Education in Developing Countries: International Testing and Its Value

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe World Development Report on Making Services Work for Poor People” [World  Bank, 2004] illustrates the tension in the public conversation about primary education in developing countries. The report embraces universal primary  education and describes in detail the dismal quality of the educational services that  developing countries offer  the poor. Policies which promote school enrollment may not promote learning.  The recent evidence suggests that many interventions which increase school participation do not improve education for the average student. These interventions consist of buying materials for the teacher without showing the teacher how to use the tools effectively.

Students do not to learn more in the additional days that they spend at school. Efforts to get children into school must be accompanied by significant improvements in the quality of schools that serve these children.  The first step is to change the attitude of the teacher who may or not be engaged in facilitating the learning process. Lecturing  from a textbook and having students memorize for exams does not increase learning. Learning has to engage the teacher and student.

The people in the educational process are central to the success of students. The crucial role of  the teacher’s determines whether students feel that they can learn. Many teachers in poor schools don’t prepare lessons adequately and expect the students to be silent and regurgitate on command what has been spoken by the teacher is not education. The problem is that  we don’t want to hurt teacher’s feelings by telling them that they have to undergo a fundamental shift in attitude and ensure that the provide their pupils with quality instruction and facilitate the learning process.

In the case of the poor, they generally come from an ethnic group which the teacher considers inferior. The pedagogy, nor the curriculum, has been adapted to take into account the influx of children and their characteristics which may require different teaching strategies.  Many first generation learners must work to help support their families and need practice activities to reinforce learning which may include games and oral learning, rhymes, songs etc. to remember academic concepts. Their parents can’t help them with academic work and feel embarrassed by the challenge. They may berate the child for making them feel inadequate with the demands of school.

In many countries, the school system  continues to operate as if it were catering to the elite.  When one digs further, we discover that the teachers want to only teach to the elite and feel that teaching poor children from lower socioeconomic groups lowers the teacher’s prestige and social status.

We can  improve school quality in a cost-effective way through the use of technology. Technology allows students to practice without judgement or condenmnation. The child can watch the video as many times as it takes without the video losing patience. The child can complete the problems until she gets them correct without feeling like she has disappointed the computer. The key is making these tools available to poor children and allowing them to use them in they are designed to be used.

Textbooks are important. Practice makes perfect. Application requires teachers to challenge their students in ways that differ from past relationships. Many teachers never interact with the ethnic group of their pupils outside the school setting. They may judge the child’s culture as backwards or uncivilized. Outsiders view the teacher and student as sharing the same race and therefore no cultural issues exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Until the school system address cultural, ethnic and language differences between the student and teacher, no real progress in terms of increasing education can exist. Students and parents know when educators tolerate them in order to receive a paycheck. When teachers face a classroom of students from different ethnic, language and cultural backgrounds, the teacher has a responsibility to address the gap.

So I can’t get excited about comparing test scores in countries where 1 out of 5 children die from unclean water. I don’t see the value of focusing on some artificial index which may not assist solve the  live or death problems in the immediate environment.

When one works with Educators from around the world, people constantly compare educational systems on the basis of International test scores.  Test scores tell a part of the story.  There are a sole criterion and should not be used as the only measure. Finland, with a population of 5.3 million boasts of some of the highest test scores in the world. The homogenous populations seems to enjoy a high quality of life and they place a high value on education. I don’t see myself giving up my citizenship and moving to Finland.

Countries must focus on the problems that interfere with their quality of life not some artificial index which compares their country to someone else. We overwork the data collection process. Test scores measure  performance on a sole criterion which many feels gives them a chance at the lottery “the coveted government job”.  This mentality becomes the problem and not a part of the solution. Education should be coveted because of it’s influence expanding one’s fund of knowledge to creatively solve the problems of today and tomorrow.

The 21st Century graduates must accomplish more than being able to pass an exam. Creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship and sustainability rank as key components. Education,  a tool to be used, not just a piece of paper to be proudly displayed on the wall. When one discusses education for the poor in developing or developed countries, one  addresses the primary determinant of what happens in the classroom, the teacher and the problems which the students need to address in the environment.

Education must be meaningful and relevant or it is worthless. Education must facilitate people improving the quality of their lives and allow them to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. So once people can manage their existence in their own environment, can I turn my attention to comparing test scores.


