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 Cainntear » Wed Feb 27, 2019 9:57 pm

nedthelonelydonkey wrote:Is it really impossible to learn a language without having to memorize countless rules about the subjunctive clause or what a conjunctive adverb is? I don’t understand how learning terminology could aid in learning a foreign language. Maybe it’s because I’m young and most people my age I know get bored listening to the teacher drone on about the preterite tense and its use in Spanish, but I wish foreign language classes in school were a little bit more communicative.

Is the traditional grammar rule method still effective for some people? Or are schools to lazy to look for more engaging methods and prefer students to memorize grammar rules because it “works?”*

*spoiler, it usually doesn’t judging by how my felllow classmates talk in English
How many language classes have you been in? Is it truly enough to make generalisations about what is prevalent and what isn't? Right now, we don't even know what country you're talking about.

From the native English and Polish and the comment about your classmates talking in English, it seems fair to assume that you're from a Polish immigrant family in the UK that moved back to Poland... but that would be at odds with the fact that you're talking about subjunctive clauses etc, which suggests you're actively studying Spanish in an English-speaking school....
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby aokoye » Wed Feb 27, 2019 10:24 pm

Cainntear wrote:
nedthelonelydonkey wrote:Is it really impossible to learn a language without having to memorize countless rules about the subjunctive clause or what a conjunctive adverb is? I don’t understand how learning terminology could aid in learning a foreign language. Maybe it’s because I’m young and most people my age I know get bored listening to the teacher drone on about the preterite tense and its use in Spanish, but I wish foreign language classes in school were a little bit more communicative.

Is the traditional grammar rule method still effective for some people? Or are schools to lazy to look for more engaging methods and prefer students to memorize grammar rules because it “works?”*

*spoiler, it usually doesn’t judging by how my felllow classmates talk in English
How many language classes have you been in? Is it truly enough to make generalisations about what is prevalent and what isn't? Right now, we don't even know what country you're talking about.

From the native English and Polish and the comment about your classmates talking in English, it seems fair to assume that you're from a Polish immigrant family in the UK that moved back to Poland... but that would be at odds with the fact that you're talking about subjunctive clauses etc, which suggests you're actively studying Spanish in an English-speaking school....

Also people in this thread have talked about grammar being taught (or not taught) in both L1 and L2 language classes. Those are two very different situations. Never mind, of course, that we can't easily generalize about how foreign and second languages are being taught around the world. Heck it's even hard to make broad generalizations about immersion programs in the US and that's a single (large) country and significantly more specific topic than "how are foreign and second languages taught?"
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby reineke » Thu Feb 28, 2019 3:17 am



Scott Thornbury’s 30 Language Teaching Methods (excerpts from the sample chapter)

In 1994, H.D. Brown posed the question ‘Is there a currently recognised approach that is a generally accepted norm in the field?’ and he answered it by saying, ‘the answer is a qualified yes. That qualified yes can be captured in the term communicative language teaching (CLT)’. A quarter of a century later, the answer is still ‘yes’, and still qualified.

The background In the early 1960s, the terms ‘communication’ and ‘communicative’ were all the rage. Communication had been invoked as a tool for post-war reconstruction; mass media were now being credited with turning the word into a ‘global village’. Driven by innovations in technology, university courses on ‘communication studies’ and ‘communication sciences’ proliferated. To sell anything or to get votes, ‘communication skills’ were considered essential. At the same time, a new branch of linguistics was emerging: sociolinguists were training their sights on the relationship between language and society, interested less in language as an abstract system and more in how it is put to use in actual communication.

It was in this intellectual climate, in 1966, that Dell Hymes put forward the idea of ‘communicative competence’, i.e. ‘competence as to when to speak, when not, and as to what to talk about with whom, when, where, in what manner’ (Hymes 1972). Communicative competence, it followed, involves more than having a command of the sum of the grammatical structures that were enshrined in the typical syllabuses of the time. It involves being sensitive to the effect on language choices of such contextual factors as the purpose of the exchange and relation between the participants. Communicative competence was to become the ‘big idea’ that would underpin Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and give it its name.

