The MIF - Mental Image Flash
The Source of ‘Real Language’
What is a MIF?
If someone said to you, "Walk like a duck." What would you do (provided you were willing to walk like a duck)? In your mind, you'd 'flash' a 'mental image' of a duck walking, and simply imitate it. Had you never seen a duck walking, this would be impossible. For example, if I said, "Walk like a bonzo." What mental image flashes? There isn't one.
This flashing of a mental image or mif is what guides all we say and do. Though generally not conscious of the fact, we flash mental images all the time and at an incredible rate! All natural speech first begins with a mif. Without it, we can’t really know where to begin or even what to say! The substance of this mif is no secret, nor is there any substitute for it.
As you accumulate experiences, understanding of many things begins gradually to form in your mind. A single experience holds information relating to things as diverse as weather, time, culture, emotions, language, philosophy, and anything else in the world around us! By experiences, our world is defined and it is the cumulative total of our experiences that gives us understanding of that world.
Taking language as an example, consider what happens when you hear a word. It triggers a mif and you understand. If you don’t understand, it’s simply means that you don’t yet have the experiences relating to that word that can provide you with a mif. (Translation can only provide inaccurate substitutes for mifs because the mifs they rely on are all from another culture and language.) When the ‘volume’ of a person’s experience becomes enough to provide for understanding of about 60 to 70 percent of a language, a person begins to speak. Thus speech is guided by the mifs a person has gained throughout their lifetime.
How does a MIF guide our speech?
Just as a child of two begins speaking though incorrectly, the speech is constantly compared with the mif and adjusted to match the mif. Any other control or guide is unnatural, clumsy and difficult to utilize. Unfortunately, the teaching methods that have been developed over the years, seem to support everything – except real language development. That’s where ALG World comes in!
The MIF and PRACTICE
Adults love the idea that ‘practice makes perfect’! We somehow, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, think that by practicing speech, we’ll become great speakers. Not only is this not true with language, it’s probably not true in any area of life.
Practice is never the key! Take Tiger Woods for example. Certainly he practices all the time. You might ask, “Isn’t that evidence that in order to be great, practice is the key?” Not at all. Before Tiger Woods ever began to practice, he had the reference to follow. Let’s call this reference, a mental image flash or ‘mif’. Without a good mif no one ever becomes the best. Where does someone like Tiger get the mifs for golf? From watching, as early as the age of 6 months old, his dad and others, swinging and playing. He learned what was right through watching what was right, and he received the mifs during this period of life, before his ‘career’ ever began! There was no practice involved! He knew what to do before he ever did it. ‘How do you hold the club?’ ‘How do you stand?’ ‘How do you raise the club into position?’ ‘Where does your elbow belong?’ ‘How do you follow through?’ All of the things that are conscious for someone trying to follow the instructions, are automatic for anyone who is acting based upon mifs.
This same thing is also true with children as they acquire their native language. Through everyday life, they gain experiences, and thereby build their understanding. This creates in their minds, the mifs necessary to produce their language. The mifs includes such things as grammar, syntax, and vocabulary without the child even being aware that these things exist! Once an adequate amount of mifs are collected, children begin to speak. Practice is not even remotely involved!
But isn’t some Practice necessary?
Certainly, after the mif is in place, practice can help, right? Regarding language, there is not much evidence that it does. The things a person might practice in a speech for example, rarely if ever carry over into their everyday ability to communicate. Just because a pianist plays a great performance, doesn’t mean that he or she can improvise at all. Speaking is improvising, and those who practice seem no better off than those who don’t. And the fact remains that most of us never practice our native language!
There is ample evidence that practice doesn’t help. In fact, evidence exists to indicate that it actually creates irreversible damage! Yet we continue to practice – Why? Perhaps because we don’t know what else to do. ALG World offers a true alternative. Now you have the opportunity to gain a second language just as you gained your native language. Don’t ruin it with practice. The whole world offers proof that practice won’t help!
The MIF and Memorization
How far can we expect our memories to serve us? It is amazing to consider all the things we try to remember – and yet forget! ‘What was that person’s name?’ ‘What was that telephone number?’ ‘When was that date and time we were to meet?’ While our memories are useful, there are very few of us who do very well tying to recall what we have memorized. Unfortunately, much of what we call education seems to be determined to force us to ‘memorize’ certain facts and then grades us on our ability to ‘recall’ these items. Of course few of us do very well at this. In fact, what most of us get out of it is a sincere dislike for certain ‘subjects’ – subjects that might otherwise be very interesting to us.
