There Are Many Ways to Explain How Languguage Works but Few to Manage It

There are Different Ways to Explain How Language Works but Few to Manage It

Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene

This paper has been written for my students, at the Wszechnica Polska in Warsaw, Poland, to give them a few practical ideas of how to help in themselves in foreign language learning. It actually presents applied conclusions to my paper, titled Understanding Linguistic Conceptions and Products, which has been written as a presentation at the 45th Poznan Linguistic Meeting, at the Adam Mickiewicz University, in September 2015.

Summing up my knowledge of language study and its teaching, I can say to my students that there is no shortage of linguistic conceptions nor of interpretations of linguistic facts. Yet, in learning a foreign language, the ways of learning and the roads to success are fewer, and they are not as new as they happen to be believed. So there is no shame in using dated or forgotten methods if only they are helpful. Moreover, it is not really a method that works wonders. It is rather the student’s effort and dedication. I know that my students need not to be convinced on this point.

My course of modern English grammar did not permit any elaboration of the general ways of learning English as a foreign language. But those students who were conscientious must have learnt something of the grammatical foundations of spoken and written English. Here, I shall describe briefly some practices which I have found useful. I believe they can help my students of grammar in enhancing their general knowledge of English and perhaps its use. Individual learners can choose any to their liking, help themselves in their advance with English and perhaps even in learning other foreign languages.

Learning a foreign language can be most successful when learning it with pleasure while retaining lively curiosity. This is what we can learn from a child’s learning of his native language. Children are sensitive and their memory is fresh to aid them. They learn their native language relatively quickly because they are curious, play with the language and so learn it seemingly without effort. There is one more point to learning a native language from which foreigners can gain. A native language comes in a variety of contexts, whether familiar or absolutely new to the child, and the contexts and the language are not logically structured. So it can be helpful if encounters with a foreign language are likewise incidental and frequent in addition to classroom or individual study. But a foreigner has to focus on the language when he encounters it, to take in as many units in relevant contexts as he can, to try to memorise not only the units but also larger fragments of the text (of a conversation or an essay, or overheard utterances exchanged between the speakers in casual encounters). And pleasure should be sought for boredom not to slip in: it can come from witty, funny or interesting sayings, from your ability to understand them, from the quickness of your memory to record them, from a particular context and from your sense of where the phrases may apply.

There are several ways of learning a foreign language which may be pleasing. While dreading to disappoint my students, I think I have to mention reading first. This means reading something of your free choice and making reading your leisure activity. This would be what is known as pleasure reading. In choosing books for pleasure reading, you should not despise light fiction, such as, for example, novels by British authors Catherine Cookson, Barbara Pym, Susan Hill, Nancy Mitford, Muriel Spark, Arthur Clark (science fiction) and others, or American authors Louis Auchincloss (New York and its cultured society), Anya Seton, Irwing Stone, even Pat Booth (Hollywood, its milieu and intrigues), Harold Robbins (sex and cheap romance stories) and others, even minor love story, adventure and detective writers. While not avant-gardists or exceptional stylists, they are not included in standard companions to literature, nor are they on the academic reading lists. But they are easy reading and if you can read quickly turning the pages, their books can help you keep up your English with a somewhat greater success than the Internet.

First, if you can read quickly turning the pages, the language washes over you as it were. That is to say, the author’s language rubs off on you, becomes part of the reader’s mind and memory. It is impossible to pinpoint which word and when sticks in your memory in quick reading, but it does. Students would do well if they made reading for an hour or so their daily round. To be fair, I should say that if a student is hungry, short of money to support his family or is woken up several times at night by his newborn baby, he/she is not likely to find reading very involving. He is likely not to be able to read at all. But given normal conditions, it requires only determination to start and read regularly at least for some time. Then the habit appears of its own.

Reading is not only about words. Reading lets you encounter grammatical patterns in their integrity with the vocabulary and fixes them in your memory in the contexts in which they appear. Simultaneously, you can learn new words by guessing their meaning in contexts and new grammar in the flow of the language the meaning of which is accessible to you. If the book is your level and you enjoy it, learning a language is natural as it happens almost of its own. Second, the moment you realise you have been reading while merely following the text and turning the pages, and not grabbing a dictionary at every step, will be the moment of real pleasure. You will be in possession of a new language through your ability understand it. Those students who are more advanced will confirm the truth of these words.

