Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby chove » Sat Mar 09, 2019 5:23 am

Brun Ugle wrote:I wasn’t suggesting that the teacher or book shouldn’t explain what an adjective or verb is, only that they should also use the proper terminology. Otherwise it gets very confusing when you try to use other books. Sometimes you’ll see different books all using their own unique terminology. No wonder people think grammar makes no sense.


I agree with this. It's a bit odd when a book/etc goes to lengths to avoid using the words "accusative case" and instead comes up with a different bit of jargon for it. Yeah it's difficult to remember new terminology (for example I'm quite bad at remembering what each Spanish past tense is called) but once you've got the standard form you know it and importantly you know it for the next time you encounter it. Everything you learn has terminology of some sort, the trick is to demystify it rather than avoiding it and causing confusion further down the line.

In broader terms I find it hard to learn without some explicit grammar instruction. I mean okay as a child I worked out how to use English correctly, but as an adult I can save some time by learning "and here's the ending for a feminine noun in the dative case" rather than having to work it out myself from massive input. I could be odd, I accept that, but it does help me a lot to have the rules outlined instead of just picking them up from examples.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Brun Ugle » Sat Mar 09, 2019 8:29 am

I agree with Cavesa in that I think it’s useful to know the correct terminology for grammar, but I disagree that it should be target language only. I like to know the term in my native language, especially if I’m a beginner because, unless it’s a cognate, I’m likely not to remember or understand the term in the foreign language easily. And it’s not necessarily easier and clearer in the foreign language. Consider the case of Spanish with two or three names for every tense. I remember a tutoring session with a new tutor on Italki a couple years ago. It was all in Spanish and he was asking me some questions to find out my level. I thought I was familiar with all the different tenses and moods, but he started asking me about things like the “antepasado” and “antepresent” that I’d never heard of and suddenly I was afraid I was going to have to learn a dozen more tenses, as if Spanish didn’t already have enough. Of course as soon as he started to explain, I recognized them and told him the names I knew and he started using both sets of names after that.

Anyway, my ideal class scenario would be that the teacher would give the most common term for the grammar point in both languages, writing it on the board, and then explain what it means, how it works and give lots of examples. A good teacher can make it very engaging and interesting and explain it in a way that is simple enough for those that don’t have previous knowledge of grammar in their native language, but is still interesting enough for the students who do, and by using the common terminology, will make it easy for them to look up more information online or in a book if they want.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Cainntear » Sat Mar 09, 2019 11:40 am


Or even with English:

Perfect tense vs present perfect
Pluperfect vs past perfect
Present/past/etc continuous vs present/past/etc progressive

English is even facing a nomenclature crisis for the future now, although people are just sticking their heads in the sand and using "traditional terminology" as an excuse not to fix it. In the strictest technical terms, English has no future tense, but leaving that aside, the most generic and most neutral future form (and I believe also the most common) is going to, yet we call will the "future tense", despite how specific its future meaning is (decision or prediction made on-the-spot -- eg doorbell rings: "I'll get it", or child eats a whole cake: "You'll regret that") and its common use in the present (doorbell rings -- "that'll be John" -- no real future meaning, as I'm stating my belief that John is at the door, and it was John that rung the doorbell).
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Cainntear » Sat Mar 09, 2019 2:40 pm

Cavesa wrote:
Cainntear wrote:But that conclusion does not change the fact that the Latin terms are intrinsically meaningless to speakers of almost all modern languages, and do more to confuse than to clarify.


This would be true, if loanwords didn't exist. Words like "verb" are no longer just Latin. It is a perfectly normal English word by now, isn't it? So, why invent nonsense like "action word" instead? "Conjugation", "adjective", or "verb" are now normal words in English.

My point is that they have no meaning beyond the meaning in jargon. "Conjugation" in Latin is formed of clear, common roots. I don't speak Latin, so I might be wrong, but my understanding is that it means "a joining together", and conjugate is "to join together"

And is learning a term "subjunctive" any worse than learning a new word "natrium"? I don't think it is. Every area of knowledge has some terminology. It started somewhere, often in another language (like Latin) and now it is normal vocabulary.

It's jargon, not normal vocabulary.