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Global Urban Education

IMG_1110­ Six Education for All Goals

1. Expand early childhood care and education

2. Provide free and compulsory primary education for all

3. Promote learning and life skills for young people and adults

4. Increase adult literacy by 50 per cent

5. Achieve gender parity by 2005, gender equality by 2015

6. Improve the quality of education

Most people take the high road when it comes to Africa and state politically correct facts. Some take the low road and deem the continent to be beyond redemption. The truth lies someone in the middle, ever shifting ever changing, ever flowing.  I wonder how much time decision makers spend in the actual schools observing educators at work. I wonder how many have the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said.

Nigeria heads the list with 1 out of 6 of the worlds out of school population. In Nigeria the richest 20% spend more that 10 times as much as the poorest 20%.  In Uganda 97 out of 100 children from the richest entered primary and 80 reached the last grade. In the bottom quartile 90 out of 100 entered primary and 49 reached the last grade. Nigeria ranks 30th in GDP and places as an emerging economy instead of as a developing country and yet the lag behind in access to education. So why hasn’t Nigeria led Africa in school enrollment.

The same comparisons can be made in Egypt, which ranks 27th in GDP. In Egypt the richest spend 4 times as much as the poorest.  As an emerging market economy why wouldn’t Egypt invest more in education for all?

Many countries hide behind culture to excuse lower rates of school attendance. Abolishing school fees has been a fundamental step in increasing enrollment. Research shows that for many children 6 years of school are not enough to build literacy. Poorly prepared teachers contribute to the low literacy rates in schools.

Africa is a continent of contrasts. In gender parity Angola and Eritrea have gone backwards. Burundi and Uganda have reached parity in education. Sub Sahara Africa has the world’s lowest total secondary enrollment ratio at 40% in 2010.  Knowledge of HIV and AIDS is low in countries with high prevalence rates. UNICEF states that youth do not feel empowered to take the right action at the right times. This politically correct term fails to address the issue of rape and the fact that women are blamed for rape and men experience little or no punishment.

160 million adults have poor literacy skills. There are 120 million children who fail to reach grade 4.  When I presented my proposal for blended learning in Ethiopia in September 2013, Ethiopian scholars were offended when I pointed out that 20% of children dropped out between Kindergarten and First Grade.

We must focus on the 130 million who are in school but failing to learn the basics. Teachers are the most important resource. Lack of training proves to be a major obstacle.  Many teachers in Ethiopia and Kenya became teachers when they couldn’t find any other job.  They miss at least 1 day a week and spend more time outside of the classroom than they spend inside the classroom I have explained from Benin, Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso to Ethiopia, Kenya and Namibia, that teachers can not leave their classes unattended to visit sick relatives at the hospital or help their brothers buy a house. Children as young as 3 years old are expected to “behave” themselves when the teacher leaves the school and beat if they “act out” in the teachers absence.

Teachers need to be aware of learning differences and be prepared to adjust their teaching and assessment methods accordingly. It became obvious to me that most teachers failed to prepare for class. They completed lesson plans during instruction time. Other teachers didn’t plan at all. They received lesson plans from a teacher coordinator. They understood their subject but had no knowledge of child development, learning styles, pedagogy or motivation. They didn’t believe that they needed to know any of these subjects. They seemed to feel if students didn’t learn it was because they lacked the aptitude or ability.

Children miss a lot of school in developing countries and it cannot be explained away by saying that they need to work. Children don’t want to come to school. Teachers come from the elite. In the case of Ethiopia they are the less than 6% who have access to a college education. The children in government schools come from the lower socio-economic groups. No one in the literature addresses ethnic rivalries. They children come from a different ethnic group that their elite teachers and so parents with some means try to find private schools where the teacher and staff come from the same ethnic group or at least respect that ethnic group.

I spoke with a dean of a major teacher training college in South Africa. She admitted that her professors sat through lectures and exams through their bachelor’s, masters and doctorate program. Then they stayed at the University and became teacher-training professors and had never taught before a class full of school children. When she asked the primary and secondary feeder schools if I could observe them teaching, they responded that they were not interested in some “Westerner” telling them what to do in circumstances that we could not imagine.