Reading can be accompanied by engagement with the language in a number of ways. For example, the British Council’s Extensive Reading Group online, which is part of the IATEFL Literature, Media and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group, recommends sharing your impressions from reading in friends’ company. Discussing the books you have read gives pleasure, activates your language knowledge and should be done on the slightest of occasions. There is evidence that reading and discussion of the books are profitable socially, not only verbally. A BBC website (http://www.bbc.com) has published recently (10 August 2015) an article on the social merits of reading. It said that reading for pleasure “boosts social relations” by helping to recognize feelings, increase sharing and understanding, self esteem, even patterns of sleep, leisure and behaviour. I can add that literary scholars have noted that reading extends our vision of the world and other people, as our concept of ourselves. It is in this context that the word catharsis, which means ennobling emotional experience through the release of strong feelings under the influence of art, comes in. Although originally used in relation to the effect of tragedy, the reading of fiction happens to ennoble the reader if the book is sufficiently elevated and has an appeal to him. It would be a minor effect of catharsis, yet reading has helped even politicians, philosophers and scientists to improve their own status through an understanding of their environment and of other people, or merely through emotional elevation. There are editions of a number of novels (see, for instance, Reading Group Guide in: The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. – Harcourt, Inc. A Harvest Book, 2002, or Reading-Group Discussion Questions in: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. – London: Headline Publishing Group, 2013), which include questions for reading-group discussions and are appended to these novels for the benefit of the reader to help him enjoy the effects just highlighted.

As reading enriches the reader’s vocabulary, words can be learned in several ways. Here is my new and engaging practice. When I am reading a book in English, I mark the words I do not know and those the equivalents of which in my native language do not come readily to my mind. I mark these words by little zero-like balls in the margains. When I make a pause in my reading and have a chance, I invite a junior girl to join me in revising the zero-marked words. We can rival each other in Lithuanian equivalents to the marked words and in defining their meaning in English or Lithuanian. This is a challenging and lively activity. Any person sufficiently literate in English can be your company: your friend, junior or senior, your teacher, your parents or grandparents, if they are your level readers and are interested in the language. But there should be a company. The choice of books may vary. You can agree to read the same book or you can read anything you choose and then meet to discuss your ‘zeros’ in the text. It is only that the contexts have to be described to share them and to learn the words readier, if you read different books.

If you chose to read the same book, it can also be involving to memorise a few maxims. Maxims are wise general statements or known phrases, which people think can be rules for sensible behaviour. When you meet to contest your memories from your reading, you can challenge each other about the meaning and sense of the maxims, about their contexts in the book and about their relevance to your interests or human activities in general. These periods can be moments of fun and laughter as you can imagine that maxims may allude to funny and serious situations and their issues, to people whom you know or not know, their known or probable behaviour. Idioms proper, such as to take the bull by the horns or to beat about the bush, etc. have been introduced by native speakers of English on numbers of occasions as a lively and profitable resource in learning English as a foreign language. A discussion of maxims from fiction relate to broader and lively contexts and thus are very engaging.

There is also quite a difficult practice with reading, which I call reading inset with analysis. This means reading a book cursorily and stopping over a page or a shorter text within some 50 or 60 pages of general reading to study the page to the letter. This would mean analyzing the words on the page, their meaning and sense in the excerpt and in the whole book, the appeal of the short text to you and its role in a broader context, in the conflict, in characterization and so on. I have introduced this way of reading to lecturers and guests at the Brno University of Defense, at an international conference there (Drazdauskiene. The Tested Ways of Learning in Competence Achievement. In: Foreign Language Competence as an Integral Component of a University Graduate Profile II. CD – University of Defense in Brno, Czech Republic, 2009). But this kind of reading requires deep study of the short text and can be best practiced when done under the teacher’s disciplined guidance in the classroom.

There are and can be other ways of practice that can be done with pleasure reading. Every student can invent one or several of their own.

I mentioned earlier that encounters with a foreign language have to be frequent and happen in various contexts. This is required to enhance learning through habit, which is the foundation in the use of a native language. Genuine English is the language which native speakers use instinctively. It is instinctive knowledge that ‘explains’ why native speakers customarily use some word in particular collocations. The precise meaning of the words matter in customary collocations, but it is the native speaker’s instinct rather than knowledge that produces customary collocations. Their language instinct comes from the recurrence of words and collocations in daily recurrent contexts. Foreigners cannot rival the language instinct of the native speakers, but they can approximate it if they read widely, mind the exact meaning of the words, think logically and practice English on every occasion that offers itself. I have no ready practice to suggest here but dedicated reading is the first aid. If they are based on current texts and contexts, classroom exercises can also partly perform this role on the way to a very advanced level of the knowledge of English.

There is one more kind of practice in the guise of an academic exercise, which I have found useful. This is learning quotations and maxims (sententiae) in any language available and translating them into English or into any other foreign language that you may be learning. Such units are short. Their translation requires a revision of the grammar of the foreign language and deep thinking. When you succeed in translating such wise or winged words, you experience a great pleasure at your success with them and with the wisdom of the sayings. Several things happen here. First, this engagement is with the best of words in the shortest volume. Second, they are too short to tire you. Third, their translation shall test and reassemble your knowledge of grammar. Learning a foreign language through beautiful words is very pleasant and rewarding. Margaret Drabble, a British novelist and a modern classic, even said, in one interview, that literature is beaux mots, that is “beautiful words”. Beauty is expensive but it is always fulfilling. Literature can and does polish the language of its readers, not only helps them memorise the words, while giving a real pleasure at the same time. I, for one, learned more and better English when I studied Shakespeare and English poetry printed on paper rather than when I spend hours reading what interests me on the Internet. Even if learning a foreign language through literature is an expensive way, it pays and is worth it.