That said, I don't have a good alternative for the subjunctive, and so I would always use the term if teaching a language with a subjunctive... no, let me correct myself there: I would always use the term if teaching a language which is normally described using the term, because I would never use it when teaching Gaelic which has a stricter subjunctive than Spanish or French, in that it always occurs after a subordinating conjunction. Why not? Because nobody else does, and it doesn't help. Spanish and French don't even have a true subjunctive, yet I still call it that, even though it doesn't help, because everyone else does.

Talk about meaningless jargon!

Vocabulary like "verb" should not confuse anyone. Or do other loanwords like "ballet" or "waffle" confuse people?

They are names for a readily understood concept, and things you can physically experience.

That's completely different from terminology for teaching. The Greeks and the Romans specifically chose most of their terms to be self-explanatory (and sometimes failed, but that's a different matter). They are not self-explanatory to people who don't speak Latin, therefore they do not fulfil their original purpose.

I would definitely agree that teaching the word "subjunctive" as a by product that can be forgotten, once the concept is mastered, is perfect. The problem is not teaching the word at first and therefore not defining the concept well. In such a case, the student is not likely to get to the stage of its mastery, and is also having a hard time finding different learning sources, because of not knowing the term.

Yes.
The target language terminology is in my opinion the only one worth teaching. Because the more advanced the student is, the more they are gonna be using the monolingual sources.

Well I'm obviously speaking from the point-of-view of Western-European-privilege here, but I very rarely use monolingual sources. I have a fantastic grammar of Spanish that explains things specifically for native English speakers to understand. When I learn less common European languages, I might have to learn them via books in French, Spanish or Italian, but I will choose that over a native-speaker's grammar every time.

A grammar for native speakers is designed to highlight patterns that the speaker already knows about and hang a name on them (eg a Spanish-speaking child already understands the Spanish subjunctive implicitly, just isn't consciously aware of it as a "thing" or have a name for it) and alert them to acceptable variations that might not be part of their local dialect; whereas a learner grammar is designed with the express purpose of explaining to someone who has no implicit understanding of the structure in question.

Monolingual learner grammars are a matter of pragmatics -- there has to be a big enough market to justify a book, and there can't be much of a market for Czech grammars of Wolof. But in your case, why wouldn't you go for the English grammar than attempting to work from a monolingual Wolof grammar (if such a thing even exists).
So, teaching them a different terminology instead creates a future obstacle. The foreign term is just as "unnatural" as the supposedly easier term in the student's native language.

But words that you know how to pronounce are easier to learn than ones you don't.
(There are very few uncontroversial facts in language learning, but this is one of them.)

But this brings up something important: to me, the perfect aspect is a perfect example of how inappropriate Latin terminology is. "Subjunctive" is confusing enough, because it's an essentially meaningless term, but "perfect" is a common word, and is used here with a meaning that is radically different from common use -- that makes it very difficult for learners to process. The French have done away with the term, because it doesn't suit their purposes any more.

Another prime example is the articles: "definite" and "indefinite". This confuses every native English speaker, because we all hear these as being synonyms of "certain" and "uncertain". I was discussing grammar in Spanish once, and it dawned on me that "definido" and "indefinido" translate into English as "defined" and "undefined".
The whole meaning of the articles is clear when you translate the terms correctly: the, the definite article, signals that the listener should know which one the speaker is talking about -- i.e. it has been "defined"; a, the indefinite article, signals that the listener isn't expected to know which one the speaker is talking about -- i.e. it remains "undefined". The current terminology obscures meaning, a minor alteration would illuminate.


These are all good examples of why to teach just one terminology (the proper one, invented by the users of the described langauge). And why it is important to introduce the terminology and explain it.[/quote]
I can see why these are examples of why it is important to explain the terminology, but I see no justification in there for why the terms should be used.

And the term "indefinite article" was not invented by speakers of English -- it is a bad translation of medieval Latin, which was naming a phenomenon that only existed in other languages (again, I might be wrong, but my understanding is that there were no articles in Latin).

These terms are utterly counter-intuitive, which means they hinder more than they help. Teaching words that interfere with comprehension is just crazy. We can say "le, la and les are French for the", so why do we even need to talk about "definite articles", and even if we do, why shouldn't we retranslate it correctly to "defined article"?

Perhaps I may have oversimplified the typology of learners, but so have you. Many people are encouraged by being presented something new and challenging. And they are being denied this in many language classes, because everyone is supposed to be scared by grammar.

