Communicative approaches to language learning

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Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby Ciarán12 » 2018-04-16, 22:08

I really struggled with what to title this thread, I hope this isn't misleading.

So, this is kind of a similar problem to the one I posted about a while ago here.
Basically it's like this - my fiancée is learning Irish, and I want to encourage that. I'd also like to leverage my own experience of language learning to make best use of her efforts, as I know Irish is quite a challenge and she's not a language nerd like us, so complex grammatical explanations would likely just kill her desire to keep learning.
I'd like it if she could get some useful, usable knowledge under her belt first with a minimum of effort, then when she's already feeling good about her ability and has become emotionally invested in the language, BAM! hit her with the harder stuff, by then she will feel more motivated to get through it because she won't "need" it just to get by, it will be about perfecting her command of the language just for fun rather than trying to cram a huge amount of info into her head just to be barely able to speak it.

So, I'm thinking of what are the best ways to get the most usable language skills with a minimum of difficulty. I'm calling this a "communicative" approach as I'm trying to emphasis that grammatical precision and idiomatic usage is not the primary goal here, being able to understand what others say and make your self understood is the primary goal. Once you've achieved that, you can go back and get everything "right".
In order to achieve this, I'd focus on the most commonly used vocab, stripping back the grammar to the most essential parts needed for intelligibility and learning common sentence structures and phrases as set blocks.
I also don't think that studying mainly from written material is the best way - I think speaking and listening need to be emphasised more.
I was thinking about the Michel Thomas method and how I got surprisingly good results from it after very little effort and time. Has anyone tried to replicate something like the Michel Thomas method for other languages? Or do any of you have any other ideas about speech-focused language learning aimed at building conversation skills first?
I'd also be very interested in hearing if there are any methods out there that have ever tried to actually teach a simplified version of a language first (basically, intentionally teaching incorrect, simplified grammar) in order to bypass parts of the grammar that are too difficult to waste time learning given that simplifying them still results in intelligible speech.

Sorry for the essay!

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby kevin » 2018-04-16, 22:44

I would be careful with teaching a simplified, incorrect version of a language first. Unlearning is pretty hard, and it might be harder than just avoiding some kind of construction until you can learn it properly.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby Ciarán12 » 2018-04-16, 22:49

kevin wrote:I would be careful with teaching a simplified, incorrect version of a language first. Unlearning is pretty hard, and it might be harder than just avoiding some kind of construction until you can learn it properly.


Part of me agrees. but another part says "How many times have I given up on a language because I got to a hard bit in the grammar? Wouldn't I have been better off just continuing to get it wrong and focusing on more productive areas of the language which were easier to master and just accepting for now that I'm just going to keep getting this bit wrong?"

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-04-16, 23:01

Ciarán12 wrote:I'd also be very interested in hearing if there are any methods out there that have ever tried to actually teach a simplified version of a language first (basically, intentionally teaching incorrect, simplified grammar) in order to bypass parts of the grammar that are too difficult to waste time learning given that simplifying them still results in intelligible speech.

Sorry for the essay!

No worries!

I would say that sounds pretty much like what Teach Yourself Thai does and very much like what Everyday Indonesian does ("yeah, this is part of the grammar, but pshht you don't need to know thaaat! :D").

Believe it or not, I started out learning Latin from the Oxford Latin Course textbooks without paying any attention to the grammar, and then many years later, I was like "...oh wait, I actually do need to read the grammar notes in the appendix, don't I?" :lol:

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby IpseDixit » 2018-04-17, 11:02

So, IIUC, you're going to teach your fiancée a dumbed-down version of Irish, get her invested in this fake language and only then reveal to her that she's been pretty much living a lie and that Irish is actually something else?

Sounds like a very bad plan if you ask me.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby Ciarán12 » 2018-04-17, 11:51

Maybe I’m phrasing it wrongly - what I want to do is break down the grammatical complexity into “levels”, so that instead of taking one, complex part of the grammar and learning everything you need to know to get it perfectly right before moving on to other parts, I’d prioritise the main principles that are most essential to speaking comprehensibly, and go back to the details after we’ve already covered the main principles of other areas of the grammar. The idea would be to have a usable, working knowledge of all necessary parts of the grammar before studying any one of them in great depth.

