Minding Your Accents and Umlauts
- Thursday, April 02, 2009
Our minds are not wired to only record information when we are sitting still at a desk, so enjoy your mental flexibility and work some calisthenics into your memorization! Moving around is a great way for students to stay alert while they are working on vocabulary, and for some students, it may help them memorize much more quickly. The movement can consist of walking around or more structured routines. Try making up a specific pattern of movements that the student does every time they try a new word.
Mention verb conjugation to students of foreign languages and you will often be met with looks of distress and quiet groans. Mastery of verbs is vital to the mastery of any language, but it is an area of language study that proves to be difficult for many students. In many languages, students are not only required to learn all the forms of verbs in the present tense, but also in the past tense, future tense, and several other forms called moods.
First of all, begin to demystify verbs by explaining or studying how they function in English. We conjugate verbs all of the time (I speak, you speak, he speaks, etc) in our own language. Beginning students often think that verb conjugations are the result of some sort of verbal alchemy, and explaining their function in English will help the mastery of them seem more possible. In many languages, including English, verbs fall into the categories of “regular” and “irregular.” Regular verbs follow particular patterns of conjugation that are replicated in other regular verbs. To conjugate a regular verb, the student needs only to start with the stem and add the proper ending. Once they learn the endings, they will be able to conjugate hundreds of verbs that follow the same pattern.
“Irregular” verbs do not follow the patterns that regular verbs do, so they must be learned individually. A good example of an irregular verb in English is the verb “to be,” which is conjugated as “I am,” “you are,” “he is,” “she is,” and so on. Students of English learn “to be” on its own, because it does not follow preset patterns. Now, in spite of this, many of the irregular verbs in Romance languages (French, Spanish, etc) have patterns of irregularity! This means that many of the irregular verbs are irregular in similar ways, so that while they differ from regular verbs, they are still similar to the other verbs in their specific group. This fact allows irregular verbs to be studied in groups, even though they do not follow regular patterns.
A useful tool for mastering verb conjugation is a verb workbook. These can be bought at large bookstores and through online sellers. A verb workbook focuses primarily on helping a student master verb conjugation through diagrams and exercises. I prefer verb workbooks that often require students to use conjugated verbs in context, thus increasing vocabulary and reading comprehension at the same time. Verb workbooks can be a valuable supplement to any foreign language curriculum and are often obtained at a very reasonable cost.
Along with verb conjugation and vocabulary, grammar is another integral part of language learning. If you are using a foreign language course designed for home study, it will most likely have at least brief explanations of each new grammatical concept that is introduced. If it’s a good language course, this explanation will often be enough to help your student comprehend the new concept. However, your student may occasionally be confused or need further explanation of something before continuing. There are several strategies that can be used in this situation.
Say It in English
First of all, try finding an equivalent example in English to provide clarification. As I mentioned, students who are wary of verb conjugation in a foreign language often understand it much better when they are presented with a comparative example from English. The same strategy can be used for other elements of grammar. For example, if you are studying pronouns, begin by discussing what pronouns are in English. This will help your student to better understand the language they are studying, as well as reinforce their knowledge of their native language. I was familiar with English grammar before I began to study foreign languages, but I gained a much deeper understanding of it through my language studies.
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