There are 510 living languages in Nigeria and 83 living languages in Ethiopia. There are at least 6 languages in Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in Africa with lots of ethnic conflicts. Uganda has 40 different languages. 30 distinct languages are spoken in Kenya. Unless there is a concerted effort to make sure that the child is proficient in the school language and the teacher is fluent in the same language, education lags behind.

In Benin, the children in the public pre-school were completely bilingual by two years of age. Their parents taught them French as well as their native language. When they entered school, it mattered less than the teachers came from the elite even though the teachers demonstrated clear prejudice against students from the less dominant ethnicities.

In countries like Ethiopia and Kenya where the two languages of instruction are Amharic and English and Swahili and English, the children and parents speak other languages, which are not addressed.  All parents are not proficient in Swahili and Amharic. The three dominant language ethnicities in Ethiopia are Amharic, Oromo and Tigrinya. In order to progress in school, children must learn Amharic in kindergarten or first grade. They beat children who perform poorly in school.  So if a child has not acquired Amharic by first grade they usually drop out. Teachers or any other educated person has no interest in speaking anything but the languages of commerce which tend to be English, Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya in the north and maybe Somali in the south. People don’t feel a need to speak the language of “lower class “ people.

Tanzania provides education in primary schools in Swahili and secondary school in English. Tanzania has 100 languages. The effort to teach children and parents in the school language is limited. Parents and students must take responsibility for learning the school, government and commerce language. A consciousness of lack pervades these cultures and language can be perceived as a barrier to protect assets for a select few.

So Education For All chose the right six goals but needed to add Learning and child engagement can be the seventh goal. The number of students and teachers who attend school irregularly must be addressed. The mind set and attitude that school is a lottery and if you are not going to be able to afford secondary school they don’t waste their time properly educating the children.

Parents need to understand the value of educating all children and not just the one perceived to be the most intelligent. School becomes a lottery with the goal being a government job, which helps the child, supports the family.

Culture plays a role in securing education for children in developing countries and lower socio-economic groups in developed country.  Children from lower socio-economic groups resent educators.  They feel that teachers can’t meet them where they live.  Parents who suffered during their own school years, teach their children to resent authority figures.

Educators in developing countries felt that I spoiled children in the classes that I taught because I allowed them to go to the board and work problems. They felt uncomfortable when I insisted that every child participate in the lesson and answer questions. They informed that I violated their culture norms by creating a classroom community where every child was judged on the basis of performance and given an opportunity to learn and achieve.

Teachers felt uncomfortable and pressured to spend more time with students. They claimed that children would demand more from them. I can’t say that I appreciated their perspective.  I enjoy working with challenging children. I enjoy convincing parents to send their children to school. Educators must take responsibility for educating children and stop blaming everyone else.

I don’t advocate communism, but I think Cuba has something when they chose to eliminate illiteracy. Africa has never taken ownership of the problem of education only for the elite. They basically said that I would educate more people in my country if you pay me to educate the people in my country.  They have made huge strides in a short period of time. In order to go to the next level with 100% completing primary school, they must look outside their cultural boundaries and take responsibility for every child in the country.

Cuba shut down the University and sent the students and professors throughout the countryside to make sure that every family received education and basic literacy and numeracy. The students and teachers worked the farm alongside the farmers during the day and taught during the evenings and weekends. So everyone received education and assistance with living. There were no huge salaries with lots of bureaucracy.

African countries could do the same thing and then the most promising students allowed to go further with their education and become teachers. If every ethnic group and language was represented at the University level then they become the torchbearers of tomorrow.  This strategy could be supplemented with technology as well.

The other option would be to design Instructional materials that are relevant and meaningful and solve daily problems such as access to clean water, energy and food needs. If the children came to school and learned something that they could immediately take home and use, parents would demand more from schools and ensure that all of their children became enrolled in school. There must be more options for working adults to use the knowledge acquired in school. Then school could be viewed as something other than a lottery that few can win.

Countries in Africa must address the issue of language and ethnic differences. The divisions over ethnic differences manifest themselves in the schools with students receiving substandard instruction. Curriculum has to be meaningful and relevant and delivered in language that students understand. So issues like technology access, parental support and high expectations need to be managed within that context.


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African Languages on My Brain: Monkey Brain

GE DIGITAL CAMERAToday I awakened to study my languages with a major case of monkey brain. Monkey brain happens when your thoughts jump from one topic to the next without focus. Morning is peak time for me to learn something new. I concentrate and focus better in the morning. I find that my cluttered mind won’t attach to new words in Amharic.

