Global Understanding Vs. Individual Words

In his detailed video on shadowing, Dr. Arguelles uses an Assimil course as his example. He says that at a certain point in one’s studies, using his shadowing technique, one will find that they have a global understanding of what’s being said – an understanding of each sentence as a whole, but not necessarily what each individual part of that sentence is doing.

While I didn’t shadow Assimil’s French with Ease very much, I find the idea of global understanding, as opposed to understanding each individual word, intriguing. Why? Because after hearing him talk about it, I realized that that’s where I was at when I finished working with Assimil’s French with Ease, and it’s where I’m now with Russisch ohne Mühe. In the more advanced lessons, I could get the gist of what was meant, but if I were to try and say something similar, I wouldn’t be able to, because I wouldn’t know what each part of the sentence was doing. This could go so far as I would know what a noun meant in the sentence, but if you gave me the English equivalent, I wouldn’t be able to give the French or Russian word – even though I’d be famiilar with it in the context of a sentence.

Dr. Arguelles says that once you’re at that point, it’s time to analyze the L2 and L1 side by side, and I’ve started to more or less follow that advice. As a test, I took a lesson from Russisch ohne Mühe which I could get the gist of, but there were many words in it which, if I saw alone, I wouldn’t understand. I learned all of the words using the word list method, and then I broke the lesson down grammatically, checking declensions and conjugations. As to be expected (at least, it’s what I expected), when I listened to the lesson again, my understanding of it was drastically increased. And, I could say what every single word was doing, and felt that I could say something similar if I wanted to.

Through this, I learned that for me at least, Assimil’s passive way is simply too passive. I can reread the lessons over and over; I can listen to the recordings over and over. I have no idea how many times I listened to French with Ease, in full, but it was a lot. But I simply don’t learn enough of the words and phrases as stand-alone entities that way. To get the most from the courses, I have to understand globally, and I have to understand at the word level. I suppose you could say it’s an issue of macro vs. micro. Interestingly, I think this implies that I’m one of those strange creatures who actually benefits from taking words out of context to learn them, and then putting them back in.

Has anyone else experienced this, or are you all able to pick up all of the words in a course like Assimil simply by reading and listening to the lessons again and again?

5 thoughts on “Global Understanding Vs. Individual Words”

  1. I don’t think I have experienced “global understanding” on any of the languages I have learned. I , would probably prefer to pick them up by pieces and so deepen my understanding rather than getting some “global understanding”.

    Although I would perhaps like to experience it once to see what it’s like

  2. Nice idea!!!

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  3. I’m experiencing it now with a German novel I’m reading, and likewise on the previous novel I read. What I’m doing is reading aloud as much as possible, which forces me to stay ‘global’, then rereading later and picking out the individual words I don’t understand and recording them with translations in a notebook. With the first global reading I’m finding that I can read a whole chapter and understand what is happening, but if you asked me to decipher an individual sentence in most cases I couldn’t.

  4. Its possible I’m starting to experience it with Japanese. I think it comes from the brain’s innate energy-saving – information passes quickly and to be effective our minds spend a lot of time “filling in the gaps” by inference and picking out only very specific information.

    A student demonstrated this to me with a listening exercise. The passage contained the text “(some people) are unable to …” and try as he might he couldn’t hear the “un”. So, we played it back and sure enough I couldn’t hear the “un” either! But I had absolutely no doubt about what had been said, because my brain was inferring the meaning using the surrounding words and context. He, on the other hand, did not yet have the language familiarity required to do that, so the presence or lack of “un” had the potential to change the meaning entirely.

    This is one reason why developing fast reading/listening (gist and scanning) skills is so important, but also that unconscious competence in grammar of the target language is acquired at the same time, and the best way I’ve found for that is repeated production using an SRS and whole sentence prompts. Many people stop with language at conscious competence, but that just isn’t fast enough to match the speeds required for spoken interaction.

    I hope two write more about this when I have more supporting evidence for my ideas, and have successfully applied them to my own study! In the meantime, I hope these “ideas in progress” are helpful!

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