How this big idea might revitalize language teaching was the driving force behind the Council of Europe Modern Languages Project that was launched at Rüschlikon, Switzerland, in 1971, and which effectively marked the inception of CLT. It came to fruition a few years later with the publication of a number of courses based not on a syllabus of grammatical structures but on a syllabus of communicative functions – such as making requests, complaining, narrating and so on. As an epigraph to one of the first of these courses, Strategies (Abbs, et al. 1975) the writers quoted David Wilkins (1976), a consultant on the Council of Europe project, to the effect that: what people want to do through language is more important than the mastery of language as an unapplied system.

How does it work?
In the teachers’ guide to the same series, the authors spell out their approach (Abbs & Freebairn 1979):

If emphasis is placed on learning a language for communicative purposes, the methods used to promote learning should reflect this. […] A communicative methodology will therefore encourage students to practise language in pairs and groups, where they have equal opportunity to ask, answer, initiate and respond. The teacher assumes a counselling role, initiating activity, listening, helping and advising. Students are encouraged to communicate effectively rather than merely to produce grammatically correct forms of English.

By realigning the goals of instruction away from grammatical accuracy and towards fluency (however defined), and by making a strong commitment to experiential learning, i.e. that communication is best acquired by communicating, the quality and quantity of classroom interaction was set to change radically.

There was still the problem of the syllabus, however.

The Council of Europe had urged the adoption of functional-notional syllabuses, i.e. syllabuses made up of items such as requesting, making comparisons, narrating, duration. Others argued for a task-based syllabus. Either way, allegiance to the grammar syllabus – on the grounds that grammar items are more generalizable, easier to sequence, and, of course, easier to test – was unshakeable.

And, since grammar items are not easily learned by experience, the ‘fluency first’ teaching cycle that had originally been proposed, in which learners communicate to the best of their ability, and then get feedback, was sidelined and re-packaged as Task-based Language Teaching (see chapter 16). It was replaced by a less deep-end version of CLT, in which pre-communicative activities (typically with a structural focus) precede communicative activities. Effectively, the PPP model inherited from Situational Language Teaching (see chapter 14) was dusted off and stretched a little, so as to include more production activities (such as information-gap tasks, role plays and discussions) but not a lot else changed.

For example, the unit structure of a coursebook series that claims to incorporate ‘the best features of proven and familiar communicative methodologies’ (McCarthy et al. 2005) follows this order:

Lesson A presents the main grammar point of the unit with some relevant new vocabulary …
Lesson B teaches the main vocabulary of the unit and builds on the grammar taught in lesson A …
Lesson C teaches a Conversation strategy and some common expressions useful in conversation, followed by a listening activity reinforcing this conversational language …
Lesson D, after the first three units, focuses on reading and writing skills while providing additional listening and speaking activities.By the time English language teaching became a global industry in the 1980s and 1990s, it was this ‘weak’ version of CLT that was taken to be the default form. In many EFL contexts there was no ‘communicative revolution’ at all.

Does it work?
If widespread adoption is any indication of effectiveness, then CLT – especially in its weak form – would seem to have worked. Most teachers, teacher educators, publishers and institutions subscribe, in principle, at least, to ‘being communicative’. What this means is not always clear, but there seems to be a general commitment to the idea that fluency is at least as important as accuracy, that language is a skill as much as a system, and that the goal of second language learning is communicative competence, rather than native-like mastery.

However, CLT has not been without its critics. Resistance to CLT in many (especially non-Western) contexts is argued on the grounds that it might not be appropriate in cultures where theoretical knowledge is valued more highly than practical skills, and where accuracy, not fluency, is the goal of language education. Moreover, a method that prioritizes communicative competence would seem to favour teachers who are themselves communicatively competent, which in many – perhaps most – EFL contexts is not necessarily the case.