I own at least 10 books in Amharic. Most of them consist of dull dry memorization. I waste a lot of time on information which fail to meet my needs. I finally see how to write the fidel and find that I am learning sound symbol relationship in Amharic to be frustrated with a book that has over 50% of it’s content to be worthless. My mind keeps jumping to ways that I would improve the book.  I decide that I need to rewrite this workbook and implement my ideas.

I decide to feed my monkey brain and quiet the distraction. I know that this brainless activity of copying should be done when I am tired so that I can optimize my learning. I spend the morning copying parts of the book to make changes to fit my learning needs. Good learning materials facilitate language learning. Developmentally inappropriate materials to learn a language are like using a hammer to chop down a tree.  Eventually you will knock down the tree, but a good chainsaw could have accomplished the job quicker and more efficiently.

I designed seven steps to learning a language . I know what I should be doing and when I should be doing it to maximize language. I just simply need to do it.

The Seven Keys to Learning a Language

  1. Select a program for Adult Learners.
  2. Learn the nouns of the language , hobbies, professional areas of interest, travel words that you will use, monetary system, food, bathroom, etc.
  3. Learn key phrases that you need in introducing yourself and talking about your interests.
  4. Set up a speaking  practice schedule. Respond to family member and friends in the target language. Find a study buddy.
  5. Use whatever tools are comfortable and convenient for you, workbooks, CD’s audios, textbooks, computer programs.
  6. Read items of interest to you in the target languages, books, magazine, newspaper etc.
  7. Don’t allow people who speak the language better to inhibit you in speaking the language with overcorrection.

So, I am stuck on step 1 selecting a program for adult learners which means that I must create my program for adult learners. I want the creative side of my brain to focus on translating words from English to Amharic. I settle for photocopying and reading fidel and listening to Amharic C D’s in the background.  My mind wanders to the entrepreneurial enterprise of publishing an Amharic learning program. I need to learn Amharic before I can write a book about it.

I like  the Semitic script. I like Arabic, Hindi, Chinese and Japanese script as well. If I didn’t have to earn a living, I would organize them all in my brain at the same time. I need my frontal lobes to ensure my financial independence which leaves less brain real estate to learn new information.  I struggle with managing my daily work related activities and studying the language.

I listen to the recordings of Amharic while I drive my car and before I go to bed at night. I need to open my mouth and train my upper respiratory system to make the sounds. I need to talk to myself in Amharic or a study buddy who has better things to do with his/her time than to overcorrect.

It amazes me what the brain attaches itself to while learning a language. I wish that my brain would simply memorize words and phrases. I understand why many Ethiopians misspell English words. I think that we don’t enunciate the sounds well enough and they spell them phonetically. Because we see the words so much, we recognize the spelling instantly. I find myself struggling with some of the writings of my Ethiopian friends.  When I try to say them using  several phonetic spellings, I can determine their meaning.  So once I understand the sound symbol relationship, I will have an easier time learning.

I don’t find any language harder or easier to learn than any other language. It depends on what is going on with me. When I need to focus on earning a living or taking care of my health needs, then my acquisition skills suffer. Sometimes life gets in the way and I don’t have the real estate in my frontal lobes to learn something new. I have rote activities that I engage in during this time. I listen  to audiotapes of the language, practice writing the script or simply practice the sounds. These minimalist activities get me over the hump. I accept that I am learning less than when I can apply myself 100%.

It takes time to learn to communicate effectively. Two people speaking the same language often suffer misunderstandings. The cultural differences play a role as frustration due to lack of agreement on spoken words stifle communication.  People in Ethiopia often say  that they are at a location when they are not physically  present. I learned that when people stated they were there, they actually meant that they were on their way. So it is important to stay open to the connotation of the words. The key is to ask lots of questions and listen to the answer.  So today, I move forward with my intention even if I don’t take much action. The Monkey brain has been stilled.


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African Languages on My Brain : The Fidel

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe fidel is the Amharic letters. I have avoided them because they seem very calligraphic and I am not sure how to reproduce them. I realize that knowing the fidel and being able to read in Amharic script and communicate in this alphabet. I found  a workbook which makes this process easier. My goal is to design my own workbook to practice the fidel from the perspective of an American adult trying to learn the language.

