Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Do foreign language students need explicit grammar instruction?

Do foreign language students need explicit grammar instruction? Let's see:

The St. Joseph YMCA and Heartland Health celebrated National Walking Day on Wednesday. The awareness day sponsored by the American Heart Association encouraged people to walk to promote the benefits of exercise. Studies have shown walking can reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and breast and colon cancers.
-Jennifer Gordon, "Local groups walk for health," St. Joseph News-Press, link

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
-Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
-Tennyson, Ulysses

While you were reading those selections, did the term "direct object" once cross your mind? Some food for thought, I guess.

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  1. I agree that direct object is less necessary for interpretation, though awareness of the *pronouns* and how they fit in helps figure out what's going on. How long would students be confused by tú vs ti vs te without actually adressing it? Nevermind él, lo, le, and se. "Amo tú" would likely cause confusion in interpersonal exchanges. Consciousness helps those who are new to the language sort out what they are looking at and convey what they're actually trying to say.

    1. My point is that when I read these selections I thoroughly enjoy them without once considering any grammar whatsoever. I can do this because I read the language fluently.

      So, two thing: First, our students don't need to analyze grammar to enjoy reading. That, I think, is pretty obvious here.

      The second point is more controversial: Students can gain the fluency required to read naturally (i.e., not laboriously) and can come to enjoy these selections without formal grammar instruction. All they need is 1) massive amounts of comprehensible input and 2) tons of time. Those two things are the gateway to true fluency, not grammar rules.