Having mentioned translation exercise as an academic practice, I have to explain this point, as I am familiar with a remark of an education instructor (Umair Malik, 8 May 2014, in an online discussion : The Return of Latin, on Linkedin – www.linkedin.com/groups/post…). It read: “The return must not bring with itself GMT”, that is “the Grammar Translation Method”. I must say that I personally have no power to recommend any approach or method. I am no administrator, not even an academic head. I am only deliberating the uses of what I have found useful myself.

Learning through maxims (or sententiae, Latin) is a known practice in the Classics Departments in some universities. All classicists in the University of Vilnius, for instance, require that students learn sententiae. I happened to overhear how well a classicist discussed the meaning and figurative sense of such a saying as Acquila non captat muscas, (An eagle does not catch flies), in the classroom. The students in question were made to mind the literal meaning of the words and to understand it well, and only then discuss the figurative meaning of the saying. To my knowledge, university undergraduates in English as a foreign language often tend to skip the detailed literal meaning of the words in stylistic analysis of English literature, much to the loss of their knowledge of English and to the poverty of their analysis. I remember the late Professor John Povey, who rammed the significance of the literal meaning of the words in literary analysis into the minds of European participants of a Summer Programme at the University of Los Angeles, USA, in 1976, and showed them how well a student has to know the English language and its words to talk sense when he analyses literature. Classicists do not overlook the ground in language matters and few can rival their expertise with words. Their treatment of sententiae from Latin and Greek can only be borrowed and, given the English student’s dedication, can be practised like mini exercises in translation. Incidentally, translation as a kind of exercise, not the routine and extensive practice, has already been resurrected in methodological approaches to English in some schools and approaches.

Although seemingly scholastic and academic, translation of maxims and quotations can be done with ease and only with a little concentration. In my attempt to improve my Polish, I would translate quotations-maxims at any moment which I can spare. I have a housewife’s weekly guide and note-calendar (Tygodniowy poradnik Pani domu) on my desk. This calendar has quotations from different authors in Polish accompanying every week of every month. I have these quotations in front of me every time I sit down at my desk. And almost every day, I try to translate one of them from Polish into English and Lithuanian. It does not take either too much of my time or effort. If I cannot translate a longer quotation at once, I stretch it for two days, and keep learning Polish this way in addition to my more disciplined study of Polish grammar. Quotations and sayings are not only short and fine; they are also contextualized units and so are relatively easy to memorise. Their grammatical patterns can be used as models to produce new units as easily.

A word on translation. It is decades ago that translation was discredited as a method in ELT but it has already been revived of late. As I have said, translation can be useful if a learner likes it and if it is practiced with measure. Here is more to be said on how methods are discredited, again with reference to the classics. A Greek author, Epictetus, has outlined a stoic conception of ethic of a late period, in his work titled The Manual (Enchoridion) (Epiktetas. The Manual, Fragments, Talks. The Lithuanian translation by Vanda Kazanskiene. Vilnius: “Alma littera”, 2014. – 335p.). In describing man’s discontent with things which depend on his own making and with those which are not, Epictetus claimed that human discontent is senseless if it is directed to what does not depend on man. Freedom of will and works that issue from this freedom is man’s own doing. Our body, body parts, wealth, parents and children, fatherland and everything that stands next to us do not depend on man (Talks, XXII). Make no mistake, Epictetus explained man’s right dissatisfaction with wrong-doing prior to this seemingly extremely liberal philosophical stance.

When read consistently, The Manual encourages to be reasonably philosophical and to differentiate between the right and wrong, but not to waste effort on what does not depend on us. In his further explanation of the roots of man’s discontent, Epictetus assumed that people are shaken by opinions rather than by the things themselves (The Manual, V, XV, XVI, XX). “It is not death that we fear. It is rather an opinion that it is dreadful.” But here is what we can learn from Epictetus about methods. Methods like fashions do not become wrong or date so quickly as they happen to be written off. It is an opinion about the methods that works for or against them. Depending on how much emphasis is placed on the opinion, the method can be wholly rejected or embraced by schools and countries. This is not right. Any method can be useful if usefully employed. Their change is most often the question of fashion or money or both. So, I tend to think that none of the practices I have described above is dated. Any can be useful if a person finds it to his liking in his independent study. Happily, Professor Theodore S. Rodgers has announced, at an international conference, “In Medias Res”, in Near East University, Nicosia, Cyprus, in September 2013, that “Methods are dead. Approaches remain ”. He and Jack C. Richards have reiterated this statement in their book, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, (Richards and Rodgers, CUP, 2012/1986):

“…an approach as a set of beliefs and principles that can be used as the basis for teaching a language./…/ (No approach), however, leads to a specific set of prescriptions and techniques to be used in teaching a language. They are characterized by a variety of interpretations as to how the principles can be applied. Because of this level of flexibility and the possibility of varying interpretations and application, approaches tend to have a long shelf life. They allow for individual interpretation and application. They can be revised and updated over time as new practices emerge.” (pp. 244-245).

