TIP 8: The Speaking Goes Together With The Grammar
The answer might seem easy to you, as a student:
I would like to learn Italian
–> why? I would like to be able to speak the language
–> I’m not interested in the grammar, I just want to speak.
Students’ dislike for grammar is mostly due to old approaches to languages that teachers would choose at school in the past: they did tend to start from a grammar book, explain the rules, then give exercises, and that was it. This made the learning process harder and maybe even boring.
Conversation, then, is necessary. You can’t learn to use a language properly if you just rely on the papers: I remember conversation was mostly ignored by my English teachers at high school, and so it was by my German teachers at university! Yet, we students were supposed to be able to have a conversation at our final exam, just relying on the grammar and on the vocabulary learned during the whole year. It is not hard to imagine most of us were unable to do it, because not used to hear our voice while speaking that language.
One thing is what we think we know, one other thing is what our brain has actually digested.
As most recent theories highlight, the two go together. You can’t learn a language without practicing it, but the other way round is true as well: how can you learn to speak if you do not know what you are doing with the language – if you do not know what you should say and why?
The Italian language comes from Latin and, as a consequence, there are articles (many of them, but worry not, they are easy to learn if you follow the tips I give during my lessons 😉 ), the difference between masculine and feminine – which can be seen in some tenses as well – and a structure that makes its grammar more complex compared to, for example, English.
As I explain very clearly to my complete beginners students, the two need to go together because the alternative is to say random words and then cross our fingers hoping that the listener will understand and, if not, switch to English.
In order to avoid that, modern approaches unite the two and promote methods where grammar is learned by means of games, fun activities, or anyway activities where the natural defenses of our brain (created by society, the environment, previous experiences, personality, etc.) are lowered, so that in a stress-free situation a student can learn the language easily, just like he did with the native language as a child.
Ideally a lesson should indeed include a little bit of everything: listening (video/song/etc.), speaking, reading, writing + homework. We said “ideally”: this is not always possible because if a teacher is to respect the student’s pace and needs, then it is fair to give the student more time when needed even if the tutor has to “sacrifice” one of the four.
At the same time, what matters is that when a student starts from zero grammar cannot be left out.
What do you think? Do you remember what was the approach your language teachers used and how do you think it worked for you in the long term?