You are now oversimplifying the idea of simplicity/difficulty here.
"Challenge" is not a synonym for "difficult".

A challenge is something that is difficult, but achievable. There is no challenge in the impossible, and understanding a meaningless technical term prior to having it explained is impossible.

You are saying a word they don't understand just once or twice, because you start explaining it right away, don't you? Following this logic, no chemistry teacher could start the lesson by saying "today we'll be learning about the ionic bond". They would have to start describing it and explaining it and then after 40 minutes finally tell the students what the whole class was about! I doubt anybody would find this secrecy about the lessons topic helpful, everbody would prefer to be told an unknown term once or twice at first.

Precisely. A good teacher starts with what their students already know, then builds new knowledge from there.

I had a chemistry teacher at high school who could reach 40 minutes into the lesson on certain topics without appearing to talk about the topic at all, then -- BOOM -- he would describe it, and it would all make sense, because everything he'd talked about up to that point was chosen specifically to get us to the point where understanding the new concept was easy.

Starting with the word is wrong, because the word scares some people. This is not because a meaningless word is any more "difficult" to understand for them than for others, it's that they believe that they are supposed to understand, but the ones that aren't scared have cottoned on to the fact that they're not expected to know it. Are the latter more intelligent? Possibly. But starting with the word doesn't help them in any way, it just doesn't hinder them the way it hinders the others.

Answer me this -- which of these is a more effective teaching strategy and why?
1: The French for "car" is "voiture".
2: "Voiture" is the French for "car".

I didn't mean offence, I apologize for that. But more people in this thread (and elsewhere on the forum) have expressed the frustration of not being given the clear terminology right away. It can be just as confusing as the opposite.

That's people who already understand the terminology, though, and we're not in the majority. The terminology is not "clear" to a language newbie.

But terminology first is what we find normal and helpful in any other subject. Yet, we pretend it is wrong for the languages.

Helpful terminology is helpful, but there is a massive pushback against meaningless jargon across the world, and language is actually quite far behind other fields in doing this. Just have a look at an error message from Windows 10 compared to Windows 95 and you'll see that a lot of the jargon has vanished.
Given your extensive education, would you have prefered your lecturers to not tell you the subject of the lecture at the beginning? You know, like have them talk about the details, show you pictures, and make you guess what is the connection? And then reveal the subject at the end?

That's a strawman. Not talking about terminology doesn't mean not talking about the subject.

For example, there was a great online AI course (can't remember what it was on specifically). Each topic started with a problem, then gave the "intuition" for a solution, and then formalised that solution mathematically.

Each problem was chosen as an archetypal example of a situation where you would use a particular technique, but the name of the technique was not given until the end of the intuition, when the concept was understood and the specifics became important.

Compare this to a supervised lesson where I was introducing the passée composée in French. I wanted to start off by revising the conjugation of avoir, because once you have in your head that "I have" is "j'ai", it's absolutely trivial to add in "fait" and get that "I have done" is "j'ai fait". The teacher supervising was absolutely insistent that I should set out the "learning outcomes" right at the start of the class, but I really didn't want to do that, because my goal was to have them thinking about 1 thing only for the first 5-10 minutes: avoir. By forcing me to say we were going to talk about the past right at the start, she basically made me distract the students from the first task and get them thinking about something they weren't doing.

But while I say I was teaching "the passée composée" here, I didn't use the term once in the lesson, I only described its meaning. I didn't even call it "the past tense", I just talked about "talking about things in the past". That's using language, rather than using jargon. Avoiding terminology isn't the same as avoiding grammar!

The mother tongue terminology is no longer helpful, when it is being mixed with the original terminology,

As I say, that's a different problem.

Yes, I used the term "dumbing down". The supposed "simplification" is the goal of the people removing the normal terminology. They are expecting people to be too dumb for the Latin based terminology

...and with that, you are calling people stupid again, and by a circular definition: "This teaching is right, therefore people who don't learn through it are stupid."

Einstein was a big fan of simplification, because it removes obstacles. Removing truth, on the other hand, is a bad thing.

Where terminological simplification has gone wrong is the way that "tense" is now used as a catch-all for tense, aspect and mood. That all comes from refusing to translate it correctly to "time". Avoiding discussions of aspect leads to all sorts of confusion with multiple past forms.