What’s in it for us?
The lasting legacy of CLT is the idea of the ‘communicative activity’. That is to say, an activity in which there is a genuine exchange of meanings, and where participants can use any communicative means at their disposal. In other words, they are not restricted to the use of a pre-specified grammar item. Whether or not a programme consisting solely of such activities enables language acquisition has been thrown into doubt by research suggesting that a ‘focus on form’ – such as attending to features of the grammar – is necessary. But such activities have made classrooms more interesting, and even fun.

http://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2017/ ... g-methods/

Scott Thornbury

An A-Z of ELT
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Cainntear » Thu Feb 28, 2019 9:11 pm

Cavesa wrote:"action words" or "describing words" :-D Yeah, that is part of how you explain the terminology, but not the terminology itself.

Why not? If you think about it, most of the arbitrary, near-meaningless terminology we used was just a simple description of the meaning in Latin. "Accusative" means something along the lines of "done-to (adjective)"; "dative" is "given-to (adjective)"; heck, even "adjective" seems to just be an adjective meaning something like "stuck on" (compare "inject", to "stick in").

The Romans picked these terms to make it easier for learners.

It's a weird paradox that we treat the use of Latin-derived terms as intellectually superior, but when we try to do what the Roman scholars themselves actually did, following their intellectual example, suddenly we're accused of dumbing down.
Would people learn these sciences well, if they had to use weird circumventions instead of the basic vocabulary? Imagine a student talking about "the earth ends" instead of roots in biology. It would be the same thing.

You are contradicting yourself here -- "root" is basic vocabulary, because everyone knows it (well, less now than before). "Subjunctive", on the other hand, has no broad or basic meaning -- it exists as technical jargon for one specific thing.

The "don't worry about that, it's too complicated" approach is horrible. First of all, you basically tell the student they are too stupid.

You're quite right, but that doesn't mean that unnecessary complexity is a virtue.

The core problem with terminology isn't the word itself, it's when the terminology gets in the way of the explanation. If you go into a room and say "today we're going to learn the subjunctive," then you lose the class. The use of a word that you don't understand doesn't set you up for confidence or understanding. If you want people to understand terminology, you make sure that they understand the concept first, and once they do, simply say "...and that's called the subjunctive."
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby reineke » Sat Mar 02, 2019 2:39 pm



Last edited by reineke on Sat Mar 02, 2019 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Brun Ugle » Sat Mar 02, 2019 2:42 pm

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

Postby Cavesa » Sun Mar 03, 2019 2:34 pm

Cainntear wrote:
Cavesa wrote:"action words" or "describing words" :-D Yeah, that is part of how you explain the terminology, but not the terminology itself.

Why not? If you think about it, most of the arbitrary, near-meaningless terminology we used was just a simple description of the meaning in Latin. "Accusative" means something along the lines of "done-to (adjective)"; "dative" is "given-to (adjective)"; heck, even "adjective" seems to just be an adjective meaning something like "stuck on" (compare "inject", to "stick in").

The Romans picked these terms to make it easier for learners.


Exactly. They picked them, made it easier, so why not stick to what works? The problem is not whether the roman or another terminology wins, the problem is mixing several of them at once. And unless the publishers suddenly make a new high quality version of absolutely everything a learner needs, it makes sense to stick to the old terminology, which the old good stuff uses, and use it in the new books tool.

Saying "action word" instead of "verb" is not some victory over snobbish Latin based terminology. It is just a barrier between the learners and any other resource than their horrible teacher.

And do you think that saying "action word" intead of "verb" will make students any better at their conjugations and at using them in sentences? I highly doubt it.

As Shakespeare wrote: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"


It's a weird paradox that we treat the use of Latin-derived terms as intellectually superior, but when we try to do what the Roman scholars themselves actually did, following their intellectual example, suddenly we're accused of dumbing down.


No, that's not what is happening. If the one prevailing terminology was based on something else, it would be the same thing. The problem is reinvention of stupid new terms that are incompatible between the individual coursebooks and grammarbooks.

