Turning the key: using grammar to
unlock languages for adults .
Association for Language Learning,
March, 2013
[email protected]
johnbald.typepad.com
An old problem
(from Chaucer, G, Prologue, late C14 )
And frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
After the scole of stratford atte bowe,
For frenssh of parys was to hire unknowe.
Brain cells and connections
(from The Learning Brain, Blakemore and Frith, 2005)
As we learn, brain cells form connections with
each other that build into networks. These
connections are strengthened with practice.
Brain cell
(from Neuroscience and Education, Teaching and Learning Research Project, 2007)
Brain cell connections
(from Neuroscience and Education, Teaching and Learning Research Project, 2007)
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012: Six months
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012: Three years
The brain adapts itself to
different languages
Reading Aloud in English and Italian, evidence from brain scans (active areas in black)
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Left: reading system of English and Italian combined
Centre: sound processing more active in Italian
Right: word form area more active in English
(fromThe Learning Brain, Blakemore and Frith, 2005)
The areas of the brain used for written and spoken language
are interlinked and overlap
(Dr. Matt Davis, MRC, Languages Today, Spring 2013)
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Hearing
Reading
Both
As we learn a new language…
• We add to and adapt the structures formed in
our brain as we learned our first language.
• These structures influence the way we learn the
new language, both the parts we find easy, and
the errors we make. (Swan and Smith, Learner English.)
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Linguistic structures include words, the way they
are put together (grammar) and the way they are
presented (intonation, phrasing, body language)
English speakers need to adapt to:
• New relationships between written and spoken
language, including spelling and pronunciation.
• Gender in nouns that have no physical gender, and
in associated pronouns and adjectives.
• Greater variation in verb forms than in English
(except for Mandarin!)
We promote new networks by...
• Understanding the adjustments people need to make to
their thinking. This includes differences and similarities
between the grammar of their first language and that of
the new language.
• Explaining these in terms they understand
• Presenting new material carefully, and at a pace people find
comfortable, so that everything fits what we say and
people do not have to resolve contradictions between what
we say, and what they hear and see.
• Teaching spoken and written language together, so that
people can see the links between them
• Encouraging and answering questions
• Encouraging people to practise
We hinder the formation of networks
by
• Copying, which requires people to switch their
attention continually between the master version
and their own. These jerky movements hinder
thinking and the formation of connections.
• Overloading, by presenting too much new written
material at a time, or presenting spoken language
that is too fast for people to understand.
Copying errors from a Year 7 mixed-ability class
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Quel as âge tu.
O habite tu
Ou j’habites-tu
Où habite a Londres.
Common t’appelle tú_
Je onzo age
Ja un douze
Quel âge as-tu?
Où habites-tu?
J’habite à Londres.
Comment t’appelles-tu?
J’ai onze ans
J’ai douze ans
(experienced teacher, pupils had models of the sentences
they were trying to write, from which they could copy.)
Michel Thomas: a pioneer.
• Use “shared words” via the Latin link.
• Construct sentences using pronouns rather than
new vocabulary.
• Use few verbs, but a full range of tenses.
• Go slowly and carefully at first, and don’t guess.
But, no writing, no practice?
• When we understand the links between
written and spoken language, both
contribute to learning.
• The links between spoken and written
language are not always obvious.
• We need to read and write.
• Practice consolidates and speeds up new
neural networks, and so builds the
foundation for future learning.
The roots of grammatical knowledge...
• The Renaissance. Gramática de la lengua
castellana (1492) Antonio de Nebrija
Isabella the Catholic…me preguntó que para
qué podía aprovechar…
(roughly) asked me what was the point...
...and of our problems with grammar.
• 1542, ordered Lily’s Latin grammar, Rudimenta
Grammatices (1534) to be used in all English schools.
• 1586, William Bullokar, Bref Grammar for English, based on
Latin rules. “The first grammar that ever waz (sic)”
• 1604, Robert Cawdrey, A Table Alphabeticall.
20th Century: Linguistics
Useful
• verb phrase (Chomsky). A verb can be
more than one word. I was going home.
