state of the art facilities, make gobs of cash, be showered with adulation, play until they drop dead and never get hurt.

In the best possible world for artists, they would be compensated for their art such that they didn’t have to do anything else, they could set their own schedules, their work would always be universally acclaimed, and they wouldn’t go through dry spells.

In the best possible world for gun manufacturers, there would be no rigorously enforced regulations on guns and people could buy as many as they wanted.

In the best possible world for corporations, workers work for the absolute smallest amount of money for as many hours as possible without guarantees of any kind about employment, safety, or sanitary conditions producing something that the public pays top dollar to have.  (I base this theory on third world countries and America and Europe at the start of the Industrial Revolution)

In the best possible world for workers, they are compensated enough to live comfortably alone, with a single partner, or to raise families with healthy food, good living conditions, good schools, a vacation every now and then, access to good healthcare, the ability to send their kids to college if they can, and all while living in a safe place.

In the best possible world for teachers, every student comes to school fed, well rested, cared for, prepared for the day and not only willing, but eager to learn.   Educator’s needs are supported by the administration: local, state and federal.  (I’ve never met a teacher who requested to have thirty kids in a class)

In the best possible world for the anti choice crowd, all children are brought into this world because every child is a blessing that is loved. 

In the best possible world for the choice crowd, women only bring children into the world they plan to care for.

In the best possible world for a child, they are loved, cared for, kept safe and prepared for the world.

The list, of course, is endless.  When you see something that makes you angry, think for a bit about what is at the heart of the motivation.  What is the best possible world in that group’s opinion?  Who is that best possible world serving?  How close are they to achieving their best possible world?