For example, I think it is extremely stupid to teach the English grammar with the Czech terminology. "Předpřítomný čas", you explain it in either language as what it is, the Present perfect. Neither of these terms would be a problem for the student, just like the name of the element oxygen. The problem comes, when a monolingual grammar book uses the term present perfect, one Czech based book uses present perfect, another Czech based book uses předpřítomný čas, and the bilingual teacher merrily mixes both the terminologies together and that gets confusing as hell, especially when several tenses are being talked about during one class, or the teacher starts introducing their own terminology, like "have done construction".

Would people learn these sciences well, if they had to use weird circumventions instead of the basic vocabulary? Imagine a student talking about "the earth ends" instead of roots in biology. It would be the same thing.

You are contradicting yourself here -- "root" is basic vocabulary, because everyone knows it (well, less now than before). "Subjunctive", on the other hand, has no broad or basic meaning -- it exists as technical jargon for one specific thing.


You're right, the example is not the best one, it was meant as an illustration. It is hard to find a good example, because this stupid attitude is simply not common outside of the language teaching. I could think of a few other examples, but you won't like them either and this one was still clear enough.


The "don't worry about that, it's too complicated" approach is horrible. First of all, you basically tell the student they are too stupid.

You're quite right, but that doesn't mean that unnecessary complexity is a virtue.

The core problem with terminology isn't the word itself, it's when the terminology gets in the way of the explanation. If you go into a room and say "today we're going to learn the subjunctive," then you lose the class. The use of a word that you don't understand doesn't set you up for confidence or understanding. If you want people to understand terminology, you make sure that they understand the concept first, and once they do, simply say "...and that's called the subjunctive."


Or just defining what you are teaching may make understanding (or limiting what is being talked about) easier. And if the teacher doesn't even come to the end and say "and that's called the subjunctive", which is what Brun Ugle describes, the whole mission is failed. The students will be more confused and they will be unable to just open a grammar books and study. And the more curious ones will lose exactly what we've been learning the languages for, the new knowledge.

If you teach a class of intelligent people, you will not lose the class by telling them right away what they are being taught. It's that simple, we are making our expectations based on the dumb people, and that is the problem. Just let's stop harming kids by mixing them up (and not only kids, this should be done for adults too), start making entrance IQ tests, divide the people accordingly, base the methodology on the IQ and other talents of each group (as intelligence is more than IQ), problem solved. The intelligent ones tend to be more intrigued by something unknown. And if you use such a "scary" word and then explain it well, there is no problem at all, even the less gifted ones will understand.

Assuming everyone is stupid is the problem. The problem becomes obvious, when you waste tons of time explaining how difficult it is instead of explaining the grammar itself. When you tell the students that learning the subjunctive well or not doesn't matter, because they are not expected to do well anyways. The word "subjunctive" is not the problem here. Actually, this is an excellent example of something I wish I had been taught much earlier and in a more straight forward manner, as it came in the time at which I was not self-teaching. The mistakes I had to unlearn due to the teachers being unable to just face the difficulty (their difficulty to teach it, not the students' difficulty) are one of the reasons why I do not trust the language teachers. Subjunctive is a very common example, but there are more of them. The students should check whether their teachers are doing a good job all the time. Without the unified terminology, they have a harder time doing that.

And what is wrong with today's world, when the exact things making education and knowledge seem attractive are seen as an obstacle? The goal of education should be a person not afraid of a foreign word. The teachers dumbing stuff down to avoid any foreign words are doing the opposite, making the education less and less diffferent from ignorance.

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.


Yes, exactly. I can't see what is so hard to understand about this. An explanation is the key, but the terminology is important and should be allowed to fulfill its purpose. The purpose of the terminology is unification. One term works as a key to information about the subject in many resources, many books, many brains. Changing or avoiding it removes its purpose.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Cainntear » Sun Mar 03, 2019 7:59 pm

Cavesa wrote:
Cainntear wrote:If you think about it, most of the arbitrary, near-meaningless terminology we used was just a simple description of the meaning in Latin. "Accusative" means something along the lines of "done-to (adjective)"; "dative" is "given-to (adjective)"; heck, even "adjective" seems to just be an adjective meaning something like "stuck on" (compare "inject", to "stick in").