Confusing
• Complicated terminology eg determiner ,
designed for analysis rather than learning
• Concentration on form rather than usage,
particularly in tenses in English
21st Century Grammar
• Starts from the learner’s perspective
• Is based on usage, including idiom as well as rules
and patterns
• Enables people to communicate by putting what
they want to say into the words and forms of the
new language
• Uses plain words wherever possible
• Puts first things first
• Understands its limitations
Priorities
• Explain shared words with some examples – this
builds confidence
• Ensure that people understand sentence, verb
and subject.
• Make simple sentences using these, with shared
words for vocab and pronouns for other words.
• Ensure that you have positive and negative forms
clear
• Build out from there using your judgement, with
the emphasis on structures rather than vocab.
Key Terms
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Sentence. Begins with capital, ends with full stop.
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Verb. Most verbs do things. To be, To have, the most common verbs, don’t.
The French call these verbs of state. The Chinese call them linking verbs.
A verb may be a group of words. Verbs are so important, that they have a
name. (aka infinitive). In English, their name begins with “to”.
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Subject - not the topic of a sentence, but whoever or whatever does what
the verb does (or is, or has).
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Tense - old French word tens, time. In my approach, tense and time are synonymous,
and we teach tense to indicate time in the new language. This is not the same as the
current view of linguistics specialists
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Positive and negative constructions are essential to communicate meaning.
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Gender.
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Noun name or category
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Companion word – keep categories company in most European languages.
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Some further working definitions for
use as and when needed
• Adjective Used to be “noun adjective” as it could not work
as a name on its own.
• Pronoun saves time
• Adverb tells us what it goes with
• Object has something done to it, or sometimes given to it
(indirect)
• Active/passive we don’t often use passive
• Mood - if, should, might,
• Link words/starter words
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• Punctuation – weak
strong . ! ? : ; -
Application 1: French
• The French like their spoken language to
flow, and their written language to be
precise.
• All nouns have a gender. (Very
occasionally, two – le or la professeur)
• The negative is tricky.
• The form of verbs varies more than in
English
Teaching flow in French
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Explain that vowels are voice sounds, and that two together can
be jerky – say je ai . Can they hear the jerk?
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Demonstrate the technique of dropping the first vowel and
replacing it with an apostrophe. Write apostrophe on the board.
Who can see that it’s a shared word with English? Explain that
apostrophe comes from the Greek word for a link, and that we use
it so that a letter would not be left dangling. So, we have j’ai.
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Give and explain lots of examples, and practise by calling out
words and having people say whether they have an apostrophe or
not. Have people write constructions without looking, and check.
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Write and explain the sentence J’ai un chat, noting the letter at
the end of the word that is not pronounced. Make similar
sentences with silent letters at the ends of words, and note that
this pattern happens most of the time and not always. If you
doubt it, count up to ten...
Introducing Gender in French
Gender came into languages, from ancient Egyptian onwards, in much
the same way that gods and goddesses came into religion, though we
don’t know exactly how or why. Gender virtually died out in English
after the Norman Conquest, but stayed on in most languages including
French.
There is no completely reliable way of knowing an unfamiliar word’s
gender in French. The best guide is a companion word:
un or le masculine –
uncle
une or la feminine – lady Aunt June
I call out words and have the students identify feminine ones first,
as the companion words are a little more stressed. Later, they will
see that feminine words are often more stressed too – Madame,
Monsieur.
A French person’s gender is reinforced by the endings of words in
everyday speeck. Children understand this from around Y4. A woman
writing about herself might say Je suis intelligente, a man Je suis
intelligent. Keeping it personal reinforces the idea of gender.
French verbs – negative first
Gender came into languages, from ancient Egyptian onwards, in much
the same way that gods and goddesses came into religion, though we
don’t know exactly how or why. Gender virtually died out in English
after the Norman Conquest, but stayed on in most languages including
French.
There is no completely reliable way of knowing an unfamiliar word’s
gender in French. The best guide is a companion word:
un or le masculine –
uncle
une or la feminine – lady Aunt June
I call out words and have the students identify feminine ones first,
as the companion words are a little more stressed. Later, they will
see that feminine words are often more stressed too – Madame,
Monsieur.
