Similarities Between Languages
- December 7, 2020
- Posted by: Shannon Amaadar
- Category: Strategies for learning
We often hear another language, and it sounds so very different from what we’re used to. The sounds, the way vowels are used, the intonation and stress; it can sometimes feel like learning a language is impossible. How different are languages really? Are there similarities between languages that we don’t recognise?
In the beginning
When we’re born, we’re ready to hear all sounds. Our brains are wired for language making learning is easy. However, once we begin to recognise the sounds of our own language, our brain begins to ignore sounds that don’t fit. We categorise certain sounds as not a part of the language. This can make learning new sounds very difficult. It takes a lot of practice to train your brain to start recognising those sounds as language again.
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What about grammar? Languages can have very different grammar rules creating confusion for learners and locking people into memorisation practice instead of really understanding a language. Maybe if we can recognise the similarities between languages, learning could become easier.
Psychology of Language
Our brains still have that basic wiring for language learning. The words we use create an image in our minds. The sounds we create are more similar between languages than you might think. German-American psychologist Wolfgang Köhler in 1929 recognised this.
This video by Brain Craft illustrates how we hear accents. There is a phenomenon known as the “bouba/kiki effect”. In the original study, American and Tamil students were asked which of two arbitrary shapes was a bouba and which was a kiki. Both groups came up with the same answer.
This is true for most accents and languages. It seems that we associate sounds with certain objects no matter what the language, suggesting that there is a closer link than once thought.