The learning of grammar

The learning of grammar

Grammar plays an important role in linguistic debates as well as in theories of language teaching, and it will never lose its topicality. Over the years, the view of grammar has gone through various stages: Over many centuries, it was the most important aspect in learning of foreign languages, until it was sometime completely ignored and forgotten. This chapter has been followed by the renaissance of grammar, as a result of which the grammar has received the value which it never should have lost.

Many pupils think that the learning of a language only depends on the comprehension of the grammar rules, but new theories of language teaching say that grammar represents in fact a basic competence, but it is not the only one. Grammar is therefore rightly one of the so-called linguistic competences.

The main objective of language acquisition is communication. Concerning this matter, grammar plays a very important role. It makes sure that the communication is of good quality and not only communication for communications sake and without formal importance. The following is interesting: Over the time mentioned above, in which grammar played no role in language teaching, the pupils fell into a certain ignorance. That has proved that the assumption that grammar is not important, was wrong. The pupils want to have a fixed constant to which they  can orientate in speaking and which offers them security and gives them support.

As for Spanish, grammar is what frightens the pupils the most. Although there are little complex subjects like gender and number which are very regular, there are others which are very complicated. To the second group belongs, for example, the high number of past tenses, which do not exist in this amount in various other languages (see the difference between “pretérito indefinido” and “pretérito imperfecto”). The subjuntivo should also be mentioned. In other languages in which it even exists, it is not as often used as in Spanish. Other complex subjects are the pronouns, the difference between “ser” and “estar” as well as the indirect speech. In this cases, it is important to focus the communication and not only the learning by heart, because grammar does not consist of  mathematic formulas. The learned rules are to be internalized by systematic exercises.

We give answers to grammatical questions and help, if someone has problems. Regarding this, we also orientate toward the levels of the European Framework of Reference for Languages. That can also be interesting for native speakers. We find it extremely important to give useful, clarifying and interesting assistance to the reader.

Communication concerns all of us!

Communication concerns all of us!

Traditionally, it has been assumed that four special skills are necessary for the communication: listening and reading comprehension as well as written and oral expression.  But today,  people realize more and more that there is a fifth skill which plays a role. It has transpired that the comprehension and the expression do not happen separated from each other, but they form together a combination, when we are communicating or rather interacting. As for the comprehension, for example, it is in many cases just important to understand a certain number of elements of a statement, whereas in a conversation, all that has to run much more quickly. We have to think more quickly about what has been said and what will still be said, and then we have to react.

So you need a lot of skills, which, as indicated above,  are connected with the skills of the comprehension and of the expression. As far as  the oral interaction is concerned, everything runs even much more quickly than in the written interaction because the aspect of the „immediacy“ strengthens the situation in the face-to-face conversation. As far as the written interaction is concerned, – for example in an online chat  – these factors play also a role, but in another way; the situation is „more relaxed“ because, in contrast to the oral interaction, the steps of conversation are not always respected. Conversation with the help of the new media is more linear and an overlap of the messages is not possible. You cannot all talk at once.

As far as the Spanish language and especially the oral conversation is concerned, it is important to know a number of elements which are not verbal and which can appear during conversation. Fundamental are cultural characteristics like gestures, the right way to deal with the silence, the physical distance as well as the shares of the conversation. Also in the written conversation do these cultural elements appear. In every culture, there are characteristic written formulas and expressions, for example in correspondence. Even in the formal language register of the same language, there can appear differences in greetings and farewells. This concerns especially Spain and Latin-America and their courtesy formulas. The Latin-Americans often use expressions which seem „too formal“ to the Spaniard.

We say that the main objective of language acquisition is the use of the foreign language in concrete situations and we mean with that in many cases the use of the interaction. The latter is important, if you want to order something in a restaurant, to buy something in a shop as well as to give and ask for information. That are example situations in which you need this skill. If the pupil observes all the aspects mentioned, he should be able to have more effective conversations in Spanish. – So that the conversation between you, me, us and others still works better!

