Giving students the language of language

Katie and I gave a talk at the ATEG conference weekend before last. 

One of the presenters made the point that most anti-grammar advocates don’t actually oppose teaching students grammatical correctness in written English.

What they really oppose is teaching students the names of grammatical concepts. They’re against teaching labels. 

But, she said, when you refuse to teach labels, you deny students the language of language.

To underline the point, she and her co-presenter acted out an extended dialogue in which the only nouns were “thing” or, alternatively, “things.” It was pretty funny. Completely incomprehensible, but funny.

This reminds me of a friend of mine, who was talking about having a hard time, as she gets older, remembering what things are called. It drives her college-age son nuts, she said. 

“It’s not a doohickey, Mom!”

She hears that a lot.

I said He should just be grateful you didn’t say thingamajig.

Or thingamabob, even worse.

Half the time the opposition to teaching knowledge amounts to no more than an opposition to teaching vocabulary.  

I don’t get that.

People learn vocabulary fast. In fact, vocabulary learning is the one area where adult L2 learners excel. (I’ll find a source for that & post…)

All these people lobbying against teaching content …. they seem never to notice that in real life it’s not fun, not knowing the names of things. 

Not knowing, or not remembering. Either one.

Terri on dictée and memory

I had been wondering whether homeschoolers use dictée. Turns out they do.

Here’s Terri

Fwiw, many classical homeschoolers do dictee. (Writing with Skill, the writing program by Susan Wise Bauer of Well Trained Mind fame emphasizes it, for instance.)

But it’s more for training kids to hold larger and larger chunks of information in memory.

I do a version of this with my freshmen students. I’ll post an example later. In my case the idea is to help them absorb the phrase-and-clause structure of formal prose. I ask them to write the sentence chunk-by-chunk instead of word-by-word.

I wonder whether dictée exercises are common in foreign language classes.

French L2 classes use dictée. At least, French classes do here in France. I don’t know about French classes in the U.S.

Ed learned French in France, and one of the standard classroom exercises was to listen to a sentence on a filmstrip, then write it from memory. He said it was incredibly hard to do, and incredibly useful, too.

Speaking of, I did my first dictée today. 

I see why French grownups are united in mild dictée-related PTSD.  

And see:
Le Dictée

The most important research on learning I’ve read

Someone has posted it on line, so here it is !

Deferred Feedback Sharply Dissociates Implicit and Explicit Category Learning
J. David Smith, Joseph Boomer, Alexandria C. Zakrzewski, Jessica L. Roeder, Barbara A. Church, and F. Gregory Ashby  Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 447-457

I’ve been mulling this article since the summer of 2014, when it was published. It’s life altering.

Continue reading

Paul Nation’s “survival vocabulary”

Another fabulous resource : Paul Nation’s “Survival vocabulary” lists in 23 languages.

How much language do you need to learn to cope with being a foreign tourist?

There is good news here. With around 120 words and phrases (which would take a total of four hours of deliberate study to learn), you can deal with the most basic requirements. These basic requirements include meeting and greeting people, being polite (please, thank you), going shopping, ordering food, seeking directions, reading signs, finding somewhere to stay, talking about yourself, and controlling language input.

This survival vocabulary is available in over 20 different languages. It is very similar to the word and phrase lists that you find at the back of tourist guide books, except that this one has been well researched. You can find these lists at http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/staff/paul-nation.aspx. It is a good idea very early in your language study to make sure that you have covered all the survival vocabulary because this is made up of very useful language items.

What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? by Paul Nation

 

Babadum and “decontextualized learning”

I’ve just found this site today — it’s amazing.

I’m not ready for it, but a couple of months from now — look out !

That said, I should probably add that I have no idea how it works, or whether it has a spaced-repetition algorithm. 

Still, the images are so much fun that the site’s ability to hold my interest is enough to make me use it.
~

Decontextualized learning

I mentioned the other day that I’m using 3 language apps: Duolingo, Lingvist, and now Memrise, too. Eventually I’ll get around to Glossika (because John McWhorter likes it), though maybe not till I’m putting more time into Spanish.

And, of course, one of these days I’ll actually use Gabriel Wyner’s Pronunciation Trainers, which I should have done before I did anything else, but didn’t.

I bought them.

I didn’t use them.

Because Anki.

One day I will be an Anki person, but that day is not this day. (Wyner has an app coming out in August, so, yes, I will be adding another app to the queue.)

Anyway, my thinking in fanning out among apps was that I didn’t want the words I learned to be stuck inside Duolingo. I wanted them to generalize to the real world.

I don’t know whether failure-to-generalize is a real concern, but I did find an interesting passage on decontextualized vocab learning in Paul Nation’s What do you need to know to learn a foreign language?

The most important deliberate learning activity is using word cards …. You need to take control of this very effective activity and keep using it to learn new vocabulary and even more importantly to keep revising previously met vocabulary. You may find that some teachers advise against using this strategy largely because of the belief that all vocabulary learning needs to occur in context. They are wrong. It is important that there is vocabulary learning in context through meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, and fluency development, but it is also important that there is deliberate decontextualised learning through the use of word cards, because such learning is very efficient and effective. Some people also believe that because word card learning involves first language translation, it encourages thinking in the first language rather than the foreign language. Research however has shown that in the beginning and intermediate stages of language learning the first and foreign languages are unavoidably stored together. Using bilingual word cards is a very effective deliberate learning strategy that you should use.