Metaphors for Go


1. Go is language (part of a larger metaphor: Go is fine art)

  • pros are native speakers [1]
  • amateurs are second language learners
  • a game is a dialogue
  • josekis is a vocabulary
  • direction of play is grammar
  • etc
  • learning Go is learning a second language
  • effective learning strategies: the same applied in learning a second language

2. Go is martial art (part of a larger metaphor: Go is competitive sport)

  • pros are martial arts teachers/experts
  • amateurs are martial arts students
  • a game is a fight
  • shapes are postures
  • tesujis are strokes
  • etc
  • learning Go is learning a martial art
  • effective learning strategies: the same applied in learning a martial art

3. Go is building a house

  • pros know how to construct a framework around the ideal shape of the house
  • novices build the walls of the house brick by brick

Here's an example of using the language metaphor:

There is a notion that replaying pro games is good for learning Go. This sounds like a very reasonable idea, however let's see what it means in terms of the language metaphor. Replaying a pro game is like reading a novel. Your ability to read a novel in a foreign language and benefit from it depends on your current knowledge of the language. If you know about 10,000 words already and have all the grammar under your belt, you will definitely benefit. But suppose you just started learning the language a year or two ago: you know only about 500 words and feel a bit rusty on many grammatical constructs. Even if you make a concerted effort to understand what you are reading, you will not make it very far simply because you have to look up every other word in a dictionary and you spend hours trying to decipher many sentences even after you've translated all the words in them. Most likely you will get discouraged and stop. At any rate it will not be very useful to you if you are not competent in the language already.

When looking through a pro game it is easy to make it to the end but most of amateurs have to accept that they will not understand most of the moves that pros make. Even worse, you will see some strange-looking moves that may be a tesuji, a probe, or a bold invasion and try to mimic those in your games without any regard to the overall position or even whether it works at all or not. Thus, replaying pro games as a way to improve in Go cannot be recommended to everybody. But can we use the language metaphor to suggest a better way of study? Yes, we can. There is an approach in 2nd language learning that puts emphasis on extensive comprehensible input. The important thing here is that the input is comprehensible, which can be achieved by adapting a novel through appropriate vocabulary and grammar reduction suited to particular graded levels of understanding (so-called graded readers). With this in mind it would be more beneficial to study games between players at your own rank or slightly stronger. This way you will understand most of the moves, see mistakes clearly, and can even pick up some interesting tesujis. Leave the pro games until you are 6 dan.

This suggestion is not new of course. It is recommended frequently that you should study your own games in order to improve. The goal of the above reasoning was to see how this advice can be viewed in terms of the language metaphor.

Here's another example of using the language metaphor.

It is sometimes said that most people cannot reach 1 dan level because their brain is not hard-wired to recognize patterns in Go or to read ahead beyond two or three moves. Let's now view this in terms of the language metaphor. It is obvious to everybody that almost every human being is capable of learning a language. Most people can read and write in their native language without much effort. It is usually assumed that most can learn a second language as well. Low success rates in this department can be attributed to lack of motivation and counter-productive learning strategies. Thus, in terms of this metaphor, most people get stuck at a certain level because of lack of motivation to continue their studies or because their learning techniques are ineffective or inadequate. Continuing on, 1 dan should not be the level that you should aim at achieving - why limit yourself unnecessarily. You should really aim at achieving the level of a pro player, just as you should strive to achieve proficiency of a native speaker when learning a foreign language.

[1]: HandOfHair: I don't think native is quite the right word to use here. Fluent would be more accurate. Go isn't exactly anyone's first language unless you're someone like Toya Akira, who's been playing against his Meijin father since he was two years old.

Phelan: And even then, he only moved to the board at two. To be a native you would have to be born on a Go board. :p Speaking seriously, no need to use a fictional example. There are a few western players that mentioned they've exposed their young children to Go, and "played" it with them. One example at JonathanHelis. An attempt at TeachingToAFiveYearsOld.

Metaphors for Go last edited by tapir on September 18, 2014 - 22:59
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