“A method, on the other hand, refers to a specific instructional design or system based on a particular theory of language and of language learning. It contains detailed specifications of content, roles of teachers and learners, and teaching procedures and techniques. It is relatively fixed in time and there is generally little scope for individual interpretation. Methods are learned through training. The teacher’s role is to follow the method and apply it precisely according to the rules.” (p.245)

This is a happy state. My strong belief is that the teacher’s and student’s liberation, by the clarity of these definitions, from superstitions about the rights and wrongs of the methods, leaves us a choice in the ways of learning foreign languages and can enhance our success with them. As my students may have noticed, the ways of learning are not really meagre or very limited in number, yet those that are helpful in concrete cases can be very few. Some of them are known and some are newer, and any can help when there is a will.

There are Different Ways to Explain How Language Works but Few to Manage It

Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene

This paper has been written for my students to give them a few practical ideas of how to help themselves in foreign language learning. It actually presents applied conclusions to my paper, titled Understanding Linguistic Conceptions and Products, which has been written as a presentation at the 45th Poznan Linguistic Meeting, at the Adam Mickiewicz University, in September 2015.

Summing up my knowledge of language study and its teaching, I can say to my students that there is no shortage of linguistic conceptions nor of interpretations of linguistic facts. Yet, in learning a foreign language, the ways of learning and the roads to success are fewer, and they are not as new as they happen to be believed. So there is no shame in using dated or forgotten methods if only they are helpful. Moreover, it is not really a method that works wonders. It is rather the student’s effort and dedication. I know that my students need not to be convinced on this point.

My course of modern English grammar did not permit any elaboration of the general ways of learning English as a foreign language. But those students who were conscientious must have learnt something of the grammatical foundations of spoken and written English. Here, I shall describe briefly some practices which I have found useful. I believe they can help my students of grammar in enhancing their general knowledge of English and perhaps its use. Individual learners can choose any to their liking, help themselves in their advance with English and perhaps even in learning other foreign languages.

Learning a foreign language can be most successful when learning it with pleasure while retaining lively curiosity. This is what we can learn from a child’s learning of his native language. Children are sensitive and their memory is fresh to aid them. They learn their native language relatively quickly because they are curious, play with the language and so learn it seemingly without effort. There is one more point to learning a native language from which foreigners can gain. A native language comes in a variety of contexts, whether familiar or absolutely new to the child, and the contexts and the language are not logically structured. So it can be helpful if encounters with a foreign language are likewise incidental and frequent in addition to classroom or individual study. But a foreigner has to focus on the language when he encounters it, to take in as many units in relevant contexts as he can, to try to memorise not only the units but also larger fragments of the text (of a conversation or an essay, or overheard utterances exchanged between the speakers in casual encounters). And pleasure should be sought for boredom not to slip in: it can come from witty, funny or interesting sayings, from your ability to understand them, from the quickness of your memory to record them, from a particular context and from your sense of where the phrases may apply.

There are several ways of learning a foreign language which may be pleasing. While dreading to disappoint my students, I think I have to mention reading first. This means reading something of your free choice and making reading your leisure activity. This would be what is known as pleasure reading. In choosing books for pleasure reading, you should not despise light fiction, such as, for example, novels by British authors Catherine Cookson, Barbara Pym, Susan Hill, Nancy Mitford, Muriel Spark, Arthur Clark (science fiction) and others, or American authors Louis Auchincloss (New York and its cultured society), Anya Seton, Irwing Stone, even Pat Booth (Hollywood, its milieu and intrigues), Harold Robbins (sex and cheap romance stories) and others, even minor love story, adventure and detective writers. While not avant-gardists or exceptional stylists, they are not included in standard companions to literature, nor are they on the academic reading lists. But they are easy reading and if you can read quickly turning the pages, their books can help you keep up your English with a somewhat greater success than the Internet.

First, if you can read quickly turning the pages, the language washes over you as it were. That is to say, the author’s language rubs off on you, becomes part of the reader’s mind and memory. It is impossible to pinpoint which word and when sticks in your memory in quick reading, but it does. Students would do well if they made reading for an hour or so their daily round. To be fair, I should say that if a student is hungry, short of money to support his family or is woken up several times at night by his newborn baby, he/she is not likely to find reading very involving. He is likely not to be able to read at all. But given normal conditions, it requires only determination to start and read regularly at least for some time. Then the habit appears of its own.

Reading is not only about words. Reading lets you encounter grammatical patterns in their integrity with the vocabulary and fixes them in your memory in the contexts in which they appear. Simultaneously, you can learn new words by guessing their meaning in contexts and new grammar in the flow of the language the meaning of which is accessible to you. If the book is your level and you enjoy it, learning a language is natural as it happens almost of its own. Second, the moment you realise you have been reading while merely following the text and turning the pages, and not grabbing a dictionary at every step, will be the moment of real pleasure. You will be in possession of a new language through your ability understand it. Those students who are more advanced will confirm the truth of these words.

