Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Use more verbs

by Patti at 37 Days

By comparing the beginner text, Patti pointed out an important difference between how westerners and easterners developed the first words in our first language. Westerners focus on nouns whereas Chinese (as an example of easterners) focus on verbs.

As Nisbett explains, in China it’s “not individual action but relationships between people that seem important to convey in a child’s first encounter with the printed word.” While we tend to say “I am who I am,” our Asian friends may more likely make reference to social roles—“I am Lori’s friend.” We say “See Dick run;” they say “Dick loves Jane” (the Truth about Dick and Jane, at long last).

Here is a specific quote:
“Developmental psychologists Anne Fernald and Hiromi Morikawa went into the homes of Japanese and Americans having infants either six, twelve, or nineteen months old. They asked the mothers to clear away the toys from a play area and then they introduced several that they had brought with them—a stuffed dog and pig and a car and a truck. They asked the mothers to play with the toys with their babies as they normally would…American mothers used twice as many object labels as Japanese mothers (“piggie,” “doggie”) and Japanese mothers engaged in twice as many social routines of teaching politeness norms (empathy and greetings, for example). An American mother’s patter might go like this: ‘That’s a car. See the car? You like it? It’s got nice wheels.’ A Japanese mother might say: ‘Here! It’s a vroom vroom. I give it to you. Now give this to me. Yes! Thank you.’ American children are learning that the world is mostly a place with objects, Japanese children that the world is mostly about relationships.”

Patti pointed out that
Westerners grow up in a world of objects while Easterners grow up in a world of relationships.

The consequence is...
We own objects—like little Mary Ann and Junior with their roller skates or Jane with that fancy Mercedes—but maybe it’s not the words, the nouns, the things that matter. What if Mary Ann had helped Junior learn to roller skate, rather than just concentrate on her own skates? Would we spend so much time fighting over ownership—of skates, of oil, of countries—in this vast world of ours if we focused on verbs, not things?

Teachers, what do you think? Will you start teaching more verbs?

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