Grammar

How young learners learn languages …..five statements to test my thinking!!

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1) Babies are unable to respond until they are at least 6 months old. T/F

This is false. From the moment a baby enters the world to eight weeks, the process of language acquisition is in motion. They begin to cry and make little sounds; this exercises the vocal organs and gives them practice in controlling the flow of air through their mouth and nose. They respond to their mother by looking at her when she speaks. If a stranger speaks, the baby will respond differently than to their mother’s voice. The tone, pitch, volume and intonation of a speaker’s voice makes the baby respond differently. The baby shows a response by crying, body movements, babbling and laughing.

2) Babbling has an element of meaning of which the young child is aware. T/F

This is true.  Language can be said to be a progression of the process which means that there is progressive emergence. Babbling plays a part in this. It can be said that language comes with age and with the form of the body where the child grows and their cognitive senses form. For instance, at 6-7 weeks the baby will be experimenting with coos and chuckles. Then at 3-4 months, the child will start to babble; making rough speech sounds. Most babbling consists of a small number of sounds, which suggests the child is preparing the sounds they will need to speak the language it is exposed to. The baby is aware as the babbling noises tend to closely approximate the language spoken in their environment. When they imitate adult sounds they are scaffolding their language for later development. Learning is intimately linked with the progressive surfacing of a child vocabulary and syntax.

3) Children may sometimes use words in a way different to an adult’s understanding of the language item. T/F

This is true. Younger children do not have an adult’s understanding of language; they have their own way of saying things as far as they approximate them. They are born with a special ability to discover for themselves the underlying rules for their language system. For example, a child can tell you in his verbal sounds that the dog their family has, has gone out side. He may say ‘doggie’ and point or say ‘doggie out’. This utterance may just be a few grunt but significantly the point of it is, is that the child is telling you the dog has exited the house. Speech in children can be recognised  by the way a child generally uses one pivot word plus one or two additional words, such as ‘Mummy go shops’, ‘Give dolly’. Telegraphic speech, as it is known like this, is marked by its own grammar, especially in terms of structure. These pivot words tend to occupy a consistent position in the sentence and the word order reflects the order of adult utterances, the only difference being that in telegraphic speech the less semantically important words disappear.

4) Grammar rules cannot usually be taught to young children. T/F

This is true if we were to say that a teacher or parent tries to formally teach a child grammar. Grammar is acquired naturally; it doesn’t need to be taught so formally especially to younger students. Grammar rules taught formally can be just too hard for some children to comprehend. Learning can be modeled on the natural environment, although learning needs to accentuate the rate of language acquisition. Role-play, games that highlight interesting and thought provoking activities can have grammar subconsciously delivered where the learner is using the appropriate language without realizing that the teacher is teaching a specific grammar point. The child will gradually pick up the grammar rules by interaction. They are not pressured. Grammar becomes secondary to the learners actually trying to speak. There language can be facilitated by the teacher. There is the fact that if the teacher tries to the child’s sentence to the correct version, it often fails. For example:

A child looks at their dolly and says question and answer.

Child: What colour?

Mother: (You mean) what colour IS IT?

Child: Red

Grammar is a progressive discovery. It seems that the child can only learn when the time is right.

5) Repetition plays an important part in first language acquisition. T/F

This is true. This does not mean a child will learn a language by repetition. Repetition helps by the way of the instructor, be that the mother or teacher who replies to the learner’s comments. The child speaks different to a normal adult. The repetition is done when the child speaks and the mother or teacher repeats and reinforces the child’s speech with their way of saying the utterance.

Child: Mummy come

Mother: Yes, here’s Mummy

Child: Nice doggie

Mother: Yes, he’s a nice doggie isn’t he?

With this type of repetition, encouraging the responsiveness, the child will develop.  She will keep the child’s word order and add on the rest. The emphasis is on the child’s meaning and not on grammatical structures.

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Grammar assignment

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Students are always worried about grammar. There is a consensus of opinion that they need to study a lot more on their grammar. Of course, a teacher who does not know grammar would seem a bit strange, and they will be asked about it and will at times have to highlight it in the course of their teaching; once they are over that I feel the teacher should, in essence, focus on providing information about the students’ specific goals so that acquisition activities can focus on the topics and situations most relevant to the students’ needs. It can be shown that “we determine the situations in which they will use the target language and the sorts of topics they will have to communicate about” notwithstanding “we do not organize the activities of the class about a grammatical syllabus” (Krashen and Terrell 1983:71). All the same, on my TEFL course I had to complete a grammar assignment. I have added it here for you guys to get a feel of what is involved which is not just knowing how the grammar point is formed.

Grammar Assignment

Form

Past perfect tense in the if clause                  and would have + past participle 

(had + past participle)                                  the other part of the sentence

Example

If you had asked me                                      I would have told you

Real situation = you didn’t ask me, so I didn’t tell you.

Use

When do we use 3rd conditional?

We use the 3rd conditional to talk about –       regret, wishes, hindsight

Meaning

*Unreal past situation (imagining the impossible): to talk about hypothetical past situations. The speaker is dreaming of or imagining a different past. But the past cannot be changed.