A French person’s gender is reinforced by the endings of words in
everyday speeck. Children understand this from around Y4. A woman
writing about herself might say Je suis intelligente, a man Je suis
intelligent. Keeping it personal reinforces the idea of gender.
... a suggested first order...
• Colours have key features – vert, bleu, rouge,
blanc, jaune, orange, noir, violet, marron. Say
together, study, look away, write on sleeve.
• Bonjour! (G’day). Drop the tongue to pronounce.
• Sing and point (to self and people) pronouns
• Sing and point être. I usually do negative first.
• Sentence building with family and pets introduces
gender and avoir, positive and negative.
My First Steps in Spanish.
• Colours. Rojo, azul, verde, amarillo, marrón introduce most
of the variations between Spanish and English
pronunciation, and the accent. As with French, say
together, study, look away and write on sleeve.
• Explain ¡Buenos Días! as a greeting, and what it means.
• Sing Ser to 10 green bottles, with actions, explaining how
Spanish takes advantage of its word endings to omit the
short words we have to put in front of verbs.
• Introduce masculine/feminine, via the idea of boys’ and
girls’ words for younger children. Eg soy una niña/un niño.
• Build sentences about family/pets, around tengo/no tengo.
With Clicker…
Extensions suggested by Y4
Sentence Modelling…
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Allows people to say what they want to say
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Uses all channels of communication to promote and reinforce learning
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Lets people compose written sentences as they do spoken ones
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Presents new structures clearly and at a pace people can control
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Extends opportunities for study, explanation and questions
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Eliminates the to-and-fro brain switches involved in copying
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Lets us present advanced language clearly and flexibly
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Raises achievement in reading and writing
Is easy to use, and can be practised on mobile devices.
French Verb song
(song copyright ©Joe Biswell and John Bald)
Je
Tu
Il
Elle
(point to self, whole hand –finger pointing is rude)
(point to a friend, whole hand – they can’t help smiling !)
(point to a boy, not your tu friend)
(ditto a girl)
Nous Big circular sweep with both hands
Vous Point to teacher with both hands – explain that vous is a
mark of respect to a grown up.
Ils
Point to two boys both hands
Elles Point to two girls both hands
A possible order for verbs
• Pronouns only with actions
• Etre (negative with shaking of head)
• Etre positive (might try with nodding head)
• Some regular verbs - eg regarder, écouter, jouer, penser,
manger (these bring out regular patterns)
• Any other verb the children would need to use to say
something.
Some patterns in French verbs
• Tu
ends in
s
• ils/elles end in nt
• Nous ends in
-ons
• Vous ends in
–ez
(not nous sommes)
(not vous êtes and vous faites)
• These patterns recur in almost all tenses, including those
made with auxiliary (helping) verbs, conditionals and
subjunctives.
Footnote: Spanish verbs
• Spanish takes a shortcut – unless there is a need to
emphasise it, the pronoun is incorporated into the verb.
• Spanish verbs can be sung to Ten Green Bottles, using the
same gestures as for the French
• Negatives are easy – just begin with no.
• Tengo is a good starting point, as it can be used to say so
many things, and the first person is easy to spell.
Building out and self-help (free resources in blue)
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Michel Thomas courses; (+ Tuttle Chinese Characters)
Tony Buzan Collins Language Revolution.
Google Translate - as long as you check it!
Youtube eg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnIU1Ip5Vs
BBC Active – wide range of languages, CD+book, apps
BBC websites.
Rough Guide Phrasebooks
Parallel texts. Perhaps begin with Tardy, Easy Sp.Reader.
www.linguee.com – how people say things in other languages.
www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/languagesonline/
Diccionario Maria Moliner
Ultimate Spanish Phrasefinder
Collins Easy Learning Grammar
Some References
Clicker 6 + Acapello voices + app +dropbox: www.cricksoft.com
The Learning Brain, Blakemore S and Frith U Blackwell 2005
Brain Systems for Language Learning, M. Davis, Languages Today, Spring 2013
Neuroscience and Education, TLRP 2007
Spell it Out. D Crystal, 2012
Learner English, Swan M and Smith B, CUP 2001
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Every Child Matters – key aims