My high school French teacher used to always say “Once you dream in French, you have finally arrived.” We always shared a petit conversation before class and every other week or so, one of my seven classmates would share the story of how they dreamt in French the night before. I was somewhat jealous; why hadn’t I started to dream in French? Perhaps they’re just lying! Well, four years went by and I graduated high school without so much as a oui in my dreams! However, I didn’t want to give up French just because of that.
After graduation, I tried immersing myself in all things French–films, music, tv shows, more music, everything! I reviewed my French and practiced, but when freshmen year of college started, I was to0 scared to register for any French classes. It wasn’t until second semester that I finally decided to take French 201.
It turned out to be one of the best classes I have ever taken! No offense to my high school teacher, but having a professor actually born and raised in France gives you a totally new experience! Along with the usual grammatical lessons (it was the G.E. level after all) I was also learning “modern French” and learning about French culture. I was so elated and maybe even obsessed with the language and culture that I guess my brain finally decided to let me dream in French! FINALLY! It’s a shame I couldn’t share this with my high school classmates during petit conversation.
But why did my brain finally let me dream in French? This is where it gets interesting.
In this study by Jeong, Hyeonjeong, et al (2009) at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, there is evidence that suggests the brain “processes second language words differently depending upon how they were learned.” In the experiment, they took 44 native Japanese speakers and taught them a few Korean words (verbs, adjectives,and greetings) through either situation based videos or text based videos. The situation videos showed actors in commonplace environments (a school, park, office, etc.) expressing words like Dowajo–Korean for help me, accompanied by actions such trying to move a heavy bag. As for the text based videos a person would speak the Korean word and then hold up a white board with the translated meaning.
The results revealed that the right supramarginal gyrus ,which normally proccesses auditory and visual input, was highly involved in the situation-based learning whereas the text based words activated areas in the left middle frontal regions of the brain, mostly associated verbal association learning.
So perhaps, it is the way my brain was taught that finally allowed my “arrival” into the French language. Being exposed to someone of French culture as opposed to learning through just a textbook method, as I did in high school, probably influenced the way my brain learned and stored everything. Or perhaps it was because I had initially learned French through textbook and then was exposed to a more “situational” based type of learning that my brain was able to be enriched in both areas!
What do you think? Is it easier to learn something through a textbook or through contextual exposure?
Let me know! I’ll be right here dreaming in French.