Saturday, February 7, 2009

La Place de la Fontaine

You know, I think the intro phrases and words that they give you to learn French purposely have lots of Rs. The crafty people who cook up these lessons want to make you have to grapple with them at an early stage. As for me, well... right now I've got the sound alright... I'm just trying to make the right level of sound. So far, it seems to me that I either overdo it and sound like I'm trying to cough something up, or the R is a no show, and leaves just a trace of where it ought to have been.

Also interesting to note, was my momentary difficulty with the word "fountain" (la fontaine). I kept wanting to say "fon-tain" (like, rhyming with "pain" or "rain"), but it actually sounds like "ten" in English. "Font-ten." It's pretty amazing how the mind works and how the spelling of a word (if it breaks conventions already set in the mind from an aquired first or second language) will disable it from correctly processing what it is hearing. When I was thinking "tain," I could tell that the sound I was hearing was different from what I expected it to be, but it wasn't until I closed my eyes and listened to it, that I could say, "oh, that sounds like 'ten'!"

This immediately reminded me of the Stroop Tests that list off a bunch of color words, some of which have the same color as the word and some of which have a different color. Like, it might say "blue," but the word "blue" is actually red in color. So automatic is our ability to read words, that it becomes hard to name the actual color of the word, if the word itself names a different color.


See what I mean? You have to think a bit first when you have to name the actual color. When you read the words, it's nearly effortless. Give it a try for real with the Interactive Stroop Effect Experiment. It's a website for kids, but it is a perfect example of how powerful our mental connections to literacy can be once we've fostered them. This, of course, would be a much different test if taken by young children who are still struggling to read and sound out simple sight words. They wouldn't have all the written words interfering with their ability to name the color. Wouldn't phase them at all. Could this have something to do with why young children can catch on to new languages so fast? Nothing about their own language has been so solidified that it interferes with their ability to process subtle differences in the second language. Experts are still out to lunch on this one and don't know the answers to the millions of questions about second language acquisition, by the way, but that certainly doesn't stop them or anyone else from having very strong opinions.

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