Language Learning: Muscle Memory and Passive Auditory Imprinting

“Passive Auditory Imprinting” Is really just a name I’m giving for the idea Khatsumoto from ajatt.com gives the idea of learning things through “osmosis” or passive listening. Where for example, if you hear the same phrase over and over, even if you don’t actively pay attention to it, you will become familiar with that phrase. Another example is learning a song or the words to a commercial even if you aren’t trying to.

I call it passive Auditory imprinting, and I stress “imprinting” because to me that feels like the best way to describe what is happening, at least for the moment and because this idea of imprinting seems to have other ways of occurring that I want to discuss.

First though, the reason why I find this idea important. It is because I find learning things actively to require a lot of resources and therefore not efficient. I mean, the worst example of this is creating mnemonics, where you focus completely on this task for the period of time that you are creating them AND all the reviews of the mnemonics you create.

Why is this not efficient?

For some people I’m sure it is efficient. For me though, I find myself constantly thinking, “damn I have to make up stories and review and actively recall meanings and stories of words. I have to remember a lot of information actively. I have to spend this time doing this, when I could be thinking about so many other interesting things. That is what makes it a burden.

Working out isn’t a burden for me. Doing chores not really, a physical part time job not really, but sitting down to review information that I already know so I don’t forget it, running over the same pathways, consciously,almost as if I never even made them before. That sucks.

A bit better is learning by trying to make connections. It’s still very active but it can rely on context more than creativity.

I feel like remembering things is important. I really got thinking about these ideas because of this fact, being able to remember a lot of facts is important for success in most fields and at least for the moment, it is not practical to try to get around it, in the school system at least.

Language learning as well is another huge example of where memorizing facts can become the “make or break” point. Learning Chinese requires being able to read and write 3000+ unique symbols.

This brings me to my next idea. Because learning Hanzi through mnemonics and review of those mnemonics becomes mind numbing very fast for me, because in general, memorizing can have this same effect, I need a way to be able to do memorization without it being a burden. Without having to sacrifice my cognitive resources.

Now here is my solution, which is pretty much going against the new way of doing things. I want to learn Hanzi by rote. As I write them out 10 or so times each, I will not have to think about them nearly as much. I can think about anything, let my mind wander in and out of focus. As long as the strokes are right and as long as I somehow fit the meaning to them. Either by only learning sentences which would have built in context for far more Hanzi at once. Or even paragraphs of text, just writing the whole paragraph out, knowing what it’s about, until I’ve memorized it and can write it on command. Or just write the hanzi while saying the name each time. Simple things like that.

I’ll still learn them. Why because of another type of imprinting. Muscle memory imprinting. My muscles(and parts of my central nervous system) will learn the Hanzi. I will be able to access those parts either when I write, or by imagining writing the words, and eventually just because I’ll have used them enough.

Now here is an interesting question. Is writing in big letters, the same as hearing a song played at a louder volume, in terms of increasing your ability to remember it. Or does a song only need to be loud enough to be clear, and writing something you see, the same as seeing the symbols clearly.

So this brings me to a whole philosophy about learning. Should we be trying to force our learning(of boring material) into consciousness awareness? Or is it better left to other parts of the central nervous system to store, and then we process and internalize further as needed?

I’ll end this by saying it sees some thing we are passionate about “knowing and understanding require a foundation of memorizing things we feel are not interesting. This method is a way to memorize those less interesting things in a way that uses more kinesthetic resources instead of the deeper conscious cognitive processes we want to use for the fun stuff.

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