Words, words and still more words!

Vocabulary
Words, words and still more words!

Numerous are the words which make up the lexis of our language, but that should not frighten us, because they enable us to understand the sense of the messages which we formulate and receive every day. They form groups, distinguish from each other, change, form syntagms, speeches, statements, texts, speech acts, literature and art. They do whatever they want (, which is like this, of course, not true, because we decide in the end which words we use and what we want to express). For this reason, we will, in this category of the blog, talk about the lexis of the Spanish language as well as about its oddities and peculiarities in this. We will also specifically talk about how to learn the lexis.

Many people think that the grammar is the basis of the language and of the learning process, but that is not true. Like studies about the so-called “lexical approach”, founded by Lewis in the 90’s, prove, language can rather be seen as “lexis structured in grammar“ than “grammar structured in words”. That means that a person who approaches a text of a does not have to know exactly the grammar. The comprehension depends rather on the number of the words which the person understands. Concerning this matter, it should also be noted that in a speech, there are many more lexical than grammatical elements.

It is not that important for the communication (and here the reading comprehension) to know the rules which determine, how the speech is composed of the words.

If you comply with the “lexical approach”, the learning has to base on an attractive input which should consist of oral and written tasks and which is adapted to the different learning levels. In this way, the pupil discovers the language which he is to learn, but especially much new vocabulary. The latter helps him in a particular way to learn the foreign language and to add it to his linguistic knowledge.

Which is the best way to achieve that? – The enlargement of your vocabulary with the help of much, much new words. The learning of new vocabulary can be simplified by classifying certain words into word families or interesting, attractive subjects for the pupil. In this way, you can form a network of connections between the new words, which helps the pupil to internalize with minimal effort words, words and still more words. This process will be the subject of the next chapter.

Spanish-speaking countries

Spanish-speaking countries are a true wealth for the world according to their cultural diversity, as well as their ethnic varieties.

Colonization and the famous explorers

Spanish is the most popular language in the world after English. It has even become the official language of 20 countries. First of all, Spain has become popular thanks to the discoveries of Christopher Columbus in the late fifteenth century. The discovery and conquest of the New World began with big names like Amerigo Vespucci, who gave his name to America, Hernan Cortes, who discovered South America with Mexico and Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro as well, who discovered Peru. Finally, Juan Ponce de León conquered Puerto Rico. The entire continent was colonized very quickly, thanks to the technological progress of Spain, compared to an America, which was mainly inhabited by primitive tribes.

Spain


Spanish-speaking countries are lead by Spain, where it is nice to spend holidays with friends and/or family. This typically Mediterranean countries offers a variety of climate. Southern Spain is characterized by hot and dry climate, with Andalusia, while the climate of northern Spain is more temperate. Southern Spain is much more touristic, with its coasts, islands and beaches, but the whole Spain is full of surprises and treasures. Feel free to plan your trip with the vacation rentals of Casamundo. Then you can taste the local specialties including a good paella, the famous tapas or a glass of sangria.

South America

South America is pleasant to visit both for its cultural and old richness old as well as its many historical sites. Among the Hispanic countries of South America, we can name Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile and Bolivia. The climate is mild and pleasant. Cultural heritage is rich of varied civilizations like the Aztecs or the Incas. Enjoy the many unique culinary delights coming from each country. The vegetation is sparse and scrubby, by a relatively dry climate in some countries.

Central America



Among the countries of Central America, we can name the Hispanic ones : Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Dominican Republic. The climate is very mild and warm. There are many historical sites throughout the various settlements. The vegetation is lush and varied. Touristic activities abound, whether you are hiking,taking part of excursions or tours. Local specialties are to be discovered as well, without any moderation.

“Yes, I do have heard it…!” The importance of the listening skills

“Yes, I do have heard it…!”

“Yes, I do have heard it…!”

