Learning a language

The role of language in learning

This is a very important question. If we can figure out the relationship between intelligence and language, we can connect language and learning. Putting it another way, did humans take bigger leaps of progress with the invention of language? Yes, we did and all the evidences point towards it. We did not have any real language for a good part of our evolutionary history and for really a very big part of our existence on earth, we evolved painfully slowly. Intelligence and language are related.
But how exactly are intelligence and language related? Pertinently, the one common component across all the multiple intelligences is – thinking. To have intelligence is to have the ability to think (and more perhaps, but thinking is definitely a part of intelligence). Intelligence and thinking are two sides of the same coin.
However, our thinking is best done in a language because language is the simplest of all tools for it. Deaf people think in terms of images and we can also think without a language but the symbols that languages give us (the
millions of words) to fix ideas, reflect on them and hold them up for observation are the simplest. Use of language allows for a level of abstract associations and reasoning which we cannot achieve otherwise.
Thoughts that do not have ‘language equivalent’ can never be formulated as effectively. For example, it would not be easy to explain to a person from ‘primitive societies’ the idea of acceleration as ‘metre per second’. And for that matter, thinking about a cat in terms of image is highly restrictive; limited to knowing a few types of cats. Thinking about cats in language terms can easily extend to include lions, tigers, pets, differences in cats and dogs as pets, feline nature (such as stealth, aloofness and cleanliness), use of ‘cat’ as an adjective, etc.
Similarly, red as a colour in pictures is very different from the use of red in a language; in English, red is used richly as ‘red tape’, ‘red carpet’, ‘red card’, ‘to be in the red’, ‘red letter day’, etc.
It is also pertinent to briefly touch upon the ‘science’ of poor intellectual development due to the rote method. When we memorise something without understanding it – the rote way to get something – we are actually using ‘images/pictures of the text’ to commit to memory as the ‘thing’ for storing, rather than the symbols of the language. And the possible manipulations and the amount of context in pictures/images are far poorer than in language symbols (as explained in the cat example above). Expectedly, the intellectual development is far lower in rote-based memory.
However, most of us are take language to be simply a means of communication. But communication is not just about ‘messages’ to share; we also share feelings, imagery, non-verbal cues, values and philosophical ideas, etc. And, as we discussed earlier, language is indeed a very expansive ability. Naturally, language plays a critical formative role in the development of children.
It acts as a subtle, yet strong force, shaping the child’s perception of the world, interests, capabilities and even values and attitudes.
‘With the help of words, children enrich their relationship with the objects they come in touch with. On the other hand, words without action or contact with object remain empty and lifeless for the child. Words like ‘cat’, ‘fall’, and ‘rough’ mean very little to the child unless these words have first been used in a context where the child was actively involved with the object or in an act.’
— Dr. Krishna Kumar
To quote the famous educationist Vygotsky – Speech is an extension of intelligence and thought, a way to interact with one’s environment beyond physical limitations:
‘…the most significant moment in the course of intellectual development, which gives birth to the purely human forms of practical and abstract intelligence, occurs when speech and practical activity, two previously completely independent lines of development, converge.’
Good language skills are critical for overall development and not just for good speaking skills.

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