The Romans picked these terms to make it easier for learners.


Exactly. They picked them, made it easier, so why not stick to what works?

Take a step back and think again about what both of us have said.

I said: the Latin terminology was invented because it was meaningful in Latin, and thus made it easier. I wasn't explicit enough, but when I said it made it easier, I meant it made it easier for Latin speakers because the words were meaningful to them.

Using Latin terms does absolutely nothing to make learning easier for people who don't speak Latin.

The problem is not whether the roman or another terminology wins, the problem is mixing several of them at once.

That is a problem.

I completely understand that many people feel that the benefits of having a single universal set of terms outweighs the disadvantages of the specific terms chosen, and I actually agree with that myself (hence why I teach mostly standard terminology in my own classes).

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.

As Shakespeare wrote: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

That's hardly equivalent. "Rose" is a word you will use throughout your life. We do not teach language learners the word "subjunctive" so that they can use the word, but rather as a by-product of teaching them the concept. We don't care if in the end they forget the word, because that's not the point. Rose is a word for its own sake.
No, that's not what is happening. If the one prevailing terminology was based on something else, it would be the same thing. The problem is reinvention of stupid new terms that are incompatible between the individual coursebooks and grammarbooks.

Again, a problem vs the problem.

For example, I think it is extremely stupid to teach the English grammar with the Czech terminology. "Předpřítomný čas", you explain it in either language as what it is, the Present perfect.

I don't know how strongly I disagree here, because I don't know how meaningful the Czech term is. As a general rule, though, I see using target language terminology as pointless, as for one thing, the terminology will almost always be above the language level of the learner and for another, you end up diverting time to the task of teaching vocabulary that has no use in day-to-day life.

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.

Neither of these terms would be a problem for the student, just like the name of the element oxygen. The problem comes, when a monolingual grammar book uses the term present perfect, one Czech based book uses present perfect, another Czech based book uses předpřítomný čas,

In itself this is not a problem. If the student has learnt the concept in native language terminology, they should not have a problem recognising which structure is being discussed in a grammar book, and concluding that "present perfect" is the English for "předpřítomný čas".
and the bilingual teacher merrily mixes both the terminologies together and that gets confusing as hell, especially when several tenses are being talked about during one class, or the teacher starts introducing their own terminology, like "have done construction".

This is a new and different problem. Teachers should be consistent in their terminology.

You're right, the example is not the best one, it was meant as an illustration. It is hard to find a good example, because this stupid attitude is simply not common outside of the language teaching.

I think you'll find that people working in a lot of branches of science and technology translate a range of terms into their own language. I'm sure Czech brewers don't have "mash tuns" and don't produce "wort" and "barm". I doubt the distillation of the spirits for Slivovice involves something called a "washback".

If you teach a class of intelligent people, you will not lose the class by telling them right away what they are being taught. It's that simple, we are making our expectations based on the dumb people, and that is the problem.

Nope.
It's a fairly simple principle: some people lock up when they are told something they don't understand. Some of them are just fixating on the word, preventing them from being able to pay attention to the whole bigger picture in class. In many cases they think that their lack of understanding implies that they're stupid -- it doesn't. What you've done is set up a self-fulfilling prophecy -- you assume that anyone who is capable of learning will understand this way of teaching, and anyone who doesn't understand is stupid. This leads to giving up on people who are perfectly capable of learning if only they weren't made unnecessarily confused at the start of the lesson.

And besides, saying "today we're going to learn the subjunctive" is actually not "telling them... what they are being taught" -- until they know what the subjunctive is, all you're doing is saying a word that they don't understand. What possible benefit is there in saying something the learner doesn't understand.

Assuming everyone is stupid is the problem.

You are the one that assumes people are stupid. You are taking a very real and pretty common problem, then saying it's not a problem because people aren't stupid. The clear implication is that the great many people who do find this a problem are stupid.