Let’s look at the listening skills, which play among other requirements an important role in language acquisition. They make up one of the oral skills (among the oral expression and the interaction in a conversation). In brief, the term refers to the interpretation of the contents which a person has understood of which another person has said. In addition to that, there is also a part of the listening skills in an interaction because this can be seen as a combination of listening skills and expression.

The development of the listening skills is essential for the acquisition or the learning of foreign languages; not only to master a language course. The principal objective is rather the ability to make oneself understood in the foreign language and then to be able to live in it. This is the reason, why the majority of the language schools focuses on communication. In general, a pupil wants to speak the foreign language in order to be able to talk to native speakers or to orientate himself in the country during a journey. I say “in general” because we teach also pupils who want to learn a language either in order to be able to read original literature, in this case Spanish literature, or to be able to make themselves understood in Spanish in the field of business or medicine. For the type of pupil that I have described at first, the most important thing is, for example, to be able to inform himself in a train station or an airport about the travelling or flight times, delays as well as cancellations. It is also important for him to be able to listen to the radio, to watch TV or to go to the cinema. . As far as the level of interaction is concerned, he wants to give and to ask for information in order to be able to orientate himself in the streets, in a restaurant or in a shop. The objective is here a practical one.

In the training of these skills, it is, contrary to what many people think, not important to be able to understand all the words of a conversation, but rather to recognize the key words. Like that, it becomes possible to understand. Not even a native speaker always succeeds in doing the former.

In Spanish and also in other languages, the intonation in speaking is very important. Even if a sentence means the same on the semantic level, it can mean something else with another intonation, even something completely different. It is not the same, if you say “I like that it’s raining.” (and the person really likes that it’s raining)  as if you say “I like that it’s raining…” (and it is a day, when everyone is annoyed about the rain). But how do we realize this shift of meaning? – By paying attention to the intonation, which is, as mentioned above, essential.

Just like the intonation, gestures also play a fundamental role in a face-to-face conversation. We do not only have to concentrate on the verbal language, but also on the gestural or rather nonverbal language. Because it is the latter which gives us much additional information about what has been said explicitly during a conversation. That is the reason, why it is important to know the nonverbal signals of the native speakers in learning a foreign language. Take for example the typical Spaniard who moves his arms strongly, when he is speaking, in order to accompany and to emphasize his monolog. Besides, the Spaniard usually nodes his head, when he is listening to somebody, in order to show his attention. If somebody does not do these movements in a conversation, it is possible that the Spaniard feels neglected because he has the feeling that it is not interesting, what he is saying.

I want to ask the reader to not be discouraged by all these aspects which he has to observe. Whereas the listening skills seem to be the skills, in which making progress is most difficult, they are exactly these competences which profit the most from the immersion. If one is surrounded by the foreign language, the listening skills will develop inter alia most rapidly. Beyond, the success on this subject, if it will be achieved, is much more satisfying for the pupil than on the subject of other linguistic skills.

So what do we do to support the listening skills? What can you do to improve them? How can we, concerning this matter, fall back upon the Internet as well as upon other media? These and many other questions will be answered and commented in the form of internet entries in this blog. We do this so that you also in Spanish always have the feeling to “do have heard it”!

“Fuck charmingly”

“Fuck charmingly”

“Fuck charmingly”

The Andalusian vernaculars

Many times, I have heard about the Andalusian dialect and one might think that it is at the same level as languages like Catalan, Basque and Galician. Just as often, I have heard about the  1001 lacks which the dialect is said to have, compared to the so-called Spanish norm language. I invite the reader to listen carefully, if he has the possibility to listen to speakers of this “allegedly barbaric” Andalusian region. This region is said to distort the language of our fatherland. You do not need to have trained ears to hear the huge repertoire of language variations which characterizes the language of this region. Some people say “sesear” and others “cecear”. Several people use “vosotros” and others in the same situation “ustedes”, but without using the whole polite form. Equally very widespread are terms like “killos”, “pisha”, “poya” and “zagales”. But why do you say “Andalusian vernaculars” and not just “Andalusian”? The reason is that you cannot call these language variations one language. But I do not want to talk too long about this topic, because there are people who have specialized and who subsist on this subject. What I find more interesting is what not-Andalusian people think to understand, when Andalusian people talk. To be brief: When an Andalusian is talking, one might think that he is joking and can never be serious. The reasons are simple lexical and phonetical details which distinguish the traditional Spanish language from the Andalusian vernaculars.

