14 February 2012
Meaningful vs rote: traps
Despite everything I've said so far, the term "meaningful" is quite dangerous in language.
Because, after all, from a certain point of view, all languages is arbitrary - That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet - but from another point of view, all language is meaningful.
So we need to recognise that the term "meaningful" has to relate to the relationship between the material and the learner and is not some inherent property of the material.
One of the biggest "meaningful" traps is the idea of word-pairs. The most common word-pair would have to be the antonym (opposites).
So we teach "beautiful - ugly; tall - short; big - small".
The idea is that by linking the words, we're utilising the meaningful relationships between the words. Ignoring the potential for confusion (discussed previously), teaching by antonyms fails to exploit the learners own meaningful framework.
If you have never encountered beautiful before, then it cannot help you learn the meaning of ugly. So in the end, you're learning two things that are arbitrary to the learner -- you're teaching them by rote. That the data is meaningful is irrelevant, because it is not meaningful to the learner.
Better then to teach one and then the other. Previously learned vocabulary is part of the learner's framework that can be used to allow later meaningful learning.