The result is just confusing for the better students, able to deal with the normal terminology and trying to compensate for their teacher's mistakes by self study from better sources. And it will not help the students who won't learn anyways, no matter how "easy going" you are gonna make the language classes look.
[/quote][/quote]
That's only for the best students.

Remember: good learners succeed despite the teaching, and genuinely bad students fail despite the teaching; its the average and mediocre students who pass or fail because of the teaching. No decisions on teaching should be made on the basis of the top of the class -- it's the middle that matters.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby dicentra8 » Sat Mar 09, 2019 7:17 pm

I just had some flashbacks about language classes I've had so I'll talk about my experience. When I first saw the topic I was about to agree with the impression of grammar being so prevalent but then I realized that my experiences don't really go along with it. Maybe some resources for language learning do tend to focus a lot more about grammar rules.

Language classes for 2nd/3rd language learning (English and French):
First, the textbooks used for those were texbooks completely written in the target language. There was no explanations in portuguese at all. I have no idea if that was because my teachers preferred those types of textbooks or if it was because there wasn't one with portuguese explanations.
The textbook's structure was usually: lots of texts in the target language with some illustrations related to the context, some conjugation tables and exercises. I don't recall at all the classes being about "learn grammar rules". If there was a more prevalent activity I would say it was reading aloud. Students would take turns when the text was long enough, like one would read one paragraph then another student would read the next, and so on. There was probably times when we would hear to a CD or even cassette tapes (!!) :lol:
I can't recall that well if I ever saw videos (VHS) during those classes. When it came to sentence structure, I think usually the teacher would try to explain it to us in a simple way and then we would do the exercises to practise it.

Native language class (European Portuguese):
Oh boy. This was the one I least enjoyed during high school! This was the one where all the grammar rules and jargon were thrown at the students. To be more specific the class was divided into two main activities

1 - Learning how to interpret various types of narratives
2 - (Awful and confusing) Grammar rules + jargon everywhere

So I did the only thing I could to get away, cram those rules into my head just to pass the exam/test.
It wasn't always like this. I do remember that the classes during elementary school were more pleasant (similar to the classes for the 2nd/3rd language) and not just "grammar rules". That changed in high school...I usually call it "grammar for adults/grown-ups".

Overall I enjoyed much more the classes for 2nd/3rd language learning than my own native language class filled with grammar rules.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Iversen » Sun Mar 10, 2019 7:53 am

I think that the thing that has saved me from being disgusted with grammar is that I always have considered it as my own hobby and not something forced upon me by some nasty teacher. I started out learning Italian and Spanish from textbooks at home almost at the same time my English classes started in school (well, maybe a year later, but not more), and thefragments of Danish grammar we learned in the first couple of years was not fearsome enough to spoil that. So when I learned Latin grammatical terminology it just served to give me a toolbox, which I needed for projects I already had running. And the idea that it is practical to have such a toolbox has never left me, even if it has to be rummaged slightly around or added to when confronted with new languages. I'm not terrible concerned about the origin of the tools as long as they are functional, and so far the Latin terms have been quite useful even with other languages.

As I have mentioned earlier the thing I really hate with a vengeance is a terminology is a nomenclature that doesn't say ANYTHING - like the numbering of cases in German. The very least the Germans could do was to speak about wer, wen and wem cases because you then have a chance to guess what the main function of each case is. But I prefer using the Latin names with relevant additions. For instance I use the word instrumentalis (or some variant of it) even when dealing with Russian - and I do this even though I still haven't grasped why subject predicatives more often than not are in this case in Russian. Well, if you smash something with a hammer then the hammer is clearly an instrument, but does simply being something inspire that something to smash some other things??

I also accept that there is an aorist in Bulgarian even though it doesn't do the same things as the aorist in Modern Greek, but Bulgarian is actually a funny case because I for some time adhered to a nomenclature from a small Bulgarian grammar writtenin French - but then I saw a much better system on the internet (on a site called languagegulper.com), and now I have scrapped the French system and switched to the gulper way. The new system nicely separates a present, a past imperfect and a past aorist, and then it names all compound forms containing the common past tense on -l as 'perfects' of some kind. I would like to see something similar to this system applied to English instead of the traditional somewhat messy system (or no system at all), but until then I just carry on with a Latin based system supplemented with the word 'continous' for everything containing an -ing form..