Reading can be accompanied by engagement with the language in a number of ways. For example, the British Council’s Extensive Reading Group online, which is part of the IATEFL Literature, Media and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group, recommends sharing your impressions from reading in friends’ company. Discussing the books you have read gives pleasure, activates your language knowledge and should be done on the slightest of occasions. There is evidence that reading and discussion of the books are profitable socially, not only verbally. A BBC website (http://www.bbc.com) has published recently (10 August 2015) an article on the social merits of reading. It said that reading for pleasure “boosts social relations” by helping to recognize feelings, increase sharing and understanding, self esteem, even patterns of sleep, leisure and behaviour. I can add that literary scholars have noted that reading extends our vision of the world and other people, as our concept of ourselves. It is in this context that the word catharsis, which means ennobling emotional experience through the release of strong feelings under the influence of art, comes in. Although originally used in relation to the effect of tragedy, the reading of fiction happens to ennoble the reader if the book is sufficiently elevated and has an appeal to him. It would be a minor effect of catharsis, yet reading has helped even politicians, philosophers and scientists to improve their own status through an understanding of their environment and of other people, or merely through emotional elevation. There are editions of a number of novels (see, for instance, Reading Group Guide in: The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. – Harcourt, Inc. A Harvest Book, 2002, or Reading-Group Discussion Questions in: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. – London: Headline Publishing Group, 2013), which include questions for reading-group discussions and are appended to these novels for the benefit of the reader to help him enjoy the effects just highlighted.

As reading enriches the reader’s vocabulary, words can be learned in several ways. Here is my new and engaging practice. When I am reading a book in English, I mark the words I do not know and those the equivalents of which in my native language do not come readily to my mind. I mark these words by little zero-like balls in the margains. When I make a pause in my reading and have a chance, I invite a junior girl to join me in revising the zero-marked words. We can rival each other in Lithuanian equivalents to the marked words and in defining their meaning in English or Lithuanian. This is a challenging and lively activity. Any person sufficiently literate in English can be your company: your friend, junior or senior, your teacher, your parents or grandparents, if they are your level readers and are interested in the language. But there should be a company. The choice of books may vary. You can agree to read the same book or you can read anything you choose and then meet to discuss your ‘zeros’ in the text. It is only that the contexts have to be described to share them and to learn the words readier, if you read different books.

If you chose to read the same book, it can also be involving to memorise a few maxims. Maxims are wise general statements or known phrases, which people think can be rules for sensible behaviour. When you meet to contest your memories from your reading, you can challenge each other about the meaning and sense of the maxims, about their contexts in the book and about their relevance to your interests or human activities in general. These periods can be moments of fun and laughter as you can imagine that maxims may allude to funny and serious situations and their issues, to people whom you know or not know, their known or probable behaviour. Idioms proper, such as to take the bull by the horns or to beat about the bush, etc. have been introduced by native speakers of English on numbers of occasions as a lively and profitable resource in learning English as a foreign language. A discussion of maxims from fiction relate to broader and lively contexts and thus are very engaging.

There is also quite a difficult practice with reading, which I call reading inset with analysis. This means reading a book cursorily and stopping over a page or a shorter text within some 50 or 60 pages of general reading to study the page to the letter. This would mean analyzing the words on the page, their meaning and sense in the excerpt and in the whole book, the appeal of the short text to you and its role in a broader context, in the conflict, in characterization and so on. I have introduced this way of reading to lecturers and guests at the Brno University of Defense, at an international conference there (Drazdauskiene. The Tested Ways of Learning in Competence Achievement. In: Foreign Language Competence as an Integral Component of a University Graduate Profile II. CD – University of Defense in Brno, Czech Republic, 2009). But this kind of reading requires deep study of the short text and can be best practiced when done under the teacher’s disciplined guidance in the classroom.

There are and can be other ways of practice that can be done with pleasure reading. Every student can invent one or several of their own.

I mentioned earlier that encounters with a foreign language have to be frequent and happen in various contexts. This is required to enhance learning through habit, which is the foundation in the use of a native language. Genuine English is the language which native speakers use instinctively. It is instinctive knowledge that ‘explains’ why native speakers customarily use some word in particular collocations. The precise meaning of the words matter in customary collocations, but it is the native speaker’s instinct rather than knowledge that produces customary collocations. Their language instinct comes from the recurrence of words and collocations in daily recurrent contexts. Foreigners cannot rival the language instinct of the native speakers, but they can approximate it if they read widely, mind the exact meaning of the words, think logically and practice English on every occasion that offers itself. I have no ready practice to suggest here but dedicated reading is the first aid. If they are based on current texts and contexts, classroom exercises can also partly perform this role on the way to a very advanced level of the knowledge of English.

