Using Feynman to Teach Language

An experiment in simplification.

Learning how to simplify is helping students to understand their target language better.

The remarkable Richard Feynman once said-

‘If you can’t explain it in simple terms, then you don’t understand it.’

Wise words for any student of any topic — in their native tongue. But in my English classes, I’m finding it helpful too.

The Basics

These are adults. The concept of gravity is something they can explain both in simple and complex terms with ease in Japanese, Chinese or Korean.

Ask them to explain it in English and some of the higher levels might be able to muddle through quite well. Ask them to explain it as if telling a child, and they begin to pick up patterns in the target language that might not be developed from conservative teaching methods.

The Benefits

Being able to explain a concept simply in native tongue is skill. It means you know it inside out.

Being able to explain a concept simply in a second language shows that you can grasp the inner workings of that language.

People don’t come to English Conversation Schools to learn Science, Philosophy, Geography or History, but in teaching them how to simplify concepts in these areas, they’re becoming more fluent, more comfortable and more confident in their studies.

  • They can talk about more subjects across the board.
  • They can find alternative words to use in any situation.
  • They are learning the workings of the English language on a deeper level.

In short, you can give someone the words they need to talk, but you also need to teach them how to use those words to express themselves.

With the Feynman Technique, we’re starting to make some progress.

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