The formal “request-response” logic in learning English: the benefits of programmers


    I always claim that the most talented linguists are programmers. This is due to their way of thinking, or, if you want, to some professional deformation.

    To expand on the topic, I will give a few stories from life. When the USSR was in short supply, and my husband was a little boy, his parents somewhere took out sausage and served it on the table for a holiday. The guests left, the boy looked at the sausage remaining on the table, cut into neat circles, and asked if she needed more. “Take it!” - allowed the parents. Well, he took it, went into the yard, and began using the sausage to teach neighboring cats how to walk on their hind legs. Dad and mom saw and were indignant at squandering a scarce product. And the boy was perplexed, and even offended. After all, he did not steal quietly, but honestly asked if he still needed a sausage ...

    Needless to say, this boy, when he grew up, became a programmer.

    By the mature age of such amusing stories, the IT specialist had accumulated a lot. For example, one day I asked my husband to buy chicken. Larger and whiter in color so that the bird was. He proudly brought home a huge white ... duck. I asked if he really at least for the price (the duck is much more expensive) did not think about whether he is buying the bird? The answer was: “Well, you did not say anything about the price. She said the bird is larger and whiter. From the whole assortment I chose the largest and whitest plucked bird! Completed the task. ” I breathed a sigh of relief, thanking the heavens to myself for not having a turkey in the store that day. In general, there was a duck for dinner.

    Well, and a ton of other situations in which an unprepared person may suspect trolling hard and even be offended. We walk along the delightful southern beach, I dreamily say: “Eh, I really want something tasty ...” He, looking around, carefully asks: “Do you want to pick some cactus fruits?”


    I pouted, caustically inquiring whether it occurred to him by chance to take me to a cozy cafe with cakes, for example. The husband replied that he didn’t see the cafe in the district, but the fruits of the prickly pear that he noticed in the cactus thickets are very tasty, and may well satisfy my request. Is logical.

    Take offense? Hug and forgive? Have a good laugh?

    This feature of professional thinking, sometimes provoking oddities in everyday life, IT specialists can put to their service in the difficult task of learning English.

    The way of thinking illustrated above (not being a psychologist, I venture to conditionally characterize it as a formal logical),

    a) resonates with some principles of the human subconscious;

    b) resonates perfectly with some aspects of the grammatical logic of English.

    Features of the subconscious perception of the request

    Psychology believes that the human subconscious mind understands everything literally and does not have a sense of humor. Like a computer with which an IT specialist “communicates” more time than with people. I overheard a practicing psychologist's metaphor: “The subconscious is a giant who has no eyes, no sense of humor, and who understands everything literally. And consciousness is a sighted midget that sits on the neck of the giant and controls it. ”

    Which team is read by the giant subconscious when the midget consciousness says, “I need to learn English”? The subconscious mind accepts REQUEST: “learn English”. The simple-minded “giant” begins to work diligently on the execution of the command, issuing RESPONSE: the learning process. You will learn that in English there is gerund, there is a verb to be, there is an active voice, there is a passive voice, there are various forms of time, there is a complex addition and a subjunctive mood, there is actual division, there are syntagmas, etc.

    Have you learned the language? Yes. The “Giant” completed the task - you honestly studied the language. Have you mastered English in practice? Unlikely. The subconscious did not receive a request for mastery.

    What is the difference between study and mastery?

    Learning is analysis, breaking up the whole into parts. Mastery is a synthesis, assembly of parts into a whole. Frankly speaking, the approaches are opposite. The methods of study and practical mastery are different.

    If the ultimate goal is to learn how to use the language as a tool, then the task should be formulated literally: “I need to master English.” There will be less frustration.

    What is request, such is response

    As mentioned above, some formalism is inherent in the English language. For example, the question posed cannot be answered in English in any way. You can only answer in the form in which it is set. So to the question “Have you eaten the cake?” can only be answered in the same grammatical form with have: “Yes, I have / No, I haven't.” No do or am. Similarly, on “Did you eat the cake?” “Yes, I did / No, I didn't.” and no “had” or “was” will correctly answer. What is the question, that is the answer.

    The Russian-speaking people are often puzzled by the moment when in English, in order to resolve something, it is necessary to answer in the negative, and in order to prohibit, in the positive. For instance:

    • Do you mind my smoking? - Yes, I do. - (You have banned smoking in your presence.)
    • Do you mind my smoking? - No, I don't. - (You are allowed to smoke.)

    After all, the natural instinct of Russian-speaking consciousness is allowing, to answer “yes,” while prohibiting it, “no.” Why is it the other way around in English?

    Formal logic. Answering a question in English, we respond not so much to the real situation as to the grammar of the sentence that we hear. And in the grammar, our question is: “Do you mind?” “Do you mind?” Accordingly, answering “Yes, I do.” - the interlocutor, responding to grammatical logic, states “Yes, I object,” that is, prohibits, but does not allow, the action, as would be logical for situational logic. What is the question, such is the answer.

    A similar clash of situational and grammatical logic provokes requests like “Could you ...?” Do not be surprised if in response to your:

    • Could you pass me the salt, please?
      The Englishman will answer:
    • Yes, I could.

    ... and calmly continue his meal, without passing you the salt. You asked him if he could pass the salt. He replied that he could. You didn’t ask him to give it to you: “Would you ...?” Native English speakers often joke like that. Perhaps the origins of the famous English humor lie precisely at the junction of the contradictions of grammatical and situational logic ... Just like the humor of programmers, do not you?

    Thus, starting to learn English, it makes sense to revise the wording of the request. After all, when we come, for example, to a driving school, we say: “I need to learn how to drive a car,” and not “I need to learn a car.”

    Moreover, working with the teacher, the student interacts with his cognitive system. The teacher also has a subconscious mind that works, like all people, on the basis of the “request-response” principle. If the teacher is not so experienced as to “translate” the student’s request into the language of his real needs, the teacher’s subconscious mind can also perceive the student’s request as a request for study, and not for mastery. And the teacher will enthusiastically respond and satisfy the request, but the information proposed for study will not be a realization of the true need of the student.

    “Fear your desires” (C)? Looking for a telepathic teacher who can translate your requests into the language of your real needs? Correctly formulate 'request'? Necessary to emphasize. With a competent approach to business, it is the programmers who should be the best English learners, both because of the peculiarities of their worldview, and because of the peculiarities of the English language as such. The key to success is the right approach.

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