There is one more kind of practice in the guise of an academic exercise, which I have found useful. This is learning quotations and maxims (sententiae) in any language available and translating them into English or into any other foreign language that you may be learning. Such units are short. Their translation requires a revision of the grammar of the foreign language and deep thinking. When you succeed in translating such wise or winged words, you experience a great pleasure at your success with them and with the wisdom of the sayings. Several things happen here. First, this engagement is with the best of words in the shortest volume. Second, they are too short to tire you. Third, their translation shall test and reassemble your knowledge of grammar. Learning a foreign language through beautiful words is very pleasant and rewarding. Margaret Drabble, a British novelist and a modern classic, even said, in one interview, that literature is beaux mots, that is “beautiful words”. Beauty is expensive but it is always fulfilling. Literature can and does polish the language of its readers, not only helps them memorise the words, while giving a real pleasure at the same time. I, for one, learned more and better English when I studied Shakespeare and English poetry printed on paper rather than when I spend hours reading what interests me on the Internet. Even if learning a foreign language through literature is an expensive way, it pays and is worth it.

Having mentioned translation exercise as an academic practice, I have to explain this point, as I am familiar with a remark of an education instructor (Umair Malik, 8 May 2014, in an online discussion : The Return of Latin, on Linkedin – www.linkedin.com/groups/post…). It read: “The return must not bring with itself GMT”, that is “the Grammar Translation Method”. I must say that I personally have no power to recommend any approach or method. I am no administrator, not even an academic head. I am only deliberating the uses of what I have found useful myself.

Learning through maxims (or sententiae, Latin) is a known practice in the Classics Departments in some universities. All classicists in the University of Vilnius, for instance, require that students learn sententiae. I happened to overhear how well a classicist discussed the meaning and figurative sense of such a saying as Acquila non captat muscas, (An eagle does not catch flies), in the classroom. The students in question were made to mind the literal meaning of the words and to understand it well, and only then discuss the figurative meaning of the saying. To my knowledge, university undergraduates in English as a foreign language often tend to skip the detailed literal meaning of the words in stylistic analysis of English literature, much to the loss of their knowledge of English and to the poverty of their analysis. I remember the late Professor John Povey, who rammed the significance of the literal meaning of the words in literary analysis into the minds of European participants of a Summer Programme at the University of Los Angeles, USA, in 1976, and showed them how well a student has to know the English language and its words to talk sense when he analyses literature. Classicists do not overlook the ground in language matters and few can rival their expertise with words. Their treatment of sententiae from Latin and Greek can only be borrowed and, given the English student’s dedication, can be practised like mini exercises in translation. Incidentally, translation as a kind of exercise, not the routine and extensive practice, has already been resurrected in methodological approaches to English in some schools and approaches.

Although seemingly scholastic and academic, translation of maxims and quotations can be done with ease and only with a little concentration. In my attempt to improve my Polish, I would translate quotations-maxims at any moment which I can spare. I have a housewife’s weekly guide and note-calendar (Tygodniowy poradnik Pani domu) on my desk. This calendar has quotations from different authors in Polish accompanying every week of every month. I have these quotations in front of me every time I sit down at my desk. And almost every day, I try to translate one of them from Polish into English and Lithuanian. It does not take either too much of my time or effort. If I cannot translate a longer quotation at once, I stretch it for two days, and keep learning Polish this way in addition to my more disciplined study of Polish grammar. Quotations and sayings are not only short and fine; they are also contextualized units and so are relatively easy to memorise. Their grammatical patterns can be used as models to produce new units as easily.

A word on translation. It is decades ago that translation was discredited as a method in ELT but it has already been revived of late. As I have said, translation can be useful if a learner likes it and if it is practiced with measure. Here is more to be said on how methods are discredited, again with reference to the classics. A Greek author, Epictetus, has outlined a stoic conception of ethic of a late period, in his work titled The Manual (Enchoridion) (Epiktetas. The Manual, Fragments, Talks. The Lithuanian translation by Vanda Kazanskiene. Vilnius: “Alma littera”, 2014. – 335p.). In describing man’s discontent with things which depend on his own making and with those which are not, Epictetus claimed that human discontent is senseless if it is directed to what does not depend on man. Freedom of will and works that issue from this freedom is man’s own doing. Our body, body parts, wealth, parents and children, fatherland and everything that stands next to us do not depend on man (Talks, XXII). Make no mistake, Epictetus explained man’s right dissatisfaction with wrong-doing prior to this seemingly extremely liberal philosophical stance.

When read consistently, The Manual encourages to be reasonably philosophical and to differentiate between the right and wrong, but not to waste effort on what does not depend on us. In his further explanation of the roots of man’s discontent, Epictetus assumed that people are shaken by opinions rather than by the things themselves (The Manual, V, XV, XVI, XX). “It is not death that we fear. It is rather an opinion that it is dreadful.” But here is what we can learn from Epictetus about methods. Methods like fashions do not become wrong or date so quickly as they happen to be written off. It is an opinion about the methods that works for or against them. Depending on how much emphasis is placed on the opinion, the method can be wholly rejected or embraced by schools and countries. This is not right. Any method can be useful if usefully employed. Their change is most often the question of fashion or money or both. So, I tend to think that none of the practices I have described above is dated. Any can be useful if a person finds it to his liking in his independent study. Happily, Professor Theodore S. Rodgers has announced, at an international conference, “In Medias Res”, in Near East University, Nicosia, Cyprus, in September 2013, that “Methods are dead. Approaches remain ”. He and Jack C. Richards have reiterated this statement in their book, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, (Richards and Rodgers, CUP, 2012/1986):

“…an approach as a set of beliefs and principles that can be used as the basis for teaching a language./…/ (No approach), however, leads to a specific set of prescriptions and techniques to be used in teaching a language. They are characterized by a variety of interpretations as to how the principles can be applied. Because of this level of flexibility and the possibility of varying interpretations and application, approaches tend to have a long shelf life. They allow for individual interpretation and application. They can be revised and updated over time as new practices emerge.” (pp. 244-245).