*The conditional may be with a negative. In the case of a negative with the past tense, the opposite of what is said is true, that what was said in the negative did, in fact, happen, like ‘If it had not rained…’, meaning it did rain.

*You must watch the tense; maybe it is in the past, even though a conditional sentence. If the verb is in the past perfect tense, it can refer to something that did not happen in the past.

Example

‘If I had known I would have told you’.

Real situation = I didn’t know. I didn’t tell you

* The if sentence that describes the past, describes something different from what happened,

Example

‘ If we hadn’t invented paper we wouldn’t have had newspapers; in fact, we did invent newspapers.

When the time referred to is the same in both clauses, we have:

‘If he had done this (or ‘Had he done this’), he would have sinned’; ‘Had we done this, we should have let you know.’

Real situation = He didn’t do this, so he didn’t sin.

*Strategy: When you hear an ‘if’, you must think that this is a conditional and that if the sentence is positive, then the speaker means the situation never happened or has not yet happened and if it is negative and in the past, then the situation did happen. Don’t forget the inverted form of the conditional, like ‘Had it not rained…’ for ‘If it had not rained…’; in both cases, they are of course the same, it did rain!

Pronunciation (problems with)

Example

If  (1) you’d listened you (2) wouldn’t have failed the exam.

If you (3) hadn’t gone I would have spoke with you.

(1) The pronunciation of  YOU + HAD when contracted = YOU’D with the /d/ sound.

(2) The pronunciation of WOULD + NOT when contracted = WOULDN”T with the /nt/ sound.

(3) The pronunciation of HAD + NOT when contracted = HADN”T with the /nt/ sound.

Mistakes that can be made

Different structures using conditionals makes for different meanings.

Example (Second conditional)

If I were rich I would spend my time traveling.

This sentence is talking about unreal or improbable situations now or in the future.

CORRECT example using (Third conditional)

I f I had been rich I would have spent time traveling

The speaker is dreaming of or imagining a different past. But the past cannot be changed.

Example

If my father hadn’t met my mother I wouldn’t be here now.

This sentence is talking about the present situation that is no longer possible because of the way things have turned out.

Comprehension checking questions

If  I hadn’t gone out  last night          I wouldn’t have crashed my car

Did I stay in last night?

Did I go out in my car last night?

Did I get home safely last night?

Did I crash my car last night?

Was my car damaged yesterday afternoon?

Is my car damaged now?

Did I go out then crash my car?

Did I crash my car then go out?

Real situation: I went out last night and crashed my car.

(b) If Jeff had gotten up early, he wouldnt have missed the plane

Did Jeff get up early?

Did Jeff miss the plane?

Real situation: John didn’t get up early, so he missed the plane.

The grammatical form changes from the unreal to the real in the answers to a conditional sentence.

Exercise (Testing Point)

*Strategy: When you hear an ‘if’, you must think that this is a conditional, and that if the sentence is positive, then the speaker means the situation never happened or has not yet happened and if it is negative and in the past, then the situation did happen. Don’t forget the inverted form of the conditional, like ‘Had it not rained…’ for ‘If it had not rained…’; in both cases, they are of course the same, it did rain!

Example: If the children had been better fed, they would not have fallen ill.

(A) The children became sick.

(B) Children were not fed and that made them ill.

(C) It was wrong for them to feed the children.

(D) Even though they were well fed the children fell ill.

Correct Answer: A

Explanation: The result of the situation was that the children fell ill, or became sick, but not as in B, because they were not fed, but because they were not ‘better’ fed. The condition was that they were not fed well, and if they had been they might not have fallen sick.

Complete the dialogues

(1)

A: My shirt is too small.

B: Did you throw away the receipt?

A: No, I’ve still got it. Why?

B: If you ______________ you wouldn’t have been able to take it back to the shop.

(2)

A: I got drunk last night and got into work late.

B: You shouldn’t drink so much.

A: If ________________ so much last night I wouldn’t have been late this morning.

Write a sentence for this situation

You are upset because last night you said ‘you are stupid’ to a friend. Your friend walked out of the restaurant very angry. Use the third conditional to imagine a different past.

If I ____________________________ I _____________________________________

Use of special conditional structure

Example: __________ , we wouldn’t have gone to the beach.

(A) If it rains

(B) Had it rained

(C) It rained

(D) If it has rained

Correct answer: B

Explanation: The sentence is conditional, as can be seen by ‘would’ in the main clause. The subordinate clause could begin with ‘if’ ; ‘If it had rained’ to be parallel with ‘would not have gone’. However, an alternative structure is the inverted form without ‘if’ , ‘Had it rained’.

Activity (Desert Island Game)

The teacher outlines a situation:

The story

A man went out in his boat and there was a storm, he could not get back to the harbour because the engine was broken and the sails ripped in the wind. He was blown hundreds of miles off course. He landed on a desert island with no supplies, food or radio equipment.

Students’ Job

The students must decide which 10 things he should have done or shouldn’t have done that would have helped him; being on a desert island using third conditional.

The students in their groups must justify their answers.

List of resources

A-Z of English grammar & usage by Geoffrey Leech – Longman

Practical English Usage – Michael Swan – Oxford University Press

English grammar in use – Raymond Murphy –Cambridge University Press