Saturday, April 30, 2011

Game theory as it applies to language learning

Impressive title, isn't it? It sounds like a dissertation topic -- or at least a thesis. Too bad I don't really know anything about game theory.

What I do know I learned from my friend, James. He tried to explain it to me one weekend when we were hanging out in Sighnaghi. I know that he explained it as simply as he possibly could, but unfortunately, mathematics and mathematical-theories don't make much sense to my artist's brain. But I think that I partially grasped the concept. Today I googled the topic and tried to read some of the web sites that came up on the search. I read a lot of words, but they may as well have been Greek. I didn't understand a thing.

Here's what I do know about game theory: it is a study of decision-making and what causes us to make the decisions that we make given a certain set of circumstances. I can't state the theory that applies to what I want to say, but I can give the application. Maybe the theory will come out of that.

When I first arrived here in Georgia, I spent time every day studying Georgian. I have an English/Georgian dictionary, a language workbook, and notes that I took during my week-long training and Georgian lessons. Every afternoon for the first few months that I was here, I sat with all three books and studied. I reviewed what I had learned in class, I looked up new words, and I practiced reading and writing the language.

Spending an hour or so a day working at this very difficult language paid off after a couple of months. I understand a lot of what people say to me. Answering them is still difficult, but I can usually flounder my way to being understood. I can hold simple conversations and use a little Georgian if needed in the classroom to help the students understand what I am teaching.

My daily studying lasted until about two months ago, when my time became consumed by more school work and helping Tea with her exam-preparation. Or maybe those are just excuses for the real reason that I stopped studying Georgian: I know enough to get by and I won't be here for very much longer. That's the application of game theory to language learning.

The amount of effort that I am willing to put into learning Georgian is in direct relation to the amount of time that I will be in the country and the level of knowledge that I need to communicate. Now that my Georgian is good enough to operate on my own (mostly), I don't feel the need to spend my time studying anymore. And I will only be here for two more months..... I hate to say, "why bother?" but, why bother?

That's not to say that I'm not learning anything anymore. I still ask Tea how to say certain things or I ask her what things mean that I've heard. I do love learning. But I love learning things that are a profitable use of my time. And in the grand scheme of my purpose here, learning more Georgian is not a high priority. So, instead of reading or writing or looking up words to learn, I get by with what I already know and spend my time doing other things that I have deemed more important. Tea will benefit from my helping her with all aspects of the English language astronomically more than I would benefit from knowing a few more phrases in Georgian. She needs the language learning for her career. Once I leave Georgia, my language skills will be little more than a cool thing to break out at a party -- on par with useless trivia.

I am glad that my job here is to teach English, not to learn Georgian! ძალიან ძნელი. (dzalian dznelia.) It's very difficult!

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