There is a cayman of language in your brain

cymnThis week, I’m teaching West Africans the language learning techniques that I’ve been using.  Great stuff.  It takes some modification, though.

One concept is that language is like an iceberg.  What you can actually say is like the tip of the iceberg.  There’s lots more that you can passively understand that can’t be seen but is floating under the water.  Our task as language learners is to move the words from the bottom of the iceberg up to the top, where we can use them as well as understand them.

Lovely analogy.  Let’s see how it would work here.

Ok, you know ice cubes?  Well, there are places in the world where there are very big ice cubes floating in the sea.  Huge ones, bigger than trucks.  So big, actually, that if a huge passenger ship hit one it would sink, and a band would play while it was sinking and a movie would be made about it, and a Canadian woman would sing about it…

So, I’m not going to use that in the workshop.  My first idea was to talk about a yam instead.  They’re big on the bottom, underground.  But, the leaves that are on top are not edible.  Not perfect.   Then someone suggested I use a hippo-you can only see the eyes when they’re floating in the river, and they’re big underneath.  I’m not sure everyone at the workshop will have seen a hippo, though, so I decided to use a cayman.  I think those are pretty common, I’ve seen them from the north to the south.  The one in the picture is in a cement tank in someone’s yard in the capital city.  Where I live, there was so much rain a few years ago that the road flooded.  People waded across it.  One person had their dog with them, though, and as the dog was swimming across-gulp!  Dinner for the cayman.

So.  Language learners have a cayman of language in their brain.  We’ll see how that flies.  Any suggestions for next time?  They don’t have to be serious!

Published by Nora McNamara

Lover of languages and linguistics. Besotted Auntie. Jesus follower. Sacred Harp singer.

8 thoughts on “There is a cayman of language in your brain

  1. Hi Nora! Great post about the creativity needed in developing proper analogies and explanations – love it. I’ve added you to our Coffeegirl Regulars and am looking forward to following along with your journey. Thanks for being willing to share your experiences with me and others who are also navigating this cross-cultural adventure!

  2. An iceburg? I feel ilke my language use is more like a raindrop in the ocean…I’m learning my first second language at an older age and I’m learning something prett simple , Spanish. Any words of wisdom?

  3. Welcome Coffeegirl and Grammy! Grammy, I have tons of suggestions on language learning, and some resources I can email you nora.mcnamara@gmail.com-let me know if you want them!
    The basic principle is that you have to hear and process things that you can understand, and that as a beginner, what you can understand is stuff in the here and now. Look for Greg Thomson’s Growing Participator approach and also stuff about TPR on the internet, but I’d love to send you some specific goodies!
    Oh, and Rosetta Stone is good stuff! But I have better stuff from Greg Thomson to share that helps you connect with people while you’re learning their language!
    OOOH, you got me on one of my favorite subjects…I feel a series of posts coming on!

  4. Hi Nora,
    Is cayman a West African word for crocodile? I know the beast from South America, as a caiman, but did not think that they occured in Africa at all. The main place I find cayman is as the Cayman Islands. But then I don’t know the local African names for crocodilians. I like the analogy.

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