“A method, on the other hand, refers to a specific instructional design or system based on a particular theory of language and of language learning. It contains detailed specifications of content, roles of teachers and learners, and teaching procedures and techniques. It is relatively fixed in time and there is generally little scope for individual interpretation. Methods are learned through training. The teacher’s role is to follow the method and apply it precisely according to the rules.” (p.245)

This is a happy state. My strong belief is that the teacher’s and student’s liberation, by the clarity of these definitions, from superstitions about the rights and wrongs of the methods, leaves us a choice in the ways of learning foreign languages and can enhance our success with them. As my students may have noticed, the ways of learning are not really meagre or very limited in number, yet those that are helpful in concrete cases can be very few. Some of them are known and some are newer, and any can help when there is a will.

There are Different Ways to Explain How Language Works but Few to Manage It
Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene

This paper has been written for my students to give them a few practical ideas of how to help themselves in foreign language learning. It actually presents applied conclusions to my paper, titled Understanding Linguistic Conceptions and Products, which has been written as a presentation at the 45th Poznan Linguistic Meeting, at the Adam Mickiewicz University, in September 2015.
Summing up my knowledge of language study and its teaching, I can say to my students that there is no shortage of linguistic conceptions nor of interpretations of linguistic facts. Yet, in learning a foreign language, the ways of learning and the roads to success are fewer, and they are not as new as they happen to be believed. So there is no shame in using dated or forgotten methods if only they are helpful. Moreover, it is not really a method that works wonders. It is rather the student’s effort and dedication. I know that my students need not to be convinced on this point.
My course of modern English grammar did not permit any elaboration of the general ways of learning English as a foreign language. But those students who were conscientious must have learnt something of the grammatical foundations of spoken and written English. Here, I shall describe briefly some practices which I have found useful. I believe they can help my students of grammar in enhancing their general knowledge of English and perhaps its use. Individual learners can choose any to their liking, help themselves in their advance with English and perhaps even in learning other foreign languages.
Learning a foreign language can be most successful when learning it with pleasure while retaining lively curiosity. This is what we can learn from a child’s learning of his native language. Children are sensitive and their memory is fresh to aid them. They learn their native language relatively quickly because they are curious, play with the language and so learn it seemingly without effort. There is one more point to learning a native language from which foreigners can gain. A native language comes in a variety of contexts, whether familiar or absolutely new to the child, and the contexts and the language are not logically structured. So it can be helpful if encounters with a foreign language are likewise incidental and frequent in addition to classroom or individual study. But a foreigner has to focus on the language when he encounters it, to take in as many units in relevant contexts as he can, to try to memorise not only the units but also larger fragments of the text (of a conversation or an essay, or overheard utterances exchanged between the speakers in casual encounters). And pleasure should be sought for boredom not to slip in: it can come from witty, funny or interesting sayings, from your ability to understand them, from the quickness of your memory to record them, from a particular context and from your sense of where the phrases may apply.
There are several ways of learning a foreign language which may be pleasing. While dreading to disappoint my students, I think I have to mention reading first. This means reading something of your free choice and making reading your leisure activity. This would be what is known as pleasure reading. In choosing books for pleasure reading, you should not despise light fiction, such as, for example, novels by British authors Catherine Cookson, Barbara Pym, Susan Hill, Nancy Mitford, Muriel Spark, Arthur Clark (science fiction) and others, or American authors Louis Auchincloss (New York and its cultured society), Anya Seton, Irwing Stone, even Pat Booth (Hollywood, its milieu and intrigues), Harold Robbins (sex and cheap romance stories) and others, even minor love story, adventure and detective writers. While not avant-gardists or exceptional stylists, they are not included in standard companions to literature, nor are they on the academic reading lists. But they are easy reading and if you can read quickly turning the pages, their books can help you keep up your English with a somewhat greater success than the Internet.
First, if you can read quickly turning the pages, the language washes over you as it were. That is to say, the author’s language rubs off on you, becomes part of the reader’s mind and memory. It is impossible to pinpoint which word and when sticks in your memory in quick reading, but it does. Students would do well if they made reading for an hour or so their daily round. To be fair, I should say that if a student is hungry, short of money to support his family or is woken up several times at night by his newborn baby, he/she is not likely to find reading very involving. He is likely not to be able to read at all. But given normal conditions, it requires only determination to start and read regularly at least for some time. Then the habit appears of its own.
Reading is not only about words. Reading lets you encounter grammatical patterns in their integrity with the vocabulary and fixes them in your memory in the contexts in which they appear. Simultaneously, you can learn new words by guessing their meaning in contexts and new grammar in the flow of the language the meaning of which is accessible to you. If the book is your level and you enjoy it, learning a language is natural as it happens almost of its own. Second, the moment you realise you have been reading while merely following the text and turning the pages, and not grabbing a dictionary at every step, will be the moment of real pleasure. You will be in possession of a new language through your ability understand it. Those students who are more advanced will confirm the truth of these words.