Foreign language materials designed for children age 4-7 fail to address the needs of adult learners. Popular languages  English, French, Spanish and Portuguese fill this gap with young entrepreneurs who design full interactive lessons. African language teachers  treat their language with such reverence that it becomes a political vehicle. They put the political and religious agenda before the needs of  Amharic language learners.

The Amharic language learners would be Aid workers, missionaries and foreign corporate workers. Translators and guides earn a living from foreigners who lack Amharic skills. They wield a great deal of power. They control interactions between locals and foreigners. No one relinquishes power easily.  Ethiopia receives 3.5 Billion in aid making it the  fourth largest recipient of official humanitarian aid in 2010. Ethiopia received the equivalent of 11% of its gross national income (GNI) as aid (ODA) in 2010. So keeping foreigners in the dark gives Ethiopians more influence in this interaction.

The best Amharic language programs were published years ago. I find the recent materials to be helpful but they rely heavily on memorization. It occurs to me  that the learning materials will  evolve as the teaching methods in the country evolve. Most Ethiopians seem to believe that most Amharic language learners are the children of ex-pats living abroad with some exposure to the language at  home.

I find that I memorize the sounds better when I write the letters. I know  2 ha’s, ma, sa and la. I am getting sound symbol relationship in Amharic. As a visitor in Ethiopia, this means that I can read signs and menus. I know that reading will come naturally as I learn letters that are necessary for me to navigate my way around Ethiopia even with friends.

I approach Amharic much more relaxed than I did in the country. I felt overwhelmed when people discussed me in front of me with no indication that I understood them. My roof leaked in the house where I stayed and I  awoke in the middle of the night to re-arrange my things so that they wouldn’t get soaked. Late night mopping adversely affected my personality and my concentration during the day for studying language. I also worried and wondered when out during the day, that it might rain and flood while I was gone and my things would be destroyed.

I developed a chest cold in Ethiopia which made making sounds in the back of my throat painful. I chose to nurse my throat and avoid these sounds. It slowed my ability to speak the language correctly but not my ability to understand the language.

Language teachers want language learning to fit this neat orderly process. Teaching a language can’t be neatly compartmentalized. I believe that Ethiopians want to make sure that foreigners value their culture and use language as a vehicle to protect their culture from outsiders. Many people speak English and develop English materials that we can not control it  and what part of our culture is shared. Make no mistake learning English in the U.S. or the U.K is clearly political if you only interact with native speakers. The difference with learning major European languages is that you have so many learning and teaching aids to teach yourself.

Language learning is not an abstraction, it is a means to an end. People have a need to communicate and verbal language allows one to communicate. Language is developmental. The development is not always even and predictable, it is sloppy and disorganized. Correcting someone constantly before they have internalized  concepts is worthless. It is a learner based experience because the learner decides what tools s/he needs to meet their needs.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human development conducted a study of 20 month old infants from various countries who spoke a variety of languages. Despite the different grammatical structures, babies learn nouns first and then adjectives.  This natural progression allows one to express their  needs and desires.

Somehow we accept this natural progression for infants but tend to be impatient with adults learning a language. We overcorrect and ridicule.  Many Ethiopians are pleased that I have taken the time to learn their language. People trust you more when you can speak their language. They assume that you understand and respect their culture. So I know that it makes sense to be cautious. The best way to decide who to trust and not trust is to keep the lines of communication open.

Americans smash language. We use fewer words with maximum punch. Many cultures find this style to be crude and offensive. Making mistakes and lots of them are all a part of learning a new language. The sooner you make the mistakes, learn to recognize your errors and  correct them the sooner you transfer the language from short term to working memory.

So I began to open my mouth and make mistakes. I talk to myself and use the tools available. I create my own tools to move this process along.


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African Languages on My Brain: Ethiopia

 I should  know more  Amharic after 3 weeks  in Ethiopia. African languages   elude me  due to the dynamics of national economic disparities. We play this game competing for my resources. The world sees American as money banks.  This attitude  prevails in Africa. I need English to negotiate with well meaning and not so well meaning people.

In the Oromo region, Ethiopians use English for writing, Amharic for teaching and Oromo for personal conversations. I find myself sitting with people who shift between the three during  our conversation. There are many concepts for the brain to wrestle with  three languages during the conversation.

My brain  distinguishes  Oromo words and  Amharic words. Some words  are the same or close. Amharic and Oromo remind me of French and Spanish. One a Cushitic language and other Semitic language but they  have some sounds in common and some sounds which distinctly identify the language.

I read people like  adults read the side of cereal boxes. My background in psychology and a partial life of poverty sensitized me to subtle nuances in body language, facial expressions and voice tone. These characteristics are consistent across cultures. I understand “I don’t know” or “tell her” … whatever story the person feels is convenient. I understand numbers,  time concepts, colors and parts of the body.

Africa can be challenging to navigate without native language skills. People can be impatient and resentful with foreigners learning their language. Language gives a group coherence and a sense of inclusiveness as well as pride. When spoken by an outsider, it can be disconcerting because that person does not belong to the group. If you have jealousies or resentment towards that group, it can be even more problematic.

It never ceases to amaze me the things that people say in front of you when they think that you don’t understand .  The boldness and rudeness of their comments startle me. My facial expressions and body language betray no sign of my inner discomfort.

I am the great-granddaughter of slave owners, slaves and Native Americans. I know how to put it on with the best of them. I faced some really harsh bigots in my time and didn’t blink an eye or move a muscle. “Putting it on” was a survival mechanism from slavery. Slaves were always perceived as happy because their survival depended on keeping a happy front. So I have mastered the blank stare which suggests that I don’t understand and I need you to translate for me.

Three weeks gives ample time to distinguish between those I can trust and those I can not trust and how much I can trust  those who have earned trust. Some people notice that I  understand what is being said.  I let my guard down and answer the question  in English or with a word from their language.

I am ready to study the language in earnest now and see how much I can learn in the month that I have left. I decided that I need to organize the languages in my brain. I created a spreadsheet. I know that I write a book on African languages for those who follow me.

The frontal lobe contains higher level functioning for planning, execution and high level decision making. Normally when I learn a language, I use my frontal lobe for the language for about 4 to 6 weeks without any other demands on my higher level thinking skills. Many Africans whom I face during the day speak and write fluent English even when they have some  problems with comprehension. They spend a lot of time informing me of what is best for me to do. I need my negotiation skills in English to proceed past these cultural obstacles.

My receptive language or how much I understand of what I hear has increased markedly. I can distinguish, Amharic, Arabic, Swahili and Oromo, which I feel is a major accomplishment. I use whatever word that I know. I find that I know more Swahili words than I thought since they come up when I am trying to find an Amharic word. I catch words in conversation along with body language so progress has been made.

I am grateful for the sensitization process. I know how to learn while feeling threatened (not for my physical safety). I know how to navigate and learn a culture much different from my own and see the humanity in that culture.

I bought books on the Oromo language so that I can communicate with people in the surrounding area. Later I buy books on the Amharic language in Roman script so that I can navigate the Universities and speak with the decision makers.

My next step in the language learning process involves teaching. I teach English and the other person teaches me Amharic and Oromo. My neighbors have picked up quite a bit of English from our interactions. They notice that I have acquired words In their language and that my comprehension improves daily.

The sounds in Amharic and Oromo can be troublesome if others over focus on sound instead of communication. Most people fail to realize that they speak English with an accent and emphasize words following the grammatical structure of their native language. I must visualize the word to understand what they are communicating. If I  understand without clarification, I continue with the conversation. If I need clarification to enhance meaning, I repeat the word so  they can clarify. I need the same consideration.

I  hear the different sounds in African languages. I make associations with other languages. I must practice the sounds with relaxed physiology in order to approximate a native speaker. I need people with patience, not people who insist on me repeating the same word to their satisfaction. So I need to learn to ignore these people and keep talking while at the same time practicing the sounds so that I can approximate them more closely. I commit to spending more time simply practicing the sounds.


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African Languages on My Brain : Day 7

My time in paradise is over. Time passes quickly. I failed to establish the intimacy with Amharic that I predicted. Life’s frustrations find you even in paradise. I know more than I did 7 days ago when I arrived. I developed a system slightly different from the old relationships to maintain this new one. I commit to setting boundaries so that I can study and focus on learning new words. I plan to utilize my resources in a way that expands my opportunities to develop  this new relationship. I can compare it to setting a date night with my new spouse to maintain our relationship without the pressures of daily life interfering with our new bond.

