Never Too Late to Stretch One’s Education


Viikko 42

: Jul 11th, 2015
: THB that learning is lifelong
Role: Rep. (gov.)

I want to lecture you on the ways of language learning and language in general. I’ve divided my speech into three parts: syntax, semantics, and their union. I hope that each section contributes a little to your understanding of the subject matter, deviating a little from the conventional view.

Syntax is like a lattice or a grid or grill that makes up the different pathways of speech. You can avoid certain words or certain parts of the syntax that you are not familiar with, but you cannot avoid syntax altogether, as your flow has to make sense. I draw my example from Swedish, but I’d say that this applies across the board to many more European languages as well.

Your fluency in Swedish is a direct result from how many ”correct choices” you make when you’re formulating your flow as an incessant stream of words. You can make four types of specifically right/wrong choices on a constant basis: the declension (with nouns and adjectives), conjugations (with verbs), determination (with nouns, adjectives and numerals) and prepositions (with any word class). Then there is the shifting word order, but it is less important. If you make correct choices all the time, you could be said to be speak Swedish at an A level. If you make, on the other hand, incorrect choices at every turn, you’d be speaking closer to an F level, or you’d be a ”failure” as a meaningful communicator, no matter how much you would have things to say ultimately. It’s as simple and ruthless as that.

Is there a formula for making sense of the lexicon, then? If syntax is like a lattice, then words are the squares that form between the pathway lines of the latticework. They may be ”lit” (if they are familiar words) or ”dark” (if they’re unfamiliar words). If you do not know a certain word, you can always bypass the awkward situation by travelling via the syntax grid to a part of the lexicon that you do know.

Furthermore, you benefit greatly, if you meet four requirements in the mastery of a well-internalized lexicon. You have to know a) Synonyms for the key words that you use a lot, b) Idioms in other people’s speech (that you don’t have to use), c) New, novel words that have come to use very recently and d) Some obsolete words that are no longer in use. If you pass through all of these lexical ”gates” all or most of the time, you can be said to speak a language on an A level.


Language is a funny creature. Knowing it begins at home, schools and university, but once the rudiments or basics of both the lexicon and syntax have been internalised, the process and the product begin to lead a life of their own. When you have the lattice in place with some areas lit vocabulary-wise, you can fill up the rest and repair a possibly (and likely) broken lattice in just being in touch with the literature, people and the press of the said people behind the said language. In knowing a little or downright a lot, you get the rest in place by contact and conscious effort.

In this way, one can never really say that schools failed oneself in terms of language teaching. It was  n e v e r  meant to be comprehensive, even for the straight-A students. The staff tried to teach you, but you just did not make the deposit on your account that’s required for proficiency. You may blame the system and those working within it, yourself or bad luck, but the truth that remains is that not all of linguistic proficiency can ever be taught academically or intramurally, that is, within the walls of a school. The rest has to be learned in comprehensive contact. Learning doesn’t stop at 20. Or 30.

Thank you.

Kesto: 4 min 28 sek
: Puhe on omiaan niille, joita kieliasiat kiinnostavat, vaikka kyse ei ole välttämättä edes puolesta luokallisesta ihmisiä. Siinä tulee minuuteilleen riittävästi asiaa, kiva teoria, symmetrinen esittely ja rauhallinen esitystapa. Se ei myöskään voine kilpailla edellisen parivaljakon kanssa samasta substanssista. Viimeiselle puhujalle jää kuitenkin töitä, eikä apuja, jotta hän voi vetää langat yhteen.



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