If we look at the computer as an example we are able to observe much about the way people learn. When children or adults are given ‘Computer’ as a class, with a curriculum, an instructor, a textbook, and tests, very few students do well and perhaps fewer actually learn anything of value. On the other hand, when a computer is viewed as either a toy or a tool, and is played with rather than studied, invariably learning takes place and one gains abilities he or she is not even aware of!
The difference lies in the concept of the ‘mif’. Mifs don’t consist of a list of facts or figures – they are a part of what we are. When I acquire knowledge it stays with me for life because it has become a part of my store of mifs. But when I memorize something it only stays with me until the next test, hopefully. If I’m lucky, I can recall it for the final exam and earn a passing grade!
Do facts and figures, or in the case of language, words and grammar, ever become ‘real knowledge’ or part of the mifs? Seldom, if ever. In fact, the knowledge we gain and use in life seems to be totally disassociated from those facts and figures we spent our school days learning. To be sure, once we’ve taken the test, many even do just about everything they can to never think about that stuff again!
As we've already said, it is the accumulation of experience that allows mifs to develop. Through experience – not memorization! Memorization at best, will only block us from gaining the full benefit of experiences. Think of it – memorization can actually inhibit real learning!
The MIF and Testing
Sometimes we act as if we thought that if it can't be tested then we can't know anything at all! Often, I hear of parents who want to make sure that their children are ‘getting’ the second language. They try to get their kids to ‘speak’ or tell them what new words they learned today. Parents want to know if their children will get the grade so that they can move to the next level. How strange that we don’t think of testing our one or two year old child’s ability in their native language. How many parents of two-year old children do you know who take their kids anywhere for language tests? At first it might seem that there would be nothing to test – but all evidence points to the fact that two year old children, even though they don’t yet speak much, can understand much of what is being said around them.
How is this possible? They’ve never been tested! ‘Perhaps we’ve got to encourage our 18 month old child to begin memorizing 5 words a day. If not, the neighbors child might gain an advantage and get ahead of our own child!’ Placed in this context, the idea of testing seems absurd. Never the less our educational system would lead us to think that comparison with those around us is all that matters. The way success is guaged is by comparing students wiih students.
In the ALG Program, if you want to know how well you’re doing, you must compare yourself to the native speaker. No other comparison matters. And if you really want to compare yourself with the native speaker, then it is wise to gain the new language in the same way that the native speaker does. Otherwise, you will try all you want but never come close. No native speaker ever gained their language by study and testing.
How does a person acquire their native language? Through gaining experiences. That’s all. Nothing else. And all of them became fluent! No tests were ever given or required. No homework or review was ever necessary. No practice or memorizing took place. And they all became fluent! Did it matter who spoke faster? No. Did it matter who spoke the most? No. Did it matter who was the most attentive? No. Did it matter who was the most motivated? No.
The only thing that mattered was that experiences were gained - experience upon experience – and from those experiences our mif collection was formed correctly. Trying to manufacture mifs through memorization can only give us unusable, memorized things. Furthermore, testing those things can never provide us with a picture of how well this person is going to be able to use the language.
In a recent English contest, It was my honor to sit on the panel of judges. The areas that students were given points were in such things as grammar, pronunciation, appearance, gestures, etc. At the end of the speech there was one final part; it was the only thing that a student couldn’t really prepare for. The judges were to ask the contestant something about the speech they had given. I remember one particular contestant. Her speech was delivered very well and I asked her a simple question. When she didn’t understand the question, I asked it again, and again, and again, changing the way I asked it just slightly making it easier and easier each time. Finally, I turned it over to another judge who asked the question in his own way. After he tried about 3 times and the contestant still didn’t understand, we just gave up. The contestant had no idea what we were saying! That particular part of the speech received the fewest points, but it was the only part where real communication was taking place. All of the work that the contestant did on her speech didn’t help her a bit in a real life situation. Though she ‘tested’ well, she couldn’t communicate!
All over the world there are very educated people who have studied a foreign language but don’t know what to say and can’t answer when they’re spoken to. Why? No amount of study ever produces the ability to use a language. The ability to use a language naturally only comes through gaining experie - everything else gets in the way.
At ALG World, we recognize that testing a child or adult will never tell you where he or she is in ability. The only way to tell if a person is able to communicate in any given language is to communicate with him – and that’s what ALG World is all about. Every hour of class time allows the student to gain new experiences as his guides communicate with him in real-life situations!