I’ll try to come up with an example:

Is féidir liom in Irish means “I can”. In most european languages (and all those she is familiar with) this is expressed with a modal verb (EN: “can”, PT-BR/ES: “poder”), but in Irish it’s a periphrastic construction using the copula “is” (which has a tricky syntax and irregular conjugation), a noun “féidir” and a conjugated preposition “liom”. So it kind of means something like “Ability is with me (to do X)”. Here, I would probably just teach this as a set phrase, rather than explaining exactly how it works, because that would lead to a conversation about how the copula works and that’s dishearteningly difficult to wrap your head around.

Another example might be how the genitive is used after compound prepositions, so that “the door” is “an doras” (nice and simple) but “beside/near the door” is “in aice an dorais” (where “an dorais” is the genitive singular). If you said “in aice an doras” it would be understandable, but wrong. But is it worth learning - a) what a genitive is, b) how to form the genitive in Irish (which is difficult because of declensions), c) what a compound proposition is and d) to remember that you need to use the genitive here - if all this just makes her give up on learning the language entirely? I mean, getting it right is great and all, but surely getting it wrong is better than not getting it at all…?
To be clear, before I would take anything like this approach I would let her know how it was organised so she understood that some things we learn will be revised later.

The reason I think such an approach might be useful is based on my recent experience learning Portuguese. This has been my most successful language-learning venture and I’d like to try to learn what lessons from that I can. One of the differences between my Portuguese learning experience and previous language learning experiences is that my primary goal in learning Portuguese wasn’t to get the grammar right, and so I didn’t start with textbooks and look up lots of grammar tables, I learnt what I needed to learn to make myself understood and understand what other people were saying. This meant that some “basic” errors which were not vital to intelligibility remained in my Portuguese for longer than they might have if I had been studying with a coursebook, but by not focusing on mastering those parts I could spend that time and effort on learning more vocabulary or learning the basic mechanics of other parts of the grammar which would allow my to express ideas I couldn’t before. When I felt my Portuguese was fluentish in terms of ease of communication, I then started to go back and fix the less important errors, just for the sake of being correct. I’m essentially trying to replicate that for Irish and I was just wondering if anyone had ever tried an approach like that.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby kevin » 2018-04-17, 13:05

I think I have two points to offer here:

The first one is, everyone is different. What works for you might not work for me. And in fact, given the examples you listed, you would be pretty sure to discourage me from continuing with Irish because that approach would completely frustrate me. I don't think I've given up a language because of grammar, but I have because it's too much work to learn all the vocabulary. It seems you're the opposite. Apparently you're okay with just learning set phrases without knowing the literal meaning, but it drives me crazy if I don't know what they "really" say. (And especially with Irish, all those cute periphrastic expressions were one of the things that really made me more interested in the language.)

So I think, the lesson to learn here is: Don't make assumptions about her learning style. She might learn best like you, or like me, or a completely different way. It might be best to just ask her?

My second point is that I think there are many options between actively teaching incorrect Irish while pretending it's correct and explaining every grammar concept at work in a sentence in all details. There is a difference whether you actively teach something incorrect or whether you just don't correct every error. I feel that any information that you give should be correct, but it may be incomplete.

For example, I don't think there is any problem in telling her that "is féidir liom" is literally "is possible with me" without explaining every use of the copula or with saying "'is' is rather complicated, let's leave that for another day". But I would never settle for "tá sé fear" for the moment because you feel the copula is too complicated, if you know what I mean.

Ciarán12 wrote:Another example might be how the genitive is used after compound prepositions, so that “the door” is “an doras” (nice and simple) but “beside/near the door” is “in aice an dorais” (where “an dorais” is the genitive singular). If you said “in aice an doras” it would be understandable, but wrong. But is it worth learning - a) what a genitive is, b) how to form the genitive in Irish (which is difficult because of declensions), c) what a compound proposition is and d) to remember that you need to use the genitive here - if all this just makes her give up on learning the language entirely?

I think you would be doing her a disservice if you didn't mention that a genitive should be used here. This isn't some weird construction, but it makes perfect sense with a literal translation: "in proximity of". Yes, of course it needs a genitive. English has an "of" there and I'm sure you can find a Portuguese translation with "de"(?).

Now I agree that forming the genitive isn't obvious in Irish (and there are some other weird aspects of the Irish genitive), and if she gets the form wrong, you probably don't want to interrupt her every time. But you also don't want to teach her intentionally wrong sentences. Pretending that the nominative is right here (and in things like the progressive forms) would mean teaching bad habits that need to be unlearned later. It might be a bit different if she knows that a genitive is needed here and both of you agree not to correct her for now, but otherwise it would only be a trap for her.

In the end, all of this probably just means: Don't ask us, ask her. She's the only one who can tell you what works for her and what doesn't.
Last edited by kevin on 2018-04-17, 15:08, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby IpseDixit » 2018-04-17, 14:24

I would use that method only if circumstances required that I be able to communicate in a language as quickly as possible. If there's no actual hurry, I don't see why it's so important for you to be able to start communicating so soon, even to the detriment of grammar. Wouldn't it be better to take her through the real Irish grammar right from the start, little by little without rushing?

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby Ciarán12 » 2018-04-17, 19:19

Firstly, thank you both for your thoughts.

kevin wrote:... everyone is different. What works for you might not work for me.
....So I think, the lesson to learn here is: Don't make assumptions about her learning style. She might learn best like you, or like me, or a completely different way. It might be best to just ask her?


True, I will ask, though I'm not 100% sure she will know. I certainly didn't know the best way for me, and had I been asked two years ago I might well have responded just as you did. I've since had the experience of learning a different way and I can say the results are better, for me at least.

kevin wrote:And in fact, given the examples you listed, you would be pretty sure to discourage me from continuing with Irish because that approach would completely frustrate me. I don't think I've given up a language because of grammar, but I have because it's too much work to learn all the vocabulary. It seems you're the opposite. Apparently you're okay with just learning set phrases without knowing the literal meaning, but it drives me crazy if I don't know what they "really" say.


Again, I understand the impulse and I would have said the same thing myself before I learned Portuguese, but I've done it a different way this time and I'm far better at Portuguese than I am and anything else (or ever have been).

kevin wrote: (And especially with Irish, all those cute periphrastic expressions were one of the things that really made me more interested in the language.)


But Kevin, you, I and everyone here are language nerds, we like weird grammatical intricacies. Languages are toys for us to play with. Unfortunately, in my experience, playing with them is fun but at the end of it you* can't actually have a decent conversation, so...

*I don't me you specifically, Kevin. I'm sure your Irish is very good ;)

kevin wrote:My second point is that I think there are many options between actively teaching incorrect Irish while pretending it's correct and explaining every grammar concept at work in a sentence in all details. There is a difference whether you actively teach something incorrect or whether you just don't correct every error. I feel that any information that you give should be correct, but it may be incomplete.

For example, I don't think there is any problem in telling her that "is féidir liom" is literally "is possible with me" without explaining every use of the copula or with saying "'is' is rather complicated, let's leave that for another day".
But I would never settle for "tá sé fear" for the moment because you feel the copula is too complicated, if you know what I mean.


Again, I probably exaggerated the point about actively teaching incorrect grammar. What I meant was teaching incomplete grammar and accepting mistakes related to parts of the grammar not yet covered without correction.
The "Tá sé fear" thing is an example of a tough choice here - that kind of sentence sounds very wrong, wrong enough that it would be hard to accept that even for a beginner, but the grammar necessary to learn it could get tricky, unless I can figure out a way to teach the copula in a more simplified, superficial way that makes it easier to use (even if it doesn't allow you use it in all it's copular, crazy-syntax-y gloria). I think there's probably a middle ground there.

kevin wrote:I think you would be doing her a disservice if you didn't mention that a genitive should be used here. This isn't some weird construction, but it makes perfect sense with a literal translation: "in proximity of". Yes, of course it needs a genitive. English has an "of" there and I'm sure you can find a Portuguese translation with "de"(?).

Now I agree that forming the genitive isn't obvious in Irish (and there are some other weird aspects of the Irish genitive), and if she gets the form wrong, you probably don't want to interrupt her every time. But you also don't want to teach her intentionally wrong sentences. Pretending that the nominative is right here (and in things like the progressive forms) would mean teaching bad habits that need to be unlearned later. It might be a bit different if she knows that a genitive is needed here and both of you agree not to correct her for now, but otherwise it would only be a trap for her.


I think the first hurdle would be understanding the concept of "case" and what a "genitive" is. I realise that to us, a simple explanation that "it's like whenever you put "of" before a word in English" should get the concept across - my experience is that that doesn't work for a lot of people. Most people don't seem to intuitively understand that prepositions have a relationship to the words that come after them, that in the sentence "The roof of the house is falling" that "of the house" is some sort of meaningful unit in a way that "the roof of" isn't. This tends to make explaining case kind of hard. On top of that, there's the fact that, if you're going to teach her that the genitive needs to be used here, she needs to know how to form the genitive, and even I don't really remember that anymore. I mean, I remember how the system is set up, but I can't recall what the rules for determining declension are.

To the point about bad habits - I take your point that one of the weaknesses of this approach is that it means unlearning bad habits, but I think it's worth the hassle.

Just to illustrate this point, I'll mention a difficulty I had with Portuguese:

In Portuguese, there are 19 different possible demonstratives (as opposed to English's 4 - this, that, these and those):

Masculine Singular: este (near the speaker), esse (near the listener), aquele (not near either)
Masculine Plural: estes (near the speaker), esses (near the listener), aqueles (not near either)

Feminine Singular: esta (near the speaker), essa (near the listener), aquela (not near either)
Feminine Plural: estas (near the speaker), essas (near the listener), aquelas (not near either)

The above forms can be used both as demonstrative adjectives (e.g. Essa mesa está quebrada - That table is broken) and demonstrative pronouns (Essa está quebrada - That is broken (referring to a feminine noun)).
There is a third group though which does not inflect for plural or gender and which can only be used as demonstrative pronouns:

isto (near the speaker), isso (near the listener), aquilo (not near either)

All of the above is probably taught in chapter 3 of one of the basic Portuguese courses because demonstratives are pretty important and this is how they work. But because I learned without much reference to grammar material or coursebooks, I heard "isso" used a lot and so I used it for everything, both as a demonstrative pronoun and as a demonstrative adjective (which is incorrect), and as I knew that Portuguese required agreement of gender and plurality, I inferred that it should become "issos" and "issas" in the feminine and masculine plurals (neither form exists in actual Portuguese).
I probably continued making this error longer than I would have if I had just studied a course book, but it wasn't preventing me from being understood and I was able to use the time and effort saved to get better at things that would make me understand more and be able to say more. If I had spent time memorising that system instead of learning the "bare minimum" and going on, I it would have taken me longer to reach fluency, if I ever even stuck with it at all.

IpseDixit wrote:I would use that method only if circumstances required that I be able to communicate in a language as quickly as possible. If there's no actual hurry, I don't see why it's so important for you to be able to start communicating so soon, even to the detriment of grammar. Wouldn't it be better to take her through the real Irish grammar right from the start, little by little without rushing?


I meant to mention this part in a previous post, but as you can see they've all been so long that I thought I shouldn't overdo it!
One of the reasons I think getting to the point where you can speak understandably and understand most of what's being said is that, once you can do that, you can start immersing yourself in the language. This gives you far more opportunities to iron out those difficult grammar points later on.