The Muses came to visit at 3:00 A.M. I couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to amuse myself by connecting Amharic words with the English equivalent. Lemen= Why yellow lemon, Man= Who, Men =How, I seem to be able to remember a lot when there was no one that I needed to talk to. Qurs = breakfast, konjo=pretty. I thought about the time. 3:00 A.M is 9:00 P.M. local time. My brain has wrapped around that concept.  My mind feels lighter and freer. I realize that it needs to be this way when I talk to people who speak Amharic in order to get better.

I am getting too comfortable with the computer games. I need to open my mouth and speak more to native speakers. I have to get over myself. I decide to pack at 5:00 A.M. and have breakfast=Qurs. I don’t know the Amharic words for cereal and yoghurt. Milk comes to mind wetet.

Information that is important or meaningful is transferred to long-term memory. Long-term memory has limitless storage capacity. The more you know, the easier it becomes to add  new information to memory.  Maintenance rehearsal  prolongs short-term memory by silently repeating words until they are needed. Elaborate rehearsal, which enhances the meaningfulness of information, is the most effective technique. One links new information to existing memory and knowledge to facilitate learning.

Watch an infant or young child who learns a new word. They repeat the word over and over to themselves. They take every opportunity to share their new word. When they receive a reaction or response from another person the word is encoded into the brain.

Episodic memory   is the capacity to place facts and events in time and to refer to them freely. Storytellers utilize episodic memory  through the sequencing of events. It is an autobiographical record of personal experiences. It stores life events. Episodic memory is far more plastic than semantic memory, but it also far less reliable and can be distorted by all sorts of distractions including fear, anxiety and stress. Episodic memory is remembering what you ate for dinner two nights ago. Where did I put my car keys? It is affected by age and  can interfere with learning a language. Most adults have memory aides such as an organizer  or telephone and address book to assist  with remembering   key information.  Episodic memory is embedded in semantic memory.

Semantic memory is the capacity to recall  people,  places and things. Semantic memory permits the retention of facts, knowledge and symbolic descriptions. Semantic memory is acquired by rote and assisted by the ability to generalize and categorize. It is detached from personal experience. Semantic memory may be referred to as knowledge. Knowledge is basically  unaffected by time.

Procedural memory is the memory that you utilize to learn how to do things. It includes basic conditioned responses and learned  actions. Performing tasks such as reading music   playing an instrument, playing card games or board games   to skiing, riding a bike or driving a car, utilize procedural memory.

I think about how to combine the two types of memory to learn quickly. I remember my relationships with other languages. I walked 5 miles a day with my Walkman and combined the two skills. I spent time  learning the  computer program and learning the language. I commit to combining exercise with learning languages.

One of my favorite ways of learning language is to listen to music and pick out words that I recognize. The key for me is to integrate learning a language into my daily activities.  I practice speaking the language while I wash dishes. Listen to the language while I drive in my car.  Combine the language with my everyday activities and then I connect the language or recall  the words.

I realize that my mind changes as I learn this new language. I need to focus more. I forget easily. I recognize the structure of the language from listening to my partner speak English more so than from recognition of  grammatical structure from studying the language. It is all information which helps me to acquire a second language.

When I embark upon learning a language, I first utilize bilingual teaching aides. I need to know word meanings . I use the translations. Many words in English have false friends in other languages(words  look similar to English  but have a different meaning). I utilize all the teaching aides  available. America has great curriculum for learning  languages. Bilingual teaching aides, written in English, explain the material and make associations  which enhance the learning process.   Knowing  the word’s meaning gives a reference, which makes it easier and more natural to use new words in the target language. It builds confidence as well as better communication skills. I  travel to other countries with my bilingual teaching aides . Most people cannot explain their grammar or rules of language to a non-native speaker because they don’t share the same reference point.

Americans  analyze everything and I am  American. Learning  languages allow me to expand my English  and  gives me a  larger world view. It complicates  life in my own country. I have knowledge in my head that  is difficult for me to simplify for others. I must organize my thoughts and put information into a context for others to understand.


