Thursday, November 30, 2017

The *Firstest* Thing You Should Do When Learning a Language

Learn 100% flawless pronunciation.

It's MUCH easier to memorize a word's meaning when you know the correct pronunciation.

This is because the sound a word makes is always eerily reminescent of it's meaning.


People were asked which of these two pictures they would call "bouba" and which they would call "kiki".
95~98% selected the curvy as bouba, and the spiky as "kiki".

The words for "love, life, happiness" usually have a pleasing sound no matter the language they're in. "death, disease, famine" usually don't sound like something beautiful or pleasing, regardless of language.

In almost every language, the words for "woman" and "girl" have lot's of I's, E's and A's.

The words for "man" and "boy" have the letter "o" more often and less I's and E's. 

Probably because we associate womanliness with acute sounds, such as the ones in I and E... Manliness with less acute sounds like "o".

"Consider the phrase "come hither." Notice that you gesture this idea by holding your palm up and flexing your fingers toward yourself as if to touch the lower part of the palm. Amazingly, your tongue makes a very similar movement as it curls back to touch the palate to utter "hither" or "here". "Go" involves pouting the lips outward, whereas "come" involves drawing the lips together inward."

And most amazing:

"The anthropologist Brent Berlin has pointed out that the Huambisa tribe of northern Peru have over thirty different names for thirty bird species in their jungle and an equal number of fish names for different Amazonian fishes. If you were to jumble up these sixty names and give them to someone from a completely different sociolinguistic background—say, a Chinese peasant—and ask him to classify the names into two groups, one for birds, one for fish, you would find that, astonishingly, he succeeds in this task well above chance level even though his language doesn‘t bear the slightest shred of resemblance to the South American one. I would argue that this is a manifestation of the bouba-kiki effect, in other words, of sound-shape translation."

The last two quotes from Chapter 6 of The Tell-Tale Brain (about how language came to be; an absolute must read for language learning enthusiasts).

Gabriel Wyner said that if you don't learn 100% flawless pronunciation right from the very start, you will end up learning two languages instead of one. Don't find out about it the hard way.


  1. Sanskrit uses this consciously. It is called name and form. The sound of each letter has a particular action. We say "shhh" to calm a baby because that sound is naturally calming. The word for peace in Sanskrit is "shanti." So just by saying shanti then you create peace in some small way. This is how mantras work.

    In English we say "peace" but if you listen to the "p" sound it is actually quite explosive. You have to purse your lips, stop the air, and then let it explode out. It's like the sound of a drip of water hitting the ground and exploding - pa, pa, pa. So the sound of the English word for peace doesn't match the thing it represents.

    Sanskrit takes this to great depth. I find it very interesting to listen to people's names. The sounds reveal a lot about them.

    1. The original word for "tranqulity, harmony, absence of violence" was 'frith' -- but then the french invaded England and brought the latinized "Pais", which then became "Peace"... which displaced the use of the word 'frith'.

      I think the original word for peace, "frith", sounds pretty lovely :)

      Thanks for your comment, very interesting.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.