Friday, May 13, 2011

Well HELLO again!

Blogger's down, so I have to post this later, but I am writing it now cause I'm thinking about it.

One of the things I do is teach language.  English in particular.  One of the other things I do here is (try to) learn language, specifically Catalan and Spanish.

This leads me to thinking a lot about language and grammar.  Syntax and structure.  

It leads all of us to this.  Not many people can talk clearly to their grade school kids about infinitives and imperatives, phrasal verbs and subjunctives, but we are all buried in this and we talk about it.  A lot.  My kids love spelling bees and we will sit around with a Webster's after dinner sometimes and spell.  Surprisingly fun, that is.

The thing is though, sometimes I find a student, or students, that simply cannot get some aspects of language, usually, flow and form, prepositions and word order, or odd word choices.  They are spending too much time translating in their heads and WAY too much time with a thesaurus.

I believe, I truly believe, there is a limit to what any individual can learn of a language from rules.  From studying the grammar.  

Most of language has to be learned by ear and by eye, by listening to it and reading it until the rhythms and the patterns of the language become natural to them, till they sound right.  

There is some mighty powerful neurological language crunchers in our heads that figure things out that grammar rules simply try to explain.  That is what is important, if the grammar is ahead of the language, you have the cart before the horse.  

Grammar should assist in understanding parts of language that we find confusing rather than driving the investigation of language.

Am I losing you?  Probably, I've thought about this too long, and it is too late for clarity.

I guess my bottom line is that reading and listening to a language are immensely powerful tools in learning a language as it harnesses vast regions of our minds outside of our frontal cortex, outside of our conscious reasoning....and lets us get a handle on so very much more of what is going on.  Lets us learn, like kids learn.

But slower.


elpadawan said...

I'd say "never stop being a kid" :). I also see people around me who are immersed on a daily basis in a foreign language, who are satisfied with what they know, and don't strive to improve. Which makes me either cringe or smile when I hear or read them... ;)

kate said...

Damn! I just wrote a long answer that got eaten by Blogger (bad, bad Blogger!) Anyway, I don't have time to reconstruct now, but the gist is: look into Stephen Krashen's theory of Second Language Acquisition-- I think it will resonate with your thinking on this.

Riel said...

2 words...

Soap Operas.

language + everyday (more or less) context.

viola language aid for free!

XX nomad

The Bodhi Chicklet said...

Hmmm, yes well, you lost me at some point. I see the value of learning a language (I mean a second or third or more) at an early age. Depending on the language, the rules can be brutal - exceptions and knowing when to apply an odd tense. The best way is to be immersed, hear it, speak it even haltingly at first and then on paper. I am working with my own son learning french and his spoken is incredibly amazing but the written aspect (so many words sound the same but are spelled differently) takes work and explanation. But usually I only need to explain it a bare few number of times and he gets it. I also see the benefit of more languages introduced at an early age as it increases the vocabulary of the mother tongue but now I've digressed...

oreneta said...

ElP...indeed, never stop being a child, in some ways. I cringe when I hear myself speak...ah well.

Kate, off to look at that right now!

Nomad, a thought, but Spanish TV, and Catalan too, is truly and utterly appalling. Except for a couple of shows and they are on when I work. Sigh.

Bodhi, there is a delight for kids managing in other language, and I get a kick out of hearing my kids rattling along in other languages, a good thing I think.

J.G. said...

Speaking I don't notice as much, but working with students and writing highlights how much good writing is "feel" or "ear." The rules only take you so far, and then there is the leap to "getting it." Good reading helps create good writing, so I imagine good listening works for good speaking. Somehow!

oreneta said...

JG, you really see it with the writing, no? I am having the worst time reading Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Franzen Foer (?)...too much of it is written in poor English that I have to read all the time and it's making me nuts.