A Concept Every Language Teacher Should Know

A Concept Every Language Teacher Should Know

Think Tank Staff

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Have you ever thought about how our brain does language? How does the sound of a word stimulate a mental image of its meaning? Does our brain have some kind of built-in dictionary for each word, as was once commonly believed? In that case, what defines the words? Other words?

An emerging view, and one critically important to our profession, might give us the answer. Basically, this perspective holds that all thought, and thereby all language, is founded on our lifelong personal experiences with the world and the schemas (or if you prefer: mental models or representations) we construct in the process. This view is called “embodied cognition” and the part of it describing how we make meaning from language is called “embodied simulation.” The word “embodied” is used because the brain-body-environment connection is foremost: all the information the brain uses to understand the world has come through the body, and, as you will find out in this issue, the models the brain constructs to understand the world use the body as well.

Embodiment is not a simple concept, but Alan Jasanoff sets us off in the right direction in a wonderful interview. To get a second lead-in on embodiment, we looked at over a dozen videos and they were all fairly complex. The one by Friston, whom most people consider the leading theorist in this area, was the hardest.  If you watch it, then watch this video too, to understand his reference to walking robots.

Mark Johnson’s lecture was the best and, though long, worth spending the time on. We have also been asked to tell you about one editor’s favorite, another Brain Science podcast. It is an interview with Benjamin Bergen that the editor said changed his life.

So, to help you help you stay away from all the nasty flu and COVID-19 viruses out there, we are bringing you this difficult, but all-important, Think Tank to read. Brew a tea, sit back and, as Marc Helgesen would say, “Savor.”

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