Memo to Self...

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Five Things Most Important to a Handbook

Ducky (that would be Susan's evil nickname) and I continued to talk about this after class. We went back and forth for a bit, and I've been mulling it over ever since. So I'm gonna put some ideas here, and then maybe copy this whole post for class tomorrow if I don't change my mind in my sleep.

This is all based on teaching a second language learner whose main language has been ENGLISH. I can't stress that enough, since some points become moot-ish if we're talking about someone whose first language was Spanish. That's something to be cleaned up later, too.

1. Structure of a Language
         Start from the top, basically. I think these terms are out of vogue now, but explaining the difference between an analytic language, a synthetic language, and a polysynthetic language is probably a nice way to start things out. Why? I think it may help speakers get a grip on the differences between so many languages. English, being analytic, is relatively barren of morphology; many other languages aren't. English "grew old" that way, so to speak. And I feel I'm inadequately conveying why I think this is important, other than that knowing from the start that not all languages function the same way is important. And how beautiful and majestic and COOL some of the features English lacks are.

1b. Language connection and history
      I thought I'd stick this in here, because it could be interesting. I have no support for it, though. (Perhaps knowing that your language has existed for ages and eons could stimulate even more interest? Err, dunno...)

2. Sound Stuff
      I don't think sounds should come first. I know that this is the American way of teaching a language, but I think that (priming of that, there) this is just the equivalent of throwing information at people. You must become acquainted with a language before you get intimate with it!
      Silly pun sort of things aside, there's a question of how this should go. I put "sound stuff" up there instead of phonetics because I'm proposing that cutaway face thing first. It could end up being just a relatively short introduction, I suppose. I don't think talking about "pulmonary explusion" (or whatever that term is for making sounds when you breathe out) is necessary, but it is nice to know the dynamics. Plus, introduce the voiced/voiceless distinction, with the fun "put your hand on your throat to hear you make the sound."
      No pictures of the glottis, though. That can be disturbing.

3. Consonants and Vowels (or vicey-versa)
      Now we get to sounds, the basic bread of any language Of course, the question here is: what comes first? Vowels, or consonants? Tradition 101 or 292 methods suggest consonants, because there are so many more of them, and the contrasts are SO MUCH EASIER TO HEAR! Part of me agrees with this. Part of me, though, says no! Vowels first! They're HARDER! Which could also be a reason to introduce them last, now that I think of it.
      This may be the time to introduce the fun English-language sound comparison chart. And despite what the textbooks say, there are ways to produce those "unusual" consonants in English. Err, sometimes. I know for the palatal [c] and its voiced friend in Japanese, some authors have suggested the sound one makes at the ends of plurals: ca[ts], du[dz]. There are loads of examples like this. Faltz has an excellent chart for this in Navajo, BTW, which may be worth looking at in class.
      Another thing here is: do we introduce all the fun things, like tone, to train the ear? This would also be a good time to have audio materials for the class to listen to at home. The question then, of course, is how to make them listen to it. Hmm.

4. Contrasts
      Also known as phonemics. I am running out of steam here, so I'll just say: contrasts important. Nice to know what makes a word and what doesn't. Also, maybe, a good time to introduce the trickier things, like tone and glottalization, or at least cover them in heavier depth.

5. Morphology and incorporation
      Yup, just about out of steam, and I haven't even gotten to the two most important components of language: morphology and syntax! Grrr. The thing about those two, though, is that they can be awfully dry. Phonetics, even phonemics, can be made fun. For example, highlighting the contrast between ano and año in Spanish made it reaaal clear why that was an important thing to know. However, morphology and syntax translate as...GRAMMAR, that hideous thing! WHACK IT WITH A STICK!
      So this is when the language class, I think, needs to be made real. No bolígrapho de mi tía here, please. (Why is it always pens, I'm curious--same for French and Japanese, there). The Japanese idea of bunkai, pattern sentences is similar to this, but I think can be used to great effect with shifting vocabulary and real-life situations. I'm not necessarily talking about the conversation style class, where you learn a "topic" (shopping) with a grammatical construction ("estar" as a location verb)--I think this can be expanded and improved on. Of course, it's closing on 2:30, so I'm out of ideas for now. But I know it can work! Real life can work!

One last thing before I close: repetition. If there's anything functionalist theory has taught me, it's the important of repetition and frequency in controlling how much of this stuff gets into our brain and stays there. Of course, old style language classes used to do things like this, so it's a matter of updating and making it less of a chore. As usual, I raise a question and don't answer it...but I think it's a valid point to be raised. And it's a nice incorporation of current theory with actual practice. Yes. We'll go with that.


Post a Comment

<< Home