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A Dramatic Lesson in Critical Thinking

bigstockphoto_Thinking_4755601Over the weekend, I had the misfortune of being kept up yet again by my persistent friend, insomnia.  Generally, I wouldn’t consider him much of a friend at all, but sometimes I must give credit where credit is due.

By way of a preface, let me say that I have been a Japanese language student for some number of years now (it is my major), and I often watch streaming Japanese television on my laptop during these tiring nights of no sleep.  There are no subtitles, and I very certainly cannot understand all, or even half, of what is being said on these programs. It was then, in the middle of some kind of criminal drama, that I realized something very important: the power of critical thinking. How, without some subconscious adlib, could I sit and watch a foreign television show, take in small bits and pieces of conversation, and know what was going in the story beyond what I could infer from the images alone?

This shows the importance of critical thinking within language learning, the ability to piece together whole thoughts and concepts without actually knowing or having been introduced to every part of speech being used.  Through specific slides and exercises, Mango has really focused on this aspect of language learning, as it is crucial to actually functioning in your new language.  For instance, when you go to a foreign country, you will most definitely be unable to understand everything a native speaker is saying to you.  It is your critical thinking that will get you through these situations, not just stock phrases such as “Hi, how are you?”, or “May I have another?”  In this way, you can begin to bridge the gap between language learning and language learned.
So, while I still haven’t gotten any sleep, I’ve at least managed to crack a foreign murder mystery using a bit of my brain.

Do you have any experiences where critical thinking helped you through a language barrier?

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      I’m the developer for the ESL Portuguese course. When I moved to Brazil, I spoke almost no Portuguese (though I was fluent in Spanish, which certainly helped). I moved to a very small town because my then-boyfriend (now husband) is a medical student in this small town.

      There ain’t many foreigners ’round these here parts. So especially during my few months here, when my Portuguese was more labored, people would ask me daily where I was from. When I would say “The United States”, they would almost always respond with some personal anecdote about the US (usually either “my aunt/sister in law’s brother/cousin lives in [insert American state]” or “I’ve always wanted to go there, but I haven’t been able to get a visa!”.

      My Portuguese wasn’t good enough to understand their stories, but I would just read their faces. If they were smiling while they told their story, I’d say “que legal!” (That’s cool!), and if they were making a sad face, I’d say “que pena!” (too bad!). Really got me through my first few months here without offending anyone…. I think. Haha.

      But I think this idea of using your logic/critical thinking skills about a given situation is important for language learners. Students often panic when they don’t understand every word that a native speaker is thinking, but usually, if they just take a deep breath and try to think logically about the situation, and pick up on other cues, they can usually figure out more than they think.

      Fun post! Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m sure the first time that conversation deadlock happens, it really brings you down to earth! I can’t wait to start using (or mis-using 0_o) my Japanese in real life situations.

      Thanks for the reply! :)

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