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February 28, 2010

Language learning and GBL practices

I am studying for a German language test which I missed last week due to my commitment in data analysis task plus physical illness.

German is a fun language to learn but learning German is not that fun. I have been searching for effective and efficient methods to learn this language and one way to do it is by reflecting my languages learning experience and process in the past, attempting to transfer my existing language skills in Chinese, Malay and English to the learning of German.

Speaking a language is a complex attainment. Philosophers, semiotic experts and neuro-scientists have produced a lot of literature to understanding how we learn language. Chomsky claimed that we can speak languages only because our brains have an innate capacity to understand the underlying structure of a language. So if I could understand the underlying structure of German language using my innate brain capability, I should be able to learn it well. But what is this capability?

In an article title “The day a language died”, Peter Popham stated that “language is a product of the mind, an arrangement among the different parts of different people’s nerves systems…so when a language dies, we lose the possibility of a unique way of perceiving and describing the world.”

I can speak multiple languages, that implicitly means I can perceive and describe the world different. Yes, I do realise such unique trait, and I think those who can speak more than one language could feel the same. 我仲意讲广东话因为它令我谂起快乐嘅童年—睇香港版七龙珠。Saya lebih suka guna bahasa Melayu untuk meluahkan perasaan saya yang postitif, sebab inilah bahasa yang selalu saya gunakan untuk memotivasikan anak murid saya. When I meet a Malaysian, I would prefer to use Manglish or 华语, but I would switch to 普通话or 國語when I talk to Chinese from either Mainland or Taiwan. I wasn’t aware the change of language myself sometimes because it seems like a switching mechanism is at work most of the time seamlessly (thanks to Cynthia who studies translation and cultural studies for introducing this concept to me).


Transferring the idea of “language as a means of knowing” to my current research, I gained some interesting insights. Both subject matter experts (SMEs) and game experts are accusing each other for not being able to understand each other’s “language”—pedagogy versus game design. This is an important finding of my research, which I see it as something rather common sense—but now I have empirical results to back this proposition. So if we want SMEs and game experts to speak the same language in GBL collaboration, we need to activate their innate capacity to understand the underlying structure of the GBL collaboration language. The question is what is a GBL collaboration language? How does the underlying structure formed? What are the effective or efficient ways to comprehend the structure? Finding these answers is my scope of research.

There is a Malay saying ‘bahasa jiwa bangsa’ which means language is the soul of a race. In the attempt creating of successful GBL practices, perhaps, we should first activate the soul of GBL race.

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