Several years ago I published some scientific articles on a topic called involuntary mental rehearsal. To rehearse means to practice or go over something so that you get better at it. Involuntary is the opposite of voluntary, and means that you don’t intend or try to do something – it just happens. Mental refers to thinking. So you put these all together and you get “thinking about something over and over again without actually wanting or trying to.” An example of involuntary mental rehearsal would be when you hear and song and you keep singing or humming (making noise without opening your mouth) it, even if you don’t like it! (This is sometimes referred to as the Song Stuck in My Head experience, as researcher Tim Murphey has called it.)
Involuntary mental rehearsal also happens with language acquirers (people picking up a new language). One of the leading (best, most important) linguists in the world, Dr. Stephen Krashen, called this the “Din in the Head.” A din is noise, usually a noise that you cannot understand. Krashen noticed that he sometimes experienced a “din” or involuntary mental rehearsal in languages that he was studying. Here’s a description of this experience. See if you have ever had this happen to you in English:
“You have the Din if you sometimes ‘hear’ a clearly noticeable jumble (mix) of English words, sounds, phrases, or even melody patterns in you head. These words and phrases are usually things you have been hearing or reading recently (in class or on English audio programs or television). Often you ‘hear’ the words and phrases in the voice qualities of your teacher or of the people who made English audio, or maybe even in your own voice. These random pieces of English just come into or appear in your head at nearly any time or place, and it’s all usually involuntary. At times it may be active enough to be described as a ‘constant rehearsal in the head.’”
I used to get the Din in my head when I was a beginning and intermediate student of Spanish, and I still do after I read magazine or watch a TV show in Spanish. The same thing happens to me when I hear other languages I’ve tried to acquire (such as Italian and French).
It is also possible to experience a din in your own languge, if you read or listen to a style or type of language that you are not familiar with, such as poetry or an older form of your language. The din usually doesn’t last long, and will go away after a few days unless you continue to read or listen to that form of the language.
Do you ever get a Din in the Head after listening to ESL Podcast? The Din usually takes place when you are not thinking about English or concentrating on something else (for example, when you are washing the dishes or driving and not listening to music).
The more important question is: What does the Din really mean in terms of language acquisition? To find out that, come back next week for Part 2 of this post.