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Learning English Naturally and Effectively

September, 2002
By Bruce Zhang

Language, Reading and Learning

A language is both a communication tool and a system of abstraction with which we interact with the world. All widely used languages are composed of spoken form and written form. We receive meaningful information from the outside world by listening and reading, and we send out our intentions to the world by talking and writing. In between, we use vocabulary to manipulate and process information, or to think. Language is at the heart of a culture and of an individual.

A word in a language describes real-world existence or relationships between them. The complexity of a language and enormousness of vocabulary size are rooted in the subtleness of human cognition and emotions, the variety of societies, the diverseness of cultures, and the immenseness of the universe.

Among the language channels (listening, and reading) we utilized to comprehend the world, reading is the dominant one used for many reasons:

  • Compared to spoken language, written language is less ambiguous.
  • There are more materials available in written form than in spoken form.
  • It's more convenient to read than to listen.
  • Sophisticated subjects are institutionized in written form, not in spoken form.
  • Reading gives learners more controls over the speed, and sequence of digesting information.
We manipulate the world by manipulating the words.

Natural Language Learning Process

The predominant part of learning a new language is vocabulary building. Vocabulary building is a lengthy process. It is simply because that there're so many words out there for any language. Existing words are used for new things or assigned to new meanings, and new words are invented regularly. Of course, less-used words are faded out from a language as well. Languages will continue to evolve as societies evolve.

We acquired the basic language skills in school, training and/or other formal education settings, but we accumulated most of our language skills in a ad hoc or natural way.

  1. We pick up a newspaper, magazine or surf the Web, whether is out of curiosity, driven by job needs, or merely self-improvement.
  2. We guess the meaning of a new word, or look at a dictionary (paper or electronic) if we can't figure the meaning in the context and not too lazy. We may give up the reading if there're so many unknown words in the material.
  3. We may remember the new words if we encounter them a few times more in the near future.
  4. Once in a while, we wonder how much we've learned.

Streamline Natural Learning Processes

The process described above is the natural way that people improve their language skills, not really an effective way. The natural learning process can be streamlined and enhanced to improve the efficiency and effectiveness.

Choice right reading materials   Instead of randomly picking up reading materials, carefully-selected reading can benefit vocabulary building dramatically. If you want to improve your oral language, movie or TV scripts are definitely helpful. If you want to conduct more intelligent conversations with people, you can read articles in "opinions" or "perspective" sections of well-known newspaper websites. If you want to bring your vocabulary to next level, you may want to read some materials writing in formal style. The cover stories in Time Magazine is a good choice.

For the subjects of interests, if English is your second language, you may want to read subjects with which you already have extensive knowledge. You should also read materials which have significant impact on the cultures of English-speaking countries so that you can communicate with native English speakers in common interests.

Research has found that 90% of documents created since 1999 is in digital form. You can find almost anything you need on the Internet. If you choose electronic documents (HTML documents) as your reading materials, with the help of Insightin, the entire naturally learning process can be streamlined.

Instance Access to Electronic Dictionary   Looking up dictionary is time consuming and frustrating. Most of people will give up reading if they spend most of time checking an dictionary instead of enjoying the reading. As we recommended in last step for choosing electronic document as reading materials, you should be able to access dictionary by simply clicking a word or a phrase.

Look at new vocabulary in different context   For new vocabulary, we have a strong association with the context which we acquired the new words. Sometimes, it's so strong that we may be even unable to recognize the same word in a different context. This is because that our cognitive system receives information in photographic memory, not in a symbolic or structural way. Insightin automatically generates multiple choice exercises for new vocabulary to help learners to look at new vocabulary in a different context.

Repeat what you've learned   Instead of passively waiting for random encounter of new vocabulary to reinforce the learning, Insightin automatically takes note for each new word including meaning of the word, context sentence where the word appeared, etc. Insightin also automatically schedules repetition for each new word. You can spend minimum time on new vocabulary with maximum gain.

Tracking the progress   Progress tracking will give you a sense of accomplishment besides benefit of reviewing and revisiting. Insightin tracks new vocabulary by the time of acquisition and in alphabetic order.

We've explained how Insightin can accelerate English learning naturally, systematically and effectively.

See Learning in Action -- Learning English Naturally and Effectively for step-by-step details with illustration of screen shots.

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Last Updated on: Jan. 12, 2015
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