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3.2. Grammar and pronunciation?


Some people will have a hard time believing that doing these simple activities will result in language learning unless there are also grammar lessons. In fact there may be mild evidence in support of a limited role for "focusing on form' as a means of improving ones accuracy in the new language. However, grammar may be more important than this for some people, sincethey seem to have a psychological barrier to language learning without grammar study. For such people, we recommend our paper Kick Starting Your Language Learning: Becoming a Basic Speaker Through Fun and Games Inside a Secure Nest. People with this need can also read grammar descriptions in addition to their normal language learning activities. However, if there are no descriptions available, they will need to postpone producing one until they learn the language! They might keep brief notes of the aspects of grammar that they notice while learning the language.

If some people feel a need to "understand the grammar", other people are in the opposite position. Rather than the absence of a focus on grammar being intimidating, they find that grarnmar is intimidating. They will be relieved to know that language learning can proceed steadily through the above activities without their "learning the grammar".

You might have wondered where grammar fits into the above picture of mental links between sound forms and mental images. We talked as though you understand a noun by connecting it to a simple mental "picture" of sorts. What is popularly called "grammar" involves aspects of language that are used 1) to organize simple images into simple "scenes", and 2) to orchestrate "movies" that are built out of connected sequences of simple scenes (what is you get when you understand a story, for example). Your language learning cannot depend on your understanding how this works, because no one really does. You mostly need to trust your brain, believing that sort this all out. And for the most part it will, without a lot of help from you, as you keep improving your ability to understand increasingly difficult speech. It is a natural growth process, at least for the most part.

As for pronunciation, it is important to develop a thorough and crisp awareness of what the language sounds like when spoken by native speakers. People who attempt to learn languages by memorizing and drilling tend to do a lot of speaking before they are hearing the language clearly. There own pronunciation then becomes the basis for the memory of the sound forms of the language. We don't recommend that. We think that throughout early language learning understanding should predominate over speaking, and especially during the first month. This way you can at least be aware of the fact that your speech differs from that of native speakers, and gradually tune your instrument. Beyond this, some training in phonetics is great, especially if it is oriented toward the language you want to learn. If you do not have such training you might benefit from the help of someone who does, and who has learned this language as a second language. However, not having phonetic training in no way cripples you.

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Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 3.5, published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 1999. [Ordering information.]

Page content last modified: 21 March 1999

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