Reading can be accompanied by engagement with the language in a number of ways. For example, the British Council’s Extensive Reading Group online, which is part of the IATEFL Literature, Media and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group, recommends sharing your impressions from reading in friends’ company. Discussing the books you have read gives pleasure, activates your language knowledge and should be done on the slightest of occasions. There is evidence that reading and discussion of the books are profitable socially, not only verbally. A BBC website (http://www.bbc.com) has published recently (10 August 2015) an article on the social merits of reading. It said that reading for pleasure “boosts social relations” by helping to recognize feelings, increase sharing and understanding, self esteem, even patterns of sleep, leisure and behaviour. I can add that literary scholars have noted that reading extends our vision of the world and other people, as our concept of ourselves. It is in this context that the word catharsis, which means ennobling emotional experience through the release of strong feelings under the influence of art, comes in. Although originally used in relation to the effect of tragedy, the reading of fiction happens to ennoble the reader if the book is sufficiently elevated and has an appeal to him. It would be a minor effect of catharsis, yet reading has helped even politicians, philosophers and scientists to improve their own status through an understanding of their environment and of other people, or merely through emotional elevation. There are editions of a number of novels (see, for instance, Reading Group Guide in: The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. – Harcourt, Inc. A Harvest Book, 2002, or Reading-Group Discussion Questions in: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. – London: Headline Publishing Group, 2013), which include questions for reading-group discussions and are appended to these novels for the benefit of the reader to help him enjoy the effects just highlighted.
As reading enriches the reader’s vocabulary, words can be learned in several ways. Here is my new and engaging practice. When I am reading a book in English, I mark the words I do not know and those the equivalents of which in my native language do not come readily to my mind. I mark these words by little zero-like balls in the margains. When I make a pause in my reading and have a chance, I invite a junior girl to join me in revising the zero-marked words. We can rival each other in Lithuanian equivalents to the marked words and in defining their meaning in English or Lithuanian. This is a challenging and lively activity. Any person sufficiently literate in English can be your company: your friend, junior or senior, your teacher, your parents or grandparents, if they are your level readers and are interested in the language. But there should be a company. The choice of books may vary. You can agree to read the same book or you can read anything you choose and then meet to discuss your ‘zeros’ in the text. It is only that the contexts have to be described to share them and to learn the words readier, if you read different books.
If you chose to read the same book, it can also be involving to memorise a few maxims. Maxims are wise general statements or known phrases, which people think can be rules for sensible behaviour. When you meet to contest your memories from your reading, you can challenge each other about the meaning and sense of the maxims, about their contexts in the book and about their relevance to your interests or human activities in general. These periods can be moments of fun and laughter as you can imagine that maxims may allude to funny and serious situations and their issues, to people whom you know or not know, their known or probable behaviour. Idioms proper, such as to take the bull by the horns or to beat about the bush, etc. have been introduced by native speakers of English on numbers of occasions as a lively and profitable resource in learning English as a foreign language. A discussion of maxims from fiction relate to broader and lively contexts and thus are very engaging.
There is also quite a difficult practice with reading, which I call reading inset with analysis. This means reading a book cursorily and stopping over a page or a shorter text within some 50 or 60 pages of general reading to study the page to the letter. This would mean analyzing the words on the page, their meaning and sense in the excerpt and in the whole book, the appeal of the short text to you and its role in a broader context, in the conflict, in characterization and so on. I have introduced this way of reading to lecturers and guests at the Brno University of Defense, at an international conference there (Drazdauskiene. The Tested Ways of Learning in Competence Achievement. In: Foreign Language Competence as an Integral Component of a University Graduate Profile II. CD – University of Defense in Brno, Czech Republic, 2009). But this kind of reading requires deep study of the short text and can be best practiced when done under the teacher’s disciplined guidance in the classroom.
There are and can be other ways of practice that can be done with pleasure reading. Every student can invent one or several of their own.
I mentioned earlier that encounters with a foreign language have to be frequent and happen in various contexts. This is required to enhance learning through habit, which is the foundation in the use of a native language. Genuine English is the language which native speakers use instinctively. It is instinctive knowledge that ‘explains’ why native speakers customarily use some word in particular collocations. The precise meaning of the words matter in customary collocations, but it is the native speaker’s instinct rather than knowledge that produces customary collocations. Their language instinct comes from the recurrence of words and collocations in daily recurrent contexts. Foreigners cannot rival the language instinct of the native speakers, but they can approximate it if they read widely, mind the exact meaning of the words, think logically and practice English on every occasion that offers itself. I have no ready practice to suggest here but dedