terça-feira, 6 de março de 2012
Take Control of Learning Grammar
I am a firm believer that the more a learner takes control of his or her learning, the more effective learning will be. I also think that we learn best when we are focusing on the very next things we are ready to learn, not necessarily the next thing that shows up in the textbook.
The problem of course is that we are not experts in the field of second language acquisition. How in the world are we supposed to know what we are “ready” to learn next? How are we to decide what language structure we should focus on next to optimize our language learning experience?
Because I don’t pretend to write as an expert or for experts, I want to offer a simple idea for figuring out what to learn next. It’s an idea for everyday language learners and one I hope we can all use to maximize the language learning journey. I have used it some and have shared it with others and while it is in no way a failsafe method for moving forward, it does offer a modicum of control for the independent language learner. It in many ways reflects what Terry Marshall shares in The Whole World Guide to Language Learning:
You can become fluent without formal classes or teachers by concentrating on your own needs rather than on performing for a language instructor. To do that, you need a framework which
provides direction for your language learning
focuses your learning on areas of personal interest, and
systematically prepares you to deal with more complex language usage
My desire in sharing with you today is to help provide direction for you learning while giving you a system that will allow you to deal with increasingly complex grammar structures. I have written about my ideas here but have also included a video at the bottom of this post to help explain it better.
In order to use this idea, you will need to be able to read basic texts in the language you are learning. If you are just beginning, I’d encourage you to start with some basic instruction from a book like the Teach Yourself Series, with a program like Livemocha, or with another introduction to the language. I would also encourage you to begin reading in the language as soon as you begin the language learning journey.
Step 1: Find an Appropriate Sample of Text
If you have been regularly reading as part of your language learning then you will want to use what ever you are currently reading. (If you haven’t yet begun to read, I’d suggest starting now. You can read
here, here or here to help you get started.) The text you will use should be something you are familiar with but which is not so easy that you know and understand every grammar structure used.
A good story book or a newspaper article could both be great texts to chose from and you need to find a long enough text to give you a good sample of the language. You may want to make a photocopy of the text as we will be highlighting and writing on it.
Step 2: Identify Known Grammar Structures
The first step is to read through the text with a highlighter and mark all of the grammar structures that you know and understand and with which you are comfortable. Knowing what these are called or even how they work isn’t really necessary just as long as you know what they are saying when you see or hear them.
Step 3: Identify Unknown Grammar Structures
Next, chose a different color to mark with and go back through the text highlighting all the grammar structures you do not yet feel comfortable with. Some will be completely unknown. Some will be so unknown you might not even know if it is a grammar structure or not. Others will be sstructures that you are starting to have a hunch about. You may not know exactly what is going in with them, but you are starting to recognize the patterns in which they are used and to have a feeling about what they might mean.
Step 4: Identify Next Step Grammar
Now that all of the unknown grammar structures have been identified, find the next step grammar. Of the structures that were marked, which seems the one that you are most ready to learn. That is the grammar structure is the next step and the one that you should begin to work on mastering.
Step 5: Make a Plan to Master the Structure
Now that you have identified what grammar you would like to work toward mastering, it is time to make a plan to make that happen.
Begin by reading a bit more and identifying every instance of the grammar structure. This will help give you a feel for how it is being used.
Write down five or six sample sentences from the text so that you can have a good look at how the grammar shows up and the context in which it is used. This will also give you a sampling of sentence to work from later.
Quite often, if you are already have a hunch about the structure and if you are getting lots of comprehensible input, this focused attention will unlock the meaning behind it without ever having to consult a native speaker or a grammar resource. This kind of intuitive, discovery based learning of the grammar will help you make a deeper connection to it than if you had just looked it up in a grammar resource and read about it.
If you still have a hunch, but still aren’t completely certain how to use the grammar or what it means, I’d encourage you first to experiment with it a bit. Write ten sentences using it and submit them to Lang-8 for correction or have a native speaker take a look at them. This feedback will either confirm the hunch or reveal your continued lack of understanding.
Whether you feel like you have the new grammar down pat or are still lacking in understanding, it would be a good idea now to take a look at an explanation in a grammar resource. By moving the academic explanations to the end, you allow your brain the time to make natural connections to the grammar. The explanation then can fill in the gaps and complete the learning journey. But I would encourage you to wait. You’ll get it and it will be due to your own discovery rather than some book simply telling you the answer.
Finally, make sure that you find ways to incorporate the new grammar into each day so that it gets the repetition necessary to stick. Journaling, hand crafted audio and reading extensively are all ways to make sure you see it again and again.
In this manner language learners can take control of their language learning in ways that they may not have imagined possible. So whether you are bored with the status quo, falling behind or just looking for a way to change up your personal program for learning, this is a simple way to put you in control of the journey and allow you to answer the question, “What should I be learning next?”
Take a moment now to watch the video in which I walk through a specific example of how to use this idea.
Hopefully this will make what I am talking about here even more clear.