Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

Part 4 – Learning “Parrot Fashion” or Learning Spanish grammar?

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

In my last article I started to write about some of the first steps I took when I decided to learn the Spanish language. In this article I want to talk about two different approaches to learning a new language that you may want to think about before you dive head long into a text book or start trying to memorise hundreds of Spanish words.

The way that people best absorb and retain information differs from person to person but generally speaking our brains work better if the information we are trying to absorb is presented to us in a way that is informative and interesting. If the human brain attempts to learn by being continuously presented with factual information it will very quickly suffer from Neural System Fatigue; that is, our ability to remain interested in what we are trying to learn will quickly be lost.

New information is best absorbed by the human brain if it triggers our human emotions. Learning facts anecdotally is one method of achieving this. The key is to provide the brain with stimuli. It is far more likely that the brain will absorb new Spanish words for example if those words can be related to something else or if they forms part of a small list of other similar words. Trying to learn hundreds of unconnected words at once is likely to be less effective. I will talk more about learning vocabulary in later articles.

So what stimulus works best? How does the human brain react to different types of stimuli? Well, this of course is what differs from person to person. We are all different. Something that interests me might be the most boring thing in the world to somebody else!

Often you will see teachers and text books trying to teach Spanish by following two different general approaches. The first approach is what I like to call, teaching “parrot fashion”. This involves the student processing and remembering new Spanish words and phrases and then simply repeating them our loud. Certain words and phrases can be associated with different topics. The student can simply learn a particular word and remember that that word is only used in particular situations without necessarily understanding why.

The second approach to learning is more methodical. It requires the student to learn a new word or phrase and then to understand why that word or phrase is being used in the way that it is. What we are really saying here is that the grammar of a language is important. We can learn Spanish by trying to understand some fundamental points about the structure of the language.

So which method works best? The truth is that you are unlikely to be able to learn Spanish effectively without having some understanding of Spanish grammar. In reality it will probably take you far longer to learn Spanish if you simply rely on trying to remember when certain words and phrases are used in speech.

A good example of how useful learning Spanish grammar can be is when trying to learn different verb tenses. The way verbs are formed in Spanish is very different to the way they are formed in English. I will talk more about this in later articles. The great thing is that if we learn certain rules about how one particular verb should be formed in one particular tense in Spanish then quite often we can apply this rule to hundreds of other verbs too.

By learning Spanish grammar we can form words and sentences without necessarily having to learn hundreds of words individually. Following grammatical guidelines and applying rules will ultimately allow us to learn new words more quickly.

The problem is that learning Spanish grammar for many is quite boring! It essentially requires that the human brain absorbs technical and factual information. Without varied stimuli learning Spanish grammar might take a very long time.

To avoid losing concentration and becoming board it is probably best to mix both approaches to learning Spanish. This is especially true at the early stages of the learning process. By learning Spanish words and phrases “parrot fashion” at least the student feels immediate satisfaction by being able to communicate. Learning the basics using this method is probably best. It doesn’t take much for anyone to learn how to say hello and introduce themselves!

I mentioned in my last article that when first learning Spanish you shouldn’t get too bogged down with how different words and phrases are formed. The point is that you want to feel enthused about learning. However, if you are serious about learning Spanish then at some point you will need to learn Spanish grammar. Don’t rush it and make sure you provide your brain with the stimuli that it needs. In the next article I intend to talk more about different types of stimuli and how I managed to keep myself enthused when I first started to learn Spanish.

Why Study Spanish Grammar?

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

It is true that one of the best ways to learn Spanish is to dive right in and immerse yourself in the language. Throwing off your inhibitions and chatting away to Spanish speakers helps to develop good pronunciation, fluency and a grasp of juicy slang words. This is the way that you and I learned to speak our native languages after all.

But oh, if only it were that simple. As adults we are no longer programmed to absorb new languages the way that infants and young children can. Learning through absorption is fantastic and it will work to turn you into a fluent Spanish speaker, but only accompanied by a solid grammatical foundation.

Developing a solid base understanding of Spanish grammar is essential in order to learn to speak español in a way that native speakers are going to understand. Having an understanding of Spanish grammar acts as the platform from which you can dive into effective communication.

The grammar of any language is a set of norms through which the language acts as a communicative tool. Thousands of years of communicating have brought languages to the point where they have become systemized and formed what we term “grammar”. Without these norms in place it would be very difficult for us to understand clearly what our companions were trying to share with us.

Languages were not created in a vacuum. With the exception of Esperanto, languages were not made by scholars sitting around thinking up grammar rules and writing them down. For this reason very few of the world’s languages can claim to be orderly and always logical. Despite this there are ascertainable grammar rules, which can be learned and applied resulting in effective communication

Imagine you had a good Spanish vocabulary, but did not have an understanding of its grammar structures. You might be able to put together some words, but the time (tense), feeling, person to whom you are referring and many other parts of your intended meaning would be missing. You would probably have to resort to sign language to fill in some of the gaps in your meaning.

In some respects Spanish grammar is more complicated that English grammar, although English grammar can be a minefield for language learners. Try explaining to a non native English speaker why teacher is spelled with an “er”, but doctor ends with “or”. If jumped is the past tense of jump, then why is the past tense of eat not eated?

Spanish conjugates its verbs like crazy, whereas a lot of that was left behind with Middle English. Spanish, like other Romance languages also has gender attached to nouns. For an English speaker, it can be a headache remembering whether the word you want to say is feminine or masculine – la casa or el casa, el problema or la problema? Spanish is also much more of a fan of reflexive verbs than English.

There are many differences between English and Spanish grammar systems, but on the plus side, Spanish grammar tends to be more regular than English. Most of the verbs are regular in the past tense, the same for which cannot be said for English. Prepositions are much easier to master than English prepositions, which prove a major stumbling block for many English language learners.

Once you have grasped some basic Spanish grammar concepts you can begin to experiment and extend your speaking ability by conversing with Spanish speakers. Asking your Spanish speaking friends to help correct you when you say something grammatically incorrect can also be very helpful.

With a good understanding of the norms of Spanish grammar and practice speaking with native Spanish speakers you can become fluent. Without speaking practice you will never become fluent and without an understanding of Spanish grammar you will never make any sense. Go out and grab a Spanish grammar book now!