Understanding May Precede Usage

Written by Dyami Millarson

I grasp languages mentally before I start using them. This is because I have processed many sentences before I even start making my own sentences. I know what I am looking for in sentences: I want to find meaningful words and patterns.

I wrote a German-language article recently in which I explained that language-learning helps me understand dance. I elaborated on the idea that dance is nothing but a sequence of movements, just as spoken language is simply a sequence of sounds.

In order to learn dance, one must know what to look for in these sequences. When an ordinary viewer watches dance, they may not yet recognise the ‘sentences’ that the dancers are uttering and so they do not notice the meaningful words and patterns.

I find that dance is a primal language. Humans use it to communicate primal emotions and emotional stories. This is why I can imagine that dance, in some way, may have preceded language, or at least it seems to build on pre-language systems.

Spoken language relies on the mouth and tongue, which are pre-language systems as well. Evolution builds upon existing systems and gives them a new function. This is evolutionarily less expensive than building entirely new systems.

If I learn to understand languages before I actually use them, then I can also learn to understand dances before I actually use them. And this is based on the idea that one may learn dance by seeing a lot of dance moves first. By watching carefully, one may learn.

I like employing my mind and fantasy to acquire new skills, and this may require a method that relies on attentive observation. After gaining some quick initial understanding, I will soon proceed to apply and test my knowledge.

Careful observation and bravely acting upon observation are the best ways to learn. Learning is essentially ‘copy and paste’. However, being able to create original content beyond simple ‘copy and paste’ requires true understanding.


  1. Very much in line with Krashen’s discussion of the “silent period”, where child second language acquirers are silent for several months before speaking. (Discussed in “The Input Hypothesis” by Krashen). I experienced my own silent period, not for producing L2 but for L1 after growing up in an L2 environment then returning to the L1 country – only a few days of silence though.


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