Once, I was on an advanced training for Spanish teachers whose topic was the teaching of not-native speakers and the learning of the correct handling with swearwords. Theoretically, there were only experts of the Spanish language. But one woman said that it depends on which type of Spanish you speak. She said: “If an Andalusian says ‘fuck’, then he does it with such a charm which is characteristic of the Andalusians.” She continued that therefore, it is all right. But “if you say it in Catalan, it’s wrong”. It is not my job to estimate her amount of professionalism or the quality of her way of teaching. But I do not want to imagine, what she tells to her pupils during class, if she dares to announce such an impudence – and that’s what it is – among  teachers.

This experience is only to exemplify that from what I have written above: from (the loss of) the value and the prestige which are accompanied by  the different variants of the Spanish. The Andalusian is no clown or something like that. He only shows the Spanish language with all of its characteristic traits, like it is spoken in his region. As a Spaniard, Andalusian, Malagueño, Rondeño, Spanish teacher and speaker of the vernacular which is spoken in Ronda (Málaga), I can reassure all the people. I have never had a communication problem. Both pupils and native speakers have always understood me very well. For this reason, I say that everyone who doesn’t appreciate the wealth of languages of the Spanish, can fuck oneself (“charmingly”).

Why learn Spanish?

Why learn Spanish?

Why learn Spanish?

If you take a dictionary of Spanish in order to look up the word “Spanish” you will find three meanings: Two in relationship to political questions of pure jurisprudence (“Nature of Spain” and “relative to or belonging to Spain”) which don´t interest me now and another meaning which defines “Spanish” as a language: “Common language of Spain and a lot of Nations of America also spoken as an appropriate language in other parts of the world.” We will concentrate us on the last meaning, relating to the increase of the demand of teaching Spanish in the world.

Some guidelines show precisely that the didactics now deal with a new way of teaching Spanish as a foreign language. These are stipulated by experts and regard to objectives, contents, methodology and evaluation. In establishing objects for the course, we must pay attention to the programes made by schools (normally adapted to the curriculum of Instituto Cervantes and also to the Europe Reference of Languages) in which the final principles are set up. Although we share this idea if it shows a communicative focus, the teacher has to adapt to the group, he has to decide whose turn it is, to communicate, to write, to read, to listen and to “fight” with Spanish. For them one of the first questions in a course (also related to the topic of autoevaluation, student responsable of his own learning process etc.) normally refer to the motive why the student is learning Spanish. The question leads to the final conclusion of “why we are here in this room now.” Asking this question in my class I always come to the same result: Spanish ist up-to-date.

But why Spanish? Why not one of the other almost uncountable languages which exist in the world? Why is it the language of Cervantes, Lorca, Borges or García Márquez?

The example shows the expansion of cultural spanish centers not only in countries in which Spanish is the official language but in the whole world. It also shows that Spanish is step by step rising in the ranking of the languages which are mostly used. First in the sector of new technologies and further by means of communication in governmental organizations. Therefore it receives a character of “the official language” (less on the street but the official recognition will follow) in an english speaking country as the USA or in a country surrounded by people who speak Spanish. This leads to the obligation to learn Spanish in their schools.

We will speak about this and a lot more in this blog. It is dedicated to this language which unites us and enriches us in linguistic, literature and culture. We will deal with questions on all areas, especially in relationship to your lessons.