miércoles, 26 de octubre de 2011

How Many Words?

I think this may be the simplest grammar/listening/visualising exercise in the world...

Having discussed or studied a topic/situation, just tell your students the following:

You're going to say some phrases - they have to count the number of words you say.


"I've lost the car keys."

I - ve - lost - the - car - keys = six.

(Contractions like "I've" count as two.)

And all you need to do is make up a few phrases or sentences from the lesson, or related to it. Try to pronounce them as realisically as you can - really join up the words. Then ask everybody in class to say how many words were in the phrase.

"How many words? Six, Belen? Six, Alvaro? Marcos, five?

Yes, six. Well done. Do you remember them?..."

I find that just with a minute or so most lessons, learners are able to tune in a little faster. And of course you don't need any prep :)

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Naomi Epstein at Visualizing Ideas recently got me thinking on the subject of hearing: She mentioned here a persistent grammar problem for Hebrew speakers, in which she used the phrases "learners with perfect hearing" It took me a moment to remember that she teaches hearing-impaired learners, but the phrase was suggestive: As a serial language learner (4 attempts - 2 wins, 1 draw, 1 defeat), I've noticed that my own hearing takes a while to tune in to the rhythms of a new language.

And not only new languages. Over the last year or so, I've had the car radio on the classical station quite often. It's my first ever time at voluntarily listening to classical music. And I feel like a Martian living on Earth. Pretty disorientated at the beginning - there's this big nonsensical mass of music, and there are too many instruments, and just when you're getting the hang of a bit, it all stops and a totally different bit starts. And it goes on a bit, too.

But it's starting to make sense now: I feel more comfortable listening to classical music. I can listen to more pieces all the way through without getting lost. And I can listen to the classical station for longer.

I've noticed a couple of features of the "grammar" of classical music:

i) Instead of choruses, they sometimes have a little phrase coming back later in the piece, maybe played the same, maybe played a bit differently. But not much in the way of verse/chorus structures.

ii) The rhythm is often very understated or totally implied: I don't like losing the rhythm of a piece, and it happens a lot in classical music.

iii) You can expect much more drastic changes in tempo or sound or key than you would in any rock or pop or folk piece. I've learned not to be disorientated; things often return to more familiar territory a little later.

You can probably tell I've been reading in some depth on classical musicology ;)

But seriously, I get the feeling that, with some exposure to the new music of English, learners may pick up little details, consciously or otherwise. Does anybody else think so?

What sort of things might constitute the music of English?

If I may speculate wildly:

Maybe the way we really pronounce I'm and want to and because and plenty more;

Maybethewaywejus kinastringitaltogether;

Maybe the way the new information seems to come later in the sentence; (get that bit first and go back for the grammar if you need to).

Maybe the way we repeat y'know or ahmean or isslike, and learners can learn to mentally skip them, because they don't mean much.

Or whatever it may be. I don't have any intentions of bothering my students with a self-analysis, so I will instead invite you to check out Benny Lewis' blog Fluent in 3 Months for great insights, motivation and strategies for language learners. If you don't know him, his mission is to learn a new language fluently pretty much every three months. As I say, his is a great dynamic blog: part learner's diary, part tutorial, part reflection, always upbeat.

And of course, thanks to Naomi.

PS It's nice to be back!