Let's take the example of demonstratives in Portuguese that I gave above. If you had me after a few months of learning it the "organic" way VS a new learner who had just gotten to "chapter 3 - demonstratives" in their coursebook, neither of us knowing how the demonstrative system of Portuguese works, which of us do you think is more likely to master the system first? The one who already has a situation where they can go and speak the language with people for hours a day, read books and watch videos in Portuguese (all of which present many, many opportunities to consciously apply the newly-learned system) or the learner who would have to just drill it, and then will probably keep forgetting it unless they keep drilling it because they never use it, because they never use Portuguese, because they can't speak it? To me, the point of getting to conversational fluency quickly is that once you're there, you'll have lots and lots of organic opportunities to practice whatever grammar point it is you're trying to learn in context, whereas if the only interaction you have with the language is deliberate study (because you lack the skills to speak and understand it), they only practice you get is boring drills that you just have to keep doing so you don't forget. I think that stage of language learning where you're not "independent" and can only really study it rather than use it should be kept as short as possible, as it's the time when you (or at least I) are most likely to give up.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby kevin » 2018-04-17, 22:07

Ciarán12 wrote:True, I will ask, though I'm not 100% sure she will know. I certainly didn't know the best way for me, and had I been asked two years ago I might well have responded just as you did. I've since had the experience of learning a different way and I can say the results are better, for me at least.

That's true. But you can always try out both approaches and then decide which one works better (or which mix of both). If something starts to get frustrating, she'll know.

Again, I understand the impulse and I would have said the same thing myself before I learned Portuguese, but I've done it a different way this time and I'm far better at Portuguese than I am and anything else (or ever have been).

I suspect the key is that you invested a lot more time into Portuguese. Or did I get the wrong impression there?

You're also right that I would probably (have to) change my approach if my goal was to actually get fluent in Irish quickly. But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't stop being curious about the literal meaning of things. I feel it helps me to remember expressions rather than being an additional burden.

kevin wrote: (And especially with Irish, all those cute periphrastic expressions were one of the things that really made me more interested in the language.)

But Kevin, you, I and everyone here are language nerds, we like weird grammatical intricacies.

But I'm not talking about grammatical intricacies here. I know that not everyone enjoys those. But I've met enough Irish learners who aren't language nerds, but are interested in it for all kinds of different reasons, and almost all of them enjoy this kind of phrases and knowing their literal meaning.

Languages are toys for us to play with. Unfortunately, in my experience, playing with them is fun but at the end of it you* can't actually have a decent conversation, so...

*I don't me you specifically, Kevin. I'm sure your Irish is very good ;)

Yes, you are completely right that many of us usually prefer playing with a language rather than learning it properly. But that doesn't mean that everything we do is useless for learning a language and must be avoided.

And thanks, but you know that my Irish isn't very good. ;)

The "Tá sé fear" thing is an example of a tough choice here - that kind of sentence sounds very wrong, wrong enough that it would be hard to accept that even for a beginner, but the grammar necessary to learn it could get tricky, unless I can figure out a way to teach the copula in a more simplified, superficial way that makes it easier to use (even if it doesn't allow you use it in all it's copular, crazy-syntax-y gloria). I think there's probably a middle ground there.

There's certainly a middle ground there, not only for the copula, but for everything else as well. It's very likely that neither of the extremes will make you happy. The interesting part is figuring out where the optimal middle ground is for the specific learner. Which probably means trying it out, occasionally talking about how she feels about the current balance and adjusting accordingly.

Just to illustrate this point, I'll mention a difficulty I had with Portuguese: [...]

I can see your point, though I also feel that unlearning a wrong form of a specifc word is easier than unlearning a complete construction or a grammatical concept.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby Ciarán12 » 2018-04-17, 23:20

kevin wrote:That's true. But you can always try out both approaches and then decide which one works better (or which mix of both). If something starts to get frustrating, she'll know.


