I'd like to know if anyone of has experienced what I call "bottom-up syndrome" and have you got any suggestions of how to get rid of it? , I'm not so sure if everybody understands what I mean by "bottom-up syndrome". It's sort of difficult for me to explain. It can be best summarized by the following: the difficulties in language reception and further language improvement, that have been caused by teaching me English "bottom-up". Learning "bottom-up" can be contrasted to learning "top-down". "Top down" is the way we naturally pick up a language (no matter native or not native one) by just understanding messages and in this way subconsciously absorbing the lexis and grammar of that language. Teaching bottom-up, on the other hand, is quite unnatural way of consciously learning the meanings of words (often by learning their native-language equivalents) and later trying to understand the language while reading or listening, all the time concenttrating not on the message but on the language itself, trying to concentrate on the meaning of each word separately and then trying to sort of put all those meanings together and to understand the general meaning of a sentence. Such teaching leaves a deep and crippling effect on all your subsequent efforts of language reception and language improvement. I know it from my own experience: after 18+ years of learning English I still have problems with understanding English because of this piece of habit so deeply instilled into my brain by my English teachers. Has anyone experienced anything like that? Any ideas about how to break this unhelpful habit?
The type of instruction you describe does not have a "deep and crippling" effect on language acquisition. It's considerably more efficient than the trial and error method that children must use to acquire their first language, and it allows a language to be learned much more quickly.
Some instruction methods are less effective than others. Following an ineffective method does not prevent you from resorting to a more effective method later, however.
Adults have the advantage of being able to deliberately learn a language through conscious and disciplined study. It saves a lot of time. The haphazard way employed by children is used by them only because they don't have any other options; it is very slow. The adult method is rapid but not completely thorough; the method used by children is very slow but very thorough. Overall I'd say that completely fluency requires about the same amount of time with both methods, but a good approximation is reached much more quickly with the adult method.
"It's considerably more efficient than the trial and error method that children must use to acquire their first language, and it allows a language to be learned much more quickly."
Well, let's put it this way: couscious learning of a languge can be compared with studying of some territory on a map. If I have some practical experience of that territory, then a map will be of immence help and definitely be a much better way to get around than trial and error without a map. But if they give me a map and I have no experience of the real thing, It is not going to be much help. Not for me, anyway...
To clarify my map allegory: acquizition and conscious learning are two different things. Conscious learning has its place, viz. that of corrector and monitor. But putting learning before acquizition is like putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Again, studying map without the immediate experience of the terrain which is shown on that map is an interesting intellectual activity at the very best, waste of time at worst.
If that is a "bottom-up syndrome", then I guess I have it too, LOL :) I also learnt English like that, like you said: "learning the meanings of words (often by learning their native-language equivalents) and later trying to understand the language while reading or listening, all the time concenttrating not on the message but on the language itself, trying to concentrate on the meaning of each word separately and then trying to sort of put all those meanings together and to understand the general meaning of a sentence." I thought that most people learn foreign languages like that, and not the same way they learn their native language.
As I see it, language acquisiton ideally involves both sides of the brain. The conscious study of grammatical structures and the learning of new words is a cognitive (left-brain) activity. You have to have a "skeleton" (so to speak) in your mind of the language you are trying to learn, consisting of the basic grammatical structures and an ever-expanding vocabulary. But the "blood and mucles" part (usage, including idioms) is acquired through exposition to spoken or written sequences in the target language, meant for target-language audiences. This mostly involves right-brain functions: unconscious memorisation, catching rhythmic patterns behind the actual structures, and of course various emotions you attach to the actual lingusitic content: there will always be phrases that simply "stick" in your mind whenever you hear somebody speaking in a foreign language which you understand to some extent. The whole thing is more interesting than this rather technical description suggests...
What Vytenis has called the bottom-up method is, as I see it, the traditional grammar-translation method in language learning, originally used with learning ancient languages like Latin or Greek. That means study of the language focussed on structures and words, rather than usage. The assumption behind this is that you have to know all bits and pieces of a language to be able to construct meaningful sentences. Well, this is partly true, and can be of some use at beginner levels. However, exposition to very basic texts such as simple songs, poems or even nursery rhymes is also very useful at this level, because they show how the language actually "works". I had this experience when starting to learn French, and helped me a lot to get used to the rhythm of the language. The more advenced one gets, the more complex samples (written or spoken) can be used. So a more conscious study of the language with short samples a little above the learner's actual proficiency level, and a gradual transition to an input-first method (presenting a sample followed up with carefully chosen comprehesion exercises) is what should work for most learners.
As for active use of the language, I think there is always a trial-and-error element, even with the best learners. You cannot be expected to emerge as Athena out of Zeus' head in a complete armour of perfect usage. That's something you have to learn through imitation and feedback from either a teacher or a native speaker. So as soon as you feel confident enough with the basics of a language (on the average that should take about one year in case of regular guided study, depending on the learner and the method), you could start searching for authentic content on your own, e.g. popular newspapers, songs, jokes, movies or whatever you are interested in, then perhaps connecting to an internet chat session or a forum on a topic of interest to you, if there is no other opportunity to meet native speakers. First you don't need to post messages, just "listen in", then you can join if you feel confident enough to use the language actively. Imagine the joy of getting meaningful replies: that means you are being understod, and that's already part of the fun!
>>that should take about one year in case of regular guided study<<
Or even less than a year, at least as far as basic usage is concerned (basic grammatical patterns and phrases used in everyday communication).
understod ==> understood
Considering how long it took me to learn my first language (its still going I think!) I definitely don't have the time to do that with another language, give me the bottom-up approach any day!
I think you can never say: "I've learnt a language". You are constantly learning it, even at more advanced levels, and this is also true for native speakers to some extent! On the other hand, my experience is that if you have at least a fair degree of fluency in a foreign language, it will take less time to learn another one. Of course you can also learn a language with the "bottom-up" method (breaking down the language into constituent parts and learning each of them separately), but what I can recommend is getting in touch with any authentic source (such as those listed above) as soon as possible, even if you don't understand half of it. It will nicely complement your study of grammar. Of course the availability of those sources also depends on the language: it is definitely easier to find them for Spanish than for, say, Chinese, at least those suitable for less advanced users.
We have a very good illustration of top-down and bottom-up ways of learning over here in Lithuania. Most people have learned Russian during the period of Soviet occupation and they learned this language without any big effort: just by watching Russian language TV, movies, reading Russian papares and books or communicating with people from the other parts of Soviet Union. However, English was a different matter: for some strange reason people cannot realize that the best idea is to learn English just the same way they picked up Russian back in those days. I am working as an English teacher for the adult students and I am constantly trying to make them see this point.
...unfortunately, I am having a hard time in making them realize this simple truth. I just can't understand what is it that makes them think that English can't be picked up in exactly the same way as they once picked up their Russian. Instead, most of them have this absurd notion that English can only be learned by taking up the formal study of the language, i.e. studying it the "bottom-up way. They choose a hard way instead of an easy way. However, the paradox is that taking the hard way you will NEVER learn to speak English well! And since most of them have no time or will power to take up the hard way anyway, so they just end up never learning English. And then complaining to me how badly do they need English in their works and lives, but how difficult or almost impossible is for them to learn it. And I seem to realize that our schools are to blame for all this. They so deeply indoctrinated into their minds this erroneous bottom-up notion that people simply cannot break free from it and see the way they can easily improve their English.