Shortening the Links: Experiential Learning

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March 5, 2014 by k. liz

Language learning consists of lots of linking – words to definitions and meanings and translations. There are lots of psycholinguistic articles on this and the way that the mind maps these different pieces of language learning for learners. Today, I just want to share a story in support of experiential learning and shortening the links in our minds with second (or subsequent) language learning.

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We moved to Turkey in 2010, and never took formal language classes. That being said, we were working hard to learn the language, and though we aren’t fluent, we are definitely conversational and can function easily in the culture.

We had only been living in Turkey for less than three months when we took our first trip to Istanbul. Our language was progressing only from immersion and help from friends, but we were walking along outside when I saw this sign:

I told Jeremy to stop, because I knew I knew all of those words, and I wanted to decipher it. I started working through, and in my state of concentration, I moved closer to the sign, working through the connections I knew were in my head.

“Dikkat . . . they always say this at the airport when they are making announcements, it is like ‘attention’ . . .”

Just as I was moving on to “kopek” a huge, vicious sounding dog jumped up at the fence right in front of my face, barking loudly and angrily. I nearly jumped out of my shoes and rushed back away from the fence, very quickly remember that “kopek” means “dog” and “var” means “there is.”

It was simply a “Beware of Dog” sign.

None of those three words have ever taken me a moment’s pause again. It was as though the threads that linked “dikkat” to “attention” and “kopek” to “dog” and “var” to “there is” were all shrunken that day. What originally took me a full minute to process now takes two seconds.

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Jeremy and I were reminiscing and laughing about this story this last week, but it struck me as telling that an experience like that did a lot for my language learning. Granted, the longer I studied, the shorter those links would have gotten on their own, but the experience made a huge impression on me and eliminated the need for me to reinforce those vocabulary words or context.

I wonder how we can incorporate experience more often into the classroom in order to shorten links for our own students. Whether these things include field trips, where the students are touching and experiencing the new vocabulary first hand, or if it is a personal project in the classroom, there are always ways to shorten these links.

How do you incorporate experience into the classroom? Do you find experiential learning a positive or negative for students? Do you have any similar stories of your own to share?

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