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African Languages on My Brain Day 6

Today is my last day in paradise. The weather cools. The Internet does not cooperate.  The Universe tells me to focus on learning Amharic. I guessed the parts of the body last night on the computer program. I need to study more.  I wonder why I have not spent more time utilizing the skills that I learned from my previous relationships with languages in this relationship. I make a commitment to use the skills from the past relationships to gain depth as well as breadth with this one.

At some stage, you start to dream in your target language. One has achieved true intimacy when speaking the target language fluently in your dreams. Speaking fluently in your dreams signal that only anxiety separates you from perfect speech during your waking hours.

As the brain ages neurons that are weak or unused tend to be pruned away to leave more efficient connections for those that are performing important brainwork. Crystallized intelligence increases with age and is basically unaffected by time. One’s verbal ability and accumulated knowledge tends to increase during the life span. Fluid intelligence peaks during early adulthood and declines during the life span. Fluid intelligence involves mental flexibility, speed, short-term memory as well as the ability to learn in novel situations.  Young people perform well on items that hold no particular meaning for them. Mature adults appear to do better at recognition tasks and on recall of information in their area of expertise.

My brain has pruned weak neurons to build capacity for neurons needed to earn a living. My crystallized intelligence or fund of knowledge must make an association with the new language. I learn words that are very similar in pronunciation in both languages mango, karot, cucumber. I return to my previous relationships with languages for strategies. Learn the nouns, verbs and add adjectives and adverbs. Speak in short 3 to 5 word sentences and work on communication. Grammar structure comes later.

Fluid intelligence peaks in young adulthood but decline can be slowed with persistent application and the willingness to take risks. Short-term memory can be enhanced with mnemonics Why = lemen visualize yellow lemon for Why in Amharic. Who =Man visualize a man for who.

My mind turns to ways that I need to work on my relationship when I return home. Ahhh being promiscuous has its advantages when starting a new relationship. I use to walk 5 miles a day with my Walkman to learn a new language. I commit to 5 miles a day with the IPod in my Iphone. I went to the gym with my walkman and completed household chores with my language penetrating my brain by exposure through my subconscious mind. I listened to my recordings in my car. I talked to myself in the target language. I sat at the computer at least 1 hour a day and interacted with several computer games to keep my brain agile.  So I use what I have learned in the previous relationships to establish the intimacy in this relationship.

Intensive memory is required in using symbolic communication. As language evolved, the brain adapted to improve short and long term memory. Auditory retention is more difficult when words are presented in isolation rather than context. So I need to spend some time studying the grammatical structure of sentences and making my own sentences.

A chaotic and stressful life does   not offer the opportunity to learn a new language effectively and efficiently. If I am going to establish this relationship with Amharic, I need to create order in my life, which means ignoring people and simply having the language in my ear via my IPod. So I think the key is to learn carry out my daily activities with an earplug to my MP3 player.

Short-term memory holds a fact as long as you think about it.  Working memory involves using the information for some practical purpose, which reinforces it. Transferring information from short term to working memory to intermediate memory and then permanent encoding into long-term memory requires repetition and practice. Over learning can help enhance the process of transferring information from short term to long-term memory. When I speak of listening to the language throughout the day and night as I return to my daily life, I make use of overlearning.

Learning a language involves the coordinated activity of many brain areas.  Learning a second language requires more involvement of the right brain. Evidence suggests that memories may be formed through the establishment of new brain circuits or the alteration of existing circuits. Strong new memories involve both chemical changes in their physical structure. Memories are acquired by solidifying events in the brain, which occurs more easily when utilizing associate reasoning. I learn new words by repeating them over and over again and making an association with their counterpart in English or any other language that I know.

The formation and recall of memory is influenced by mood, surroundings and gestalt at the time the memory is formed and retrieved. The frontal cortex is part of the brain that neatly organizes memories into a temporal, logical and meaningful story. It must be set in motion by the amygdale, which provides an emotional tag to memory, a meaning that helps cement the pieces.

Extroverts learn languages by interacting with people constantly. They enjoy the stimulation of people to people contact and learning languages appears easy for them. Introverts learn by taking in information and experiencing it. I prefer to use computer programs and recordings to create positive experiences with languages and then interact from a position of being able to internalize the principles.

There is a difference in spoken language and a language-learning recording. The recordings provide a prelude or familiarization with language. They provide an opportunity to practice the sounds and modify the muscles in the upper respiratory system. I take every opportunity to create a positive language learning experience.  I am making progress.

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