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The Natural Language Learning Matrix (07/04/2020)

There is a commonality amongst all people, no matter what language they speak. For example, everyone has particular needs as human beings, and while the words used to describe them may differ from language-to-language, it is possible to speak about those experiences using any natural language.

There are commonalities within the structure of all natural languages as well. To highlight these patterns, we will use a tool that we will refer to as The Natural Language Learning Matrix (or NLLM, for short). It looks like this:

Input
(Comprehension)
Output
(Production)
Fluency
(Sound-Based)
Listening
Speaking
Literacy
(Symbol-Based)
Reading
Writing

Let's explore how to read the diagram...

• The middle column is labeled "Input". Notice that everything within this column has to do with how we take in information (i.e.: Listening and Reading).

• The right-most column is labeled "Output". Everything within this column has to do with the processes that we use to make information (i.e.: Speaking and Writing).

Input is more primary than Output because we must have Listening and Reading comprehension before we can reliably produce Speech or Writing of any quality. In other words, we must understand a thing to some extent before we can use it.

This is the premise behind many "immersion" methods of learning languages as well (i.e.: we should probably have lots of practice Listening and Reading before attempting to Speak or Write).

• The middle row is labeled "Fluency". Notice that everything within this row is related to understanding and producing Sounds (i.e.: Listening and Speaking).

• The bottom row is labeled "Literacy". Everything within this row is related to understanding and producing Symbols (i.e.: Reading and Writing).

Fluency is more primary than Literacy. Even within our native language, this is easy to see. We can interact with people if we are Fluent, yet still be "illiterate" (i.e.: unable to read or write).

Now that we generally know how to read the table, we would like to point out two important points about what it is describing:

1. Fluency and Literacy are not "quantifiable", or measurable in the sense of knowing [blank] amount of information. In fact, one could know a lot about a language and still be neither Fluent nor Literate.

So, what determines Fluency or Literacy? It is about knowing enough of a language to be able to learn more within the language itself (i.e.: without using another language as an intermediary).

For example, if one was confused by a word, they would be able to ask what it means within that language and be able to understand the response that they get back. At their core, Fluency and Literacy are the ability to communicate within most of the situations that we encounter. Therefore, becoming Fluent and Literate is not about knowing some set number of vocabulary words, grammatical structures, or phrases, but about knowing how to use them to communicate.

Likewise, it is important to keep in mind that it is impossible to know "all" of a language, and we will continue to learn even when we are already both Fluent and Literate. Start by getting a good foundation in the things that are used most frequently, and try to say more with less. Everything else will fall into place naturally with enough use.

2. All of these processes (i.e.: Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing) are related to one another and connected by meaning. A particular sound and symbol are associated with a particular way of moving one's mouth and hand. In turn, all of them represent some specific object or concept within our experience!

Hopefully, this tool has given some helpful ideas as to how one can systematically and effectively approach their language studies. It is a very useful framework. Before we end, we would like to point out one more use...

A Bonus Example of Applying The NLLM

Because "languages" are merely patterns that are intended to communicate information, we can extend the use of the NLLM to some subjects that are not always considered "languages". A good example is Music:

• "Listening" would be equivalent to "Ear Training" (i.e.: when one practices recognizing different musical patterns, such as "Notes", "Intervals", "Chords", and "Chord Progressions").

• "Speaking" would be equivalent to "Technique" (i.e.: practicing how to navigate an instrument with proper form, without stress or injury).

"Playing By Ear" is the ability to repeat what one has heard, while "Improviation" (i.e.: when one spontaneously plays or "jams" with other musicians) is like talking to oneself or having a conversation with others. These skills require "Fluency" (i.e.: both "Listening" and "Speaking").

• "Reading" would be equivalent to understanding "sheet music" (i.e.: the notation used to write out musical pieces).

"Sight Reading" is being able to understand sheet music and the navigation of one's instrument to the point that they can play it as they read it (i.e.: without having previously committed it to memory). To use an analogy, it is like being able to read aloud a book that one has not read before.

• "Writing" would be equivalent to being able to write out sheet music.

In combination, these skills could be used for "Transcription" (i.e.: the ability to write out sheet music for what one has heard), "Composition" (i.e.: the ability to write out a musical piece of one's own making), or "Arrangement" (i.e.: making sheet music of pre-existing musical pieces with added personal variations). All of these skills require "Literacy" (i.e.: both "Reading" and "Writing").

Happy Studies!



Some music:
Jeffrey Thompson - Awakened Focus


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