Of course the Latin system has its limits, but when I go on to tackle Finnish and Hungarian at a later stage I know that there is a terminology waiting for me, based on Latin roots but adapted to the languages in question. Rather that than a new system for each language.

Languagegulper.jpg
Languagegulper.jpg (53.49 KiB) Viewed 237 times

And yes, of course this should have been spelled in Cyrillic, but one day I'll make my own green sheet, and then the Bulgarian words will be spelled in Cyrillic.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Kat » Sun Mar 10, 2019 11:33 am

Cainntear wrote:It's jargon, not normal vocabulary.

I think this might be a cultural difference.

In Germany, children are expected to know the Latin-based names of word classes, cases and at least some clauses when they finish elementary school. Then they keep using these terms throughout their entire time in school, so they are quite familiar with them. Here's a list of the grammar items (in German) a child should know by the end of fourth grade. I'm sure there are a few other countries which follow a similar approach in teaching grammar and view at least the most common grammar terms as normal vocabulary?
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Cainntear » Sun Mar 10, 2019 3:00 pm

Iversen wrote:So when I learned Latin grammatical terminology it just served to give me a toolbox, which I needed for projects I already had running.

I think this sentence goes to the heart of the matter: the things we learn best are the things that help solve recognised problems. Until the problem is understood, the solution doesn't appear to solve anything.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Kraut » Sun Mar 10, 2019 7:06 pm

Kat wrote:
Here's a list of the grammar items (in German) a child should know by the end of fourth grade. I'm sure there are a few other countries which follow a similar approach in teaching grammar and view at least the most common grammar terms as normal vocabulary?




Der Akkusativ ist dem Dativ sein Feind




https://www.lernfoerderung.de/schreiben/grammatik/

/.../

Nomen in die 4 Fälle setzen (Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ, Akkusativ)

Nomen in allen vier Fällen dekliniert

1. Fall: Nominativ: Wer oder was? der Sänger
2. Fall: Genitiv: Wessen? des Sängers
3. Fall: Dativ: Wem? den Sänger
4. Fall: Akkusativ: Wen oder was? den Sänger



update:

Moderators want me to explain the above remark.
Kat linked to a German web page that claims expertise in German grammar while committing one of the worst and often ridiculed mistakes in German declension:

3. Fall: Dativ: Wem? den Sänger


a classic:


https://www.n-tv.de/sport/fussball/Ich-danke-Sie-als-die-Ente-flog--article16314306.html

Lippens: "Ich war mehrfach gefoult worden. Dann bin ich neben meinem Gegenspieler hergelaufen und wollte ihm einen verpassen." Der Referee sah das, kam angelaufen und sagte zu Lippens: "Ich verwarne Ihnen." Lippens erwiderte: "Ich danke Sie", und die "Ente" flog vom Platz.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Daniel N. » Mon Mar 11, 2019 9:16 pm

Kraut wrote:Here's a list of the grammar items (in German) a child should know by the end of fourth grade. I'm sure there are a few other countries which follow a similar approach


Nomen in die 4 Fälle setzen (Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ, Akkusativ)

Nomen in allen vier Fällen dekliniert

1. Fall: Nominativ: Wer oder was? der Sänger
2. Fall: Genitiv: Wessen? des Sängers
3. Fall: Dativ: Wem? den Sänger
4. Fall: Akkusativ: Wen oder was? den Sänger

In countries of former Yugoslavia, kids learn in primary school all these terms, accusative, dative etc (in Slovenia, they invented their own terms by translating Latin ones, which are themselves translations from Greek).

However, I doubt 11-year-olds really learn what cases are. They learn it mostly by heart, remembering which is the "first case", which is "the second one", and remember the famous questions, but ask them if they know what are roles of the dative case, almost nobody will come up with close possession (which is one of the major roles) -- everyone remembers only giving something to someone. And if you tell them the order of cases is arbirary -- accusative can be listed after nominative, for example -- they either get completely lost, or say that schools today are rubbish, because everyone knows genitive is the second case and nothing else.

I think it's simply too early to introduce such a complex concept, this is high school at least.

Also, I know from Germans trying to learn Croatian that they are quite surprised when they learn that cases don't have exactly same roles in Croatian and German, despite many similarities. They are sometimes stuck with the idea genitive=possession, for example. So it's a mixed blessing, at best.
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