In fact, you are calling me stupid. I can't tell you the number of textbooks (mostly computer-related) that have had me in a ball of frustrated rage because they open up with terminology and leave me feeling like I don't understand anything, when actually the concepts that they're trying to present are really, really simple.

Terminology-first is a huge, HUGE problem TO ME, and I'm a guy with three undergraduate degrees and a masters. It's hard to describe me as stupid, but your definition would throw me on the rubbish heap as a useless, no hope student.
And what is wrong with today's world, when the exact things making education and knowledge seem attractive are seen as an obstacle? The goal of education should be a person not afraid of a foreign word. The teachers dumbing stuff down to avoid any foreign words are doing the opposite, making the education less and less diffferent from ignorance.

You're contradicting yourself.
I said:It's a weird paradox that we treat the use of Latin-derived terms as intellectually superior, but when we try to do what the Roman scholars themselves actually did, following their intellectual example, suddenly we're accused of dumbing down.
You said: No, that's not what is happening.
And now that's precisely what's happening. You are raising the use of Latin terminology as an intellectual endeavour, and the use of helpful mother-tongue terminology (which is what the Romans themselves had) as dumbing down. You even used those exact words -- dumbing down.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Cavesa » Sun Mar 03, 2019 8:41 pm

Cainntear wrote:Take a step back and think again about what both of us have said.

I said: the Latin terminology was invented because it was meaningful in Latin, and thus made it easier. I wasn't explicit enough, but when I said it made it easier, I meant it made it easier for Latin speakers because the words were meaningful to them.

Using Latin terms does absolutely nothing to make learning easier for people who don't speak Latin.

.....

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.

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.

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.


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

As Shakespeare wrote: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

That's hardly equivalent. "Rose" is a word you will use throughout your life. We do not teach language learners the word "subjunctive" so that they can use the word, but rather as a by-product of teaching them the concept. We don't care if in the end they forget the word, because that's not the point. Rose is a word for its own sake.


An educated person will use the terminology throughout their whole life too. A langauge learner is very likely to need the terminology for years and decades.

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.

I don't know how strongly I disagree here, because I don't know how meaningful the Czech term is. As a general rule, though, I see using target language terminology as pointless, as for one thing, the terminology will almost always be above the language level of the learner and for another, you end up diverting time to the task of teaching vocabulary that has no use in day-to-day life.

The Czech term in this example means literaly "the tense before present", which is confusing.

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. 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.

The terminology consists of just a few words actually, and only a few are being introduced at a time. I cannot see how teaching the student a few words can be such a huge waste of time, as it makes learning the grammar easier.

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.

After all, a large part of schooling is about giving new meanings to common words. Physics is full of this.


Neither of these terms would be a problem for the student, just like the name of the element oxygen. The problem comes, when a monolingual grammar book uses the term present perfect, one Czech based book uses present perfect, another Czech based book uses předpřítomný čas,

In itself this is not a problem. If the student has learnt the concept in native language terminology, they should not have a problem recognising which structure is being discussed in a grammar book, and concluding that "present perfect" is the English for "předpřítomný čas".

I cannot agree here, this is not what is happening. It doesn't work like 1.you are explained the thing once, with the Czech term 2.you know it 3.you find it in an English grammar book under a different term and recognize it.

No. It works like this: 1.you are explained once, with the Czech term. And you are being explained more tenses with the Czech terms. 2.you are somewhere in the middle of the learning process of the grammar itself 3.you suddenly get a grammar book using the English terminology and are confused as hell (you often get both terminologies, plus some made up words by your teacher in the same class) 4.you are confused for months and years, as you are dealing with two terminologies while learning their content 5. (and not everyone gets to this point) you understand the grammar and regret having been slowed down by the Czech terminology.

I think you'll find that people working in a lot of branches of science and technology translate a range of terms into their own language. I'm sure Czech brewers don't have "mash tuns" and don't produce "wort" and "barm". I doubt the distillation of the spirits for Slivovice involves something called a "washback".