Indeed. I'm starting to think that a more elastic approach to this is probably the way to go - judge on a case-by-case basis if the effort required to learn a certain part of the grammar is worth the hit to your morale, or if 90% of the benefits can be obtained with 30% of the effort.

kevin wrote:
Again, I understand the impulse and I would have said the same thing myself before I learned Portuguese, but I've done it a different way this time and I'm far better at Portuguese than I am and anything else (or ever have been).

I suspect the key is that you invested a lot more time into Portuguese. Or did I get the wrong impression there?


Well, I've certainly spent far fewer years learning Portuguese, but perhaps more actual time. But then again, that's sort of the point I was trying to make with my emphasis on spoken fluency - the reason I was able to invest more time in the language was that I could just start using it for everything once I got to the point where I was fluent enough to converse in it. I wouldn't have been able to spend 6 hours a day studying Portuguese without going mad, but I spend about that much time everyday speaking, reading and listening to it without feeling particularly mentally exhausted.

It reminds of a video (the link is here, it's in Portuguese though ;) ), the guy is an English teacher and is explaining how he learned English and at one point he mentions that he really started to get good after he started listening to podcasts he was interested in. If you think about how much time you spend watching, listening, reading and speaking everyday, it wouldn't be hard to rack up a huge amount of practice time if you could only do all of that through your target language. Hence the emphasis on getting to that point as soon as possible.

kevin wrote:You're also right that I would probably (have to) change my approach if my goal was to actually get fluent in Irish quickly. But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't stop being curious about the literal meaning of things. I feel it helps me to remember expressions rather than being an additional burden.


Certainly if you don't see it as an extra burden, or even as something helpful, that's great, do it. But to be honest I'm thinking less about the interesting stuff like periphrastic phrases and more about the monotonous memorisation of, say, declensions or conjugation tables.

kevin wrote:But I've met enough Irish learners who aren't language nerds, but are interested in it for all kinds of different reasons, and almost all of them enjoy this kind of phrases and knowing their literal meaning.


Well I won't rule out the usefulness of that aspect, I think it's possible to integrate that in a way that doesn't force the learner to understand deeply complex and unintuitive parts of the grammar before moving on.

kevin wrote:Yes, you are completely right that many of us usually prefer playing with a language rather than learning it properly. But that doesn't mean that everything we do is useless for learning a language and must be avoided.


I definitely agree it's useful, but I kind of this it's best learnt after you achieve basic fluency, rather than before.

kevin wrote:And thanks, but you know that my Irish isn't very good. ;)


..and I knew you'd say that!

kevin wrote:
Just to illustrate this point, I'll mention a difficulty I had with Portuguese: [...]

I can see your point, though I also feel that unlearning a wrong form of a specific word is easier than unlearning a complete construction or a grammatical concept.


I don't think I'd teach specifically incorrect constructions, it's just that I'd "allow" whatever they came up with to get their point across if it wasn't something we had planned to cover. Essentially, the priority is for them to speak, not to speak correctly. So if they are learning as much as they can handle for the moment, and in the course of a conversation they need to say something which falls outside the scope of what they are learning, then they should just say it however it occurs to them to say it and hope they are understood, and not try to incorporate the correct way of saying it and all the extra grammatical baggage that comes with it into their learning until later down the road.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-04-18, 0:40

A Chiaráin, I'm more sympathetic to your approach. I think it's along the lines of what I myself do to learn any language. I have little patience for reading large amounts of text, especially when most of it is just in English. :P I definitely have a tendency to skip reading about grammar for languages I'm relatively unfamiliar with because I'm more concerned about learning how to actually say something (even if the possibility of ever speaking the language is only theoretical). Yeah, of course I make mistakes, but learning mistakes is how you learn stuff, and they can even pay off later as fun stories sometimes!

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby kevin » 2018-04-18, 10:21

Ciarán12 wrote:Certainly if you don't see it as an extra burden, or even as something helpful, that's great, do it. But to be honest I'm thinking less about the interesting stuff like periphrastic phrases and more about the monotonous memorisation of, say, declensions or conjugation tables.

