Learning Part 6: Deep Learning Revisited (1 of 3)

Hello again, and welcome to another post about my favorite topic: learning.

About a year ago I started posting about learning.  Soon after that I started talking about deep and surface learning approaches.  If you don’t remember what they are, please check out the link.

In any case, I’d like to expand on that topic today.

There are many reasons to believe deep learning is a more effective approach to not only learning more effectively and efficiently, but remembering what you learned and being able to use what you learn better, too.

Before, I explained briefly how you can become a deeper learner, but today I’d like to offer one practical step towards that goal.

Ask what

What is the most basic, central question to learning.  Whenever we ask “What is ___?” we are engaging in learning, and the person who answers this question for us is engaging in teaching.  The problem often is, we don’t develop this type of questioning to get even more information.  So here is a list of various what questions you can ask your teacher, or even yourself, the next time you are studying or learning English:

“What does ___ mean?”

“What part of speech is it?”

“What is its connotation?”

“What is the difference between ___ and ___?”

“What does it collocate with?”

Ask confirmation questions

In addition, there are lots of really simple but useful yes/no questions you can ask that will help you develop even more knowledge about English.

“Is it formal or informal?”

“Does it have a positive or negative connotation?”

“Do you use it often?”

“Is it very common?”

“Does it mean ___?”

“Can I use it when…?”

“Can I use it with ___?”

“Can I use it as a ___?”

Let me show you a couple examples:

Student: “Teacher, what does ‘elaborate’ mean?”

Teacher: “It means ‘explain more’ or ‘explain in detail'”.

S: I see.

Now, this is where most students would stop, but not you!

S: Is it a verb?

T: Yes, it is.

S: Can I use it as a noun or adjective?

T: Actually, you can!  ‘Elaboration’ is the noun, ‘elaborate’ is the adjective.

S: So elaborate is a verb and an adjective?

T: Yes, that’s right.

S: What’s the difference between ‘explain in detail’ and ‘elaborate’?

T: Hmm.  Good question.  Well, elaborate is shorter, so it’s more common, but it sounds a little formal.

S: Do they mean the same thing?

T: Yes, basically.

So, as you can see, with a few simple questions you can get a lot more information about anything new you learn.  Let’s try it with an idiom.

S: Teacher, recently I was watching a TV show and one of the characters said “that’s over my head.”  What does that mean?

T: It just means something was too difficult or complex to understand.

S: Ah, I see.  So can I say “English is over my head”?

T: Haha!  No, because we only use it for explanations.  English is not an explanation, it’s a language.

S: I don’t really understand… can you give me an example?

T: Sure.  For example, “Their discussion on quantum physics is over my head” or “the details of this transaction are over my head, can you explain it more simply?”

S: I see.  Does it have a negative connotation?

T: Kind of.  If something is difficult or confusing, that’s bad right?

S: I think so.  Do native speakers use it often?

T: We use it pretty often.  It’s a useful idiom.

S: I see.  Thank you.

So next time you have the chance to ask a native speaker some questions about something you learned, try some of these simple questions!  Good luck, and I’ll see you next time with some even deeper questions!


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