Last month, I talked about the way language tends to be taught to adults, especially when time is of the essence. Students often find themselves doing repetitive exercises, analysing sentences, sweating over verb tables, grappling with grammar, and thinking: is all this really necessary? And the answer I gave last month was…
Well, yes. It kind of is.
Language Comes from Grammar…or does it?
But, hold on, what is language after all, but a tool? as I have said many times before and tools do not have to be analysed every time they are used, do they? Of course not. Let’s take a screwdriver – a flat-head, to keep it simple. This one is for the loosening and tightening of screws with a slot in the top. When you see such a screw, you find yourself reaching for the flat-head screwdriver with barely a thought. People who use such tools every day find that there is little need for the amateurish trial-and-error that usually occurs as one tries to find the exact screwdriver that fits.
In exactly the same way, language is used to do a job. Your mind says: “I want to express this.” and your brain picks the right tool for the job. And now you’re learning English. And for many people, this means that after your brain has picked the right tool, it then bends itself to the task of painting that tool a different colour, sanding down the edges, and reversing the handle. Et voila! An English tool.
Would it not be so much easier to have an English toolbox?
The right tool for the job, immediately selected in the language required – that would be better, right? Of course it would. And the repetitive exercises, the analysis of sentences, the verb tables, the strange, outlandish grammatical terms that we use, all of these are designed to help you build your English toolbox. We spend time with you during class, honing your tools to a usable specification, so that when you leave the classroom, you can simply use them. Outside the classroom, it is no longer analysis, but intuition.
Allow me to return to that all-important sentence with which I introduced this two-month debate:
“But Jak…how are we supposed to make such a complicated decision in the middle of a conversation. We don’t have time!”
I spent last month’s column showing you how, indeed, you don’t have time for such decisions. I hope now, after reading the second part, you understand that this student’s argument is based on a false premise, and that premise is that she believes she is supposed to go through the process of analysis every time. She isn’t. Does she try every key in her collection every time she goes home from work? I doubt it.
Language Comes from Grammar…but it comes from feeling first.
The right tool for the job, studied and learnt through hard graft, so that it later flows as naturally as coming home.