If you think that my typical way to learn is memorising all the tables I can find until I can recite them forwards and backwards, I'm sorry that I have to disappoint you. In fact, I believe I mentioned more than once that I usually avoid anything that might feel like work.

What I do is looking up the exact thing I need at the moment. And then I just use it, and either it sticks or I'll look it up again the next time I need it. In other words, I try to create correct sentences when I have the chance (e.g. I have enough time while writing a text, or I'm talking to someone who knows how it works, so I can just ask), but I get the information "on demand" rather than memorising everything that I could possible use some time in the future.

I definitely agree it's useful, but I kind of this it's best learnt after you achieve basic fluency, rather than before.

I don't think it's an either-or thing.

..and I knew you'd say that!

Which is why I had to say it! :D

Essentially, the priority is for them to speak, not to speak correctly. So if they are learning as much as they can handle for the moment, and in the course of a conversation they need to say something which falls outside the scope of what they are learning, then they should just say it however it occurs to them to say it and hope they are understood, and not try to incorporate the correct way of saying it and all the extra grammatical baggage that comes with it into their learning until later down the road.

I suppose you're right to a certain degree. But it also makes me think of those Irish students who spent 14 years in Irish classes, are profoundly confused why nouns and their attributes behave differently in seemingly random ways and are then surprised to learn that Irish words have a grammatical gender. That's the "not to speak correctly" approach taken too far and leads to ideas like initial mutations are magic that nobody could possibly understand, so let's just give up on Irish, it makes no sense. You can discourage people with intricate grammar rules about the smallest details, but you can also do so by not teaching basic grammar concepts (like gender or, yes, in my opinion also the genitive case).

It's all about middle grounds.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby IpseDixit » 2018-04-18, 12:38

Just to be clear, I certainly don't think you have to study the grammar of a language in extreme detail before going on to practicing it. I think you should study the (correct) bases and then learn more advanced stuff through practice. I'd never ever teach someone something wrong that they'll eventually have to unlearn (unless it's an emergency), I find it very dangerous. I'd rather come up with other ways to boost their motivation. But then again, it's just me.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby voron » 2018-04-18, 12:48

IpseDixit wrote:I'd never ever teach someone something wrong

When my friend from Turkey came here to Belarus for several months, I taught him the basics of Russian. I never taught him the cases, just words and phrases (when I told him anything about the grammar he wouldn't listen), and he creatively put them together saying things like "I from Turkey", "I work (a) cook" -- ignoring all the cases, but not because I taught him something wrong, just because he didn't know cases exist. :D

And btw he was very successful in communication, talking to his neighbors for hours using his limited vocabulary, gestures and pictures on his phone.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby IpseDixit » 2018-04-18, 13:01

voron wrote:
IpseDixit wrote:I'd never ever teach someone something wrong

When my friend from Turkey came here to Belarus for several months, I taught him the basics of Russian. I never taught him the cases, just words and phrases (when I told him anything about the grammar he wouldn't listen), and he creatively put them together saying things like "I from Turkey", "I work (a) cook" -- ignoring all the cases, but not because I taught him something wrong, just because he didn't know cases exist. :D


Letting a person make wrong assumptions about how a language works is still teaching something wrong if you ask me.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby Ciarán12 » 2018-04-18, 13:26

IpseDixit wrote:
voron wrote:
IpseDixit wrote:I'd never ever teach someone something wrong

When my friend from Turkey came here to Belarus for several months, I taught him the basics of Russian. I never taught him the cases, just words and phrases (when I told him anything about the grammar he wouldn't listen), and he creatively put them together saying things like "I from Turkey", "I work (a) cook" -- ignoring all the cases, but not because I taught him something wrong, just because he didn't know cases exist. :D


Letting a person make wrong assumptions about how a language works is still teaching something wrong if you ask me.

Yeah, but the guy ended up speaking Russian. How many people have given up on Russian because they (or others) demanded perfection from them from the get-go?

