More Inductive Beginning Grammars

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Re: More Inductive Beginning Grammars

Postby AMSpencer » October 26th, 2012, 9:42 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:My experience, at both the college and high school level, is that students from other institutions who have used highly inductive approaches (e.g., Ecce Romani for Latin), are often able to read the texts they already have read, but have difficulty with anything else. It could be that I am simply locked into my own didactic paradigms and have learned to make them work, but it's hard to argue with success.


This was exactly my experience with Latin. I learned from Ecce Romani. I found that as soon as I looked at even some of the earlier chapters from Wheelock, I felt almost lost when facing the exercises of translation from actual authors of ancient Latin texts. They were supposed to be easy enough for beginners, I suppose, since they were in the earlier chapters of the textbook, but I found them challenging enough even though I had completed two courses of Latin with solid success. I was discouraged at that. I had too many questions about things in the authentic texts that I didn't have a solid grasp on. I could make guesses, but I didn't know for sure, and I thought I was supposed to know by that point.

It is interesting that you draw from this the principle that inductive approaches are not always successful. I have to think about that. My thought focuses more upon the difference between using Latin that has been constructed by modern authors as opposed to learning from Latin written by actual ancient authors. My feeling was that the Latin I had learned was "dumbed down" a bit, so that when I saw Latin used as it actually was, I found too many variations from the set patterns that had been artificially taught to me in all of my experience of Latin to that point. That was my feeling, at least, upon reflection of my experiences there.
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Re: More Inductive Beginning Grammars

Postby AMSpencer » October 26th, 2012, 9:55 am

Stephen Hill wrote:Beginning learners need lots of input and they need to be able to understand it without constantly translating it.


I hear what you are saying here. If we are constantly thinking in terms of identifying a word, looking it up, writing down its English meaning, etc., etc., then there is no flow or rhythm and we are able to absorb relatively little. But on the other hand, I also wonder if there is not some benefit to a healthy amount of being confronted with some language that is a bit beyond our current level, forcing us to recognize our actual level of understanding, see the parts we do understand in relation to those we don't, and begin to grasp and absorb some of those other parts without a full knowledge of them yet. If we only face what we already understand or what is explained to us first, we will be rather comfortable, on the one hand, but probably set up for some disappointment the first time we encounter actual texts in which we don't understand everything. At some point, we are certainly going to have to face the reality that we don't know all the parts of the language, and that is just going to be the way it is as we try to read and study and learn. My thoughts are that it would be better to have that awareness earlier rather than later, and begin to deal with that fact from the start. We will learn more of those unknowns that way, I think, and we will also have a more truthful picture of what we are trying to undertake in using the language. I can see that if we throw the whole spectrum at a student the first day, then that will probably not turn out best, but if we give an appropriate mixture of known and unknown parts, the student should be able to grasp the basic parts and yet also see some things to stretch him and keep him in the proper mindset of where he actually is. I know that my experience in learning language has been along these lines. I am encouraged when I am able to identify properly parts of the language that I have already learned, and I also relish just a little bit of the challenge of trying to figure out the parts I don't quite see. If it is too heavily one way or the other, I either grow confident beyond merit (eventually to be humbled a bit) or I grow discouraged and feel that I am making no progress.

Connected with this is the fact that if I cannot identify a learned form/structure of the grammar within the context of the natural use of the language, then I can't really say to have learned it very well. To make a comparison with mathematics: Let's say I teach a mathematical concept and procedure for solving a certain kind of problem, and the student grasps it in the examples. He then works 100 such examples that are intentionally constructed to make it obvious what approach to take and method to use Probably the student will then feel really good about being able to do those problems. However, then the student faces a mixture of various types of problems and is complete lost (as often happens) because all the "signs" of the problem type that he is used to assuming look different. He is now facing something other than what he is used to, and he is lost. He was taught in an artificial environment where everything was set before him in a nice, neat, orderly way. He has not learned to think and identify the more realistic and authentic signs of the problems that would lead him to the right manner of solving them. This can take place on various levels. Many students of math struggle this way. I wonder if there is not a parallel with language learning struggles here as well.

Just some thoughts for discussion. I am trying to learn and understand these things.

Does this sound reasonable?
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Re: More Inductive Beginning Grammars

Postby Paul-Nitz » October 27th, 2012, 6:48 am

AMSpencer wrote:Does this sound reasonable?


If you are saying, "We adults have advantages over children when it comes to acquiring a language," I entirely agree.

One of the big disadvantages adults have when it comes to learning a language is feeling embarrassed, threatened, incapable, and discouraged. The partial truth that children can learn better than adults, doesn't help.

    Toddlers have the amazing capacity of adding up to 10 words a day in vocabulary.
    They also cannot read.

    Children under 12 have the ability to acquire a language and speak it without an accent.
    They also are incapable of advanced pattern recognition.

    Children do not worry about the acquisition process and are not self-critical.
    They are also undisciplined and unfocused.
So, saying "kids learn language easily" and implying that adults do not, is inaccurate. The issue is far, far, more complex than that.

The encouraging conclusion that I have come to in my reading on the subject is this:
adults of any age can most certainly learn a second language.
There is no insurmountable hurdle to overcome. No one with a normal brain need feel, "others could maybe learn another language, but not me."

As for musing whether we adults should learn as children, I think it is a misleading line of thought. Should we approach language as genuine, real-life communication? Yes. Whatever leads to that end is a good method. Whatever interferes with communication and reduces language to an object outside of the realm of communication, is a delay in learning.

For example, most people will only slow down their learning by this need use their mother tongue as a mediator. Blackie writes about the sorry state of Latin in Aberdeen University in 1871,
    "It was also plain that they had never been taught to think in the language that they had been studying... they had always to go through the process of a translation through the English; a process unnatural, cumbrous, and slow, and so beset with difficulties that [it ought never to be used" without first learning in a natural way]." Greek and English Dialogues, pg. vii
I suspect there are a rare few who can learn language as communication via visually means and yet still take it as communication. They SEE... and can manipulate the code of the Matrix. Those rare birds are (were) both reading Greek with comprehension and writing very long and useful grammar books. Ambidextrous, so to speak.
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Re: More Inductive Beginning Grammars

Postby Barry Hofstetter » October 27th, 2012, 7:10 am

AMSpencer wrote:
This was exactly my experience with Latin. I learned from Ecce Romani. I found that as soon as I looked at even some of the earlier chapters from Wheelock, I felt almost lost when facing the exercises of translation from actual authors of ancient Latin texts. They were supposed to be easy enough for beginners, I suppose, since they were in the earlier chapters of the textbook, but I found them challenging enough even though I had completed two courses of Latin with solid success. I was discouraged at that. I had too many questions about things in the authentic texts that I didn't have a solid grasp on. I could make guesses, but I didn't know for sure, and I thought I was supposed to know by that point.

It is interesting that you draw from this the principle that inductive approaches are not always successful. I have to think about that. My thought focuses more upon the difference between using Latin that has been constructed by modern authors as opposed to learning from Latin written by actual ancient authors. My feeling was that the Latin I had learned was "dumbed down" a bit, so that when I saw Latin used as it actually was, I found too many variations from the set patterns that had been artificially taught to me in all of my experience of Latin to that point. That was my feeling, at least, upon reflection of my experiences there.


My experience with this is admittedly anecdotal. At the same time, I wouldn't say that it's never successful. I think a great deal has to do with the way the courses are taught and with the commitment of the individual student. Having said that, however, I have found over the years that even with younger students, a more structured, deductive approach combined with lots of reading for me has always yielded the best results. A good beginning text book gives you real Latin/Greek based on actual authors as early as possible. Even very simple sentences can be made to reflect "the real thing." The sooner the student starts seeing that, the better. It's the ancient languages equivalent of having native speakers teaching the class. In classrooms where the teacher wants to do it conversationally, that's fine, as long as there continues to be exposure to real ancient authors and their way of handling the language...
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Re: More Inductive Beginning Grammars

Postby Paul-Nitz » October 27th, 2012, 8:24 am

Barry H. wrote: A good beginning text book gives you real Latin/Greek based on actual authors as early as possible. Even very simple sentences can be made to reflect "the real thing."


Preface to Blackie's "Greek and English Dialogues" (Macmillan, 1871)

    "Though a book is always the medium of instruction, the book is read aloud, and thus raised from the category of a dead record to that of a living utterance... The dead language is to a certain extent resuscitated... So far as teaching is concerned, there can be no difference between a living language and a dead; of the dead as of the living, the ear is the direct receiver..." pg iix

Putting Barry and Blackie's remarks together, I'd say, if a book is serving the purpose of genuinely communicating in the target language, use it. Just using the ear and mouth (Audio Linguistic method) is not the key. Only using the target language (Immersion method) is not the key. Treating the language learning process as real communication is the key to efficient and meaningful language acquisition. When, or if, discussion of grammar becomes "talking about the language" then it should be avoided. When/if reading the symbolic representation of the target language (printed text) is an effort in decoding, language learning is not taking place.
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