Of course. But the brewer will first learn to make Slivovice, all with the Czech terminology. And a few of them will later learn to describe the process in another language. This is different from the language learning. We'll probably agree nobody is done with learning grammar at least till B2, we are constantly revisiting the points. And during the whole time, the learners of languages are often forced to use two or more terminologies. It's as if the person making Slivovice were instructed how to make it sometimes in Czech and sometimes in another language they cannot speak well yet.

If you teach a class of intelligent people, you will not lose the class by telling them right away what they are being taught. It's that simple, we are making our expectations based on the dumb people, and that is the problem.

Nope.
It's a fairly simple principle: some people lock up when they are told something they don't understand. Some of them are just fixating on the word, preventing them from being able to pay attention to the whole bigger picture in class. In many cases they think that their lack of understanding implies that they're stupid -- it doesn't. What you've done is set up a self-fulfilling prophecy -- you assume that anyone who is capable of learning will understand this way of teaching, and anyone who doesn't understand is stupid. This leads to giving up on people who are perfectly capable of learning if only they weren't made unnecessarily confused at the start of the lesson.

And besides, saying "today we're going to learn the subjunctive" is actually not "telling them... what they are being taught" -- until they know what the subjunctive is, all you're doing is saying a word that they don't understand. What possible benefit is there in saying something the learner doesn't understand.


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 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.


Assuming everyone is stupid is the problem.

You are the one that assumes people are stupid. You are taking a very real and pretty common problem, then saying it's not a problem because people aren't stupid. The clear implication is that the great many people who do find this a problem are stupid.

In fact, you are calling me stupid. I can't tell you the number of textbooks (mostly computer-related) that have had me in a ball of frustrated rage because they open up with terminology and leave me feeling like I don't understand anything, when actually the concepts that they're trying to present are really, really simple.

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.


Terminology-first is a huge, HUGE problem TO ME, and I'm a guy with three undergraduate degrees and a masters. It's hard to describe me as stupid, but your definition would throw me on the rubbish heap as a useless, no hope student.
And what is wrong with today's world, when the exact things making education and knowledge seem attractive are seen as an obstacle? The goal of education should be a person not afraid of a foreign word. The teachers dumbing stuff down to avoid any foreign words are doing the opposite, making the education less and less diffferent from ignorance.

You're contradicting yourself.
I said:It's a weird paradox that we treat the use of Latin-derived terms as intellectually superior, but when we try to do what the Roman scholars themselves actually did, following their intellectual example, suddenly we're accused of dumbing down.
You said: No, that's not what is happening.
And now that's precisely what's happening. You are raising the use of Latin terminology as an intellectual endeavour, and the use of helpful mother-tongue terminology (which is what the Romans themselves had) as dumbing down. You even used those exact words -- dumbing down.


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

The Latin-derived terms are just as ok as any other loanwords.

The mother tongue terminology is no longer helpful, when it is being mixed with the original terminology, which is by now integrated to the langauge. Or do you think a "verb" is nowadays a confusing Latin word people should avoid? It reminds me of the 19th century Czech scholars, reinventing the language. They were making new Czech words, that were supposed to not be German-like at all costs. They were just confusing, despite being purely Czech.

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 (but somehow, nobody is too dumb for a non grammar related loan word like "ballet" or "butter", why don't you introduce a purely native language words for these instead?). 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.
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Daniel N.
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Re: Why is learning ABOUT grammar so prevalent in today’s language classes?

Postby Daniel N. » Fri Mar 08, 2019 11:32 pm

If you invent your terms, like "receiver-form" instead of "dative" (in German, Russian, Latin, Polish, BCMS etc) it might be a bit easier to remember the term, but you still have to learn that the dative of ich is mir.

OK, you can call it mir-form, so one form less to learn, since one form is in the name.

Some languages are just complex, and can be way more complex than Spanish.

BTW Latin terms for cases are translations of Greek terms, and in the case of "accusative", it's actually a wrong translation.

Cavesa wrote:The target language terminology is in my opinion the only one worth teaching.

But imagine learning Russian using only Russian terminology!
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