Okay, time for another example:

Imagine we have a verb paradigm that has:

- 6 forms per tense
- 5 tenses
- 2 moods
- 3 patterns for regular verbs
- 15 irregular verbs with their own patterns

Let’s say there are about 150 separate forms in the above that need to be memorised.

Such a paradigm might be considered by some people to be too much to master through sheer drilling before actually being able to speak the language.
A more manageable approach might be to take parts of it and master those first; so, for example, maybe just the 1st and 2nd person singular forms of just 3 or 4 of the tenses in only 1 of the moods, and maybe just those again for the 5 most used of the 15 irregular verbs. That probably amounts to about 50~ (maybe less) forms to learn at first. That’s already quite a lot to actively remember to conjugate on the fly. Say then they try to practice these 50 they’ve learned in conversation, so that they can really master them with a view to moving on to the rest once they feel comfortable with those 50.
In the course of a conversation, they may well need to use any part of the paradigm - conversations are unpredictable like that - so how do we deal with the parts they haven’t learned yet? Do we correct them when they use the Simple Past where it should be the Imperfect Past, even though they haven’t learned the Imperfect Past yet? Do we correct them when they use the 3rd person pronoun with the 2nd person conjugation (or with just the stem on it’s own if they just don’t know what the ending is supposed to be)? Or do we let it slide and realise that they are only trying to get the 1st and 2nd person conjugations right at the moment, and so it’s inevitable that they make mistakes in the others but equally inevitable that they need to talk about other persons than the 1st and 2nd person singular? To me, corrections imply that you expect the person to stop making that error, now that you’ve clarified it, or at least that they should be attempting to get it right, but they are already trying quite hard just to get the 1st and 2nd person right, so your corrections basically have the effect of saying “you need to get everything right, go back and learn the entire paradigm”, which, as we’ve mentioned, might be too much for them all at once.
Where do we draw the line between “teaching incomplete grammar” and “teaching them wrong grammar”? If we accept the 3rd person pronoun with the 2nd person conjugation without correction, are we not tacitly teaching them that that’s okay, which would be “wrong”?

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby kevin » 2018-04-18, 14:21

I think the important point is being aware of it when you use wrong forms. When I make up some grammar or loan words during a conversation, I'm well aware that it's probably wrong even if I don't get corrected. I'll agree that it's not an easy question when to assume that someone else is already aware of their errors and when they still need to be made aware.

Basically, what I would do with this language (the language nerd way, I suppopse) is to try and understand which tenses and moods exist in the language, and then learn the forms for the most important ones. I will still produce wrong sentences in a conversation that require more than those few forms, but at least I won't think it's correct just because I wasn't even aware that this language distinguishes imperfect and simple past.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby voron » 2018-04-18, 14:46

Ciarán12 wrote: Yeah, but the guy ended up speaking Russian.

Yes, and he told me, at the police station where he currently works in Turkey, they even use him as an interpreter when they detain people from ex-USSR. :)

I did correct his verb forms though (the person and number), otherwise it wasn't clear what he meant. As for the cases and gender agreement I didn't bother.

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Re: Communicative approaches to language learning

Postby Ciarán12 » 2018-04-18, 16:48

I’ve decided off the back of this conversation to try to start writing a course for Portuguese that follows this kind of approach, just to see if there’s a way I can formalise/plan the actual implementation of it. I’m thinking there will be phased introduction of all areas of grammar with each phase going into greater depth and an emphasis on using the grammar and vocab taught in actual conversation/listening from as soon as feasibly possible. I’d also like to leave space for the learner to customise the course - so along with basic vocab and phrases that are proscribed, there will be slots for the learner to find their own vocab and phrases they believe will be useful for them (though I’m aiming to control the number of vocab and phrases so as to limit the memorisation task needed for each phase).
If it goes well with Portuguese, I can start trying it for Irish. Once I have the Portuguese Course written (and checked by a native), I’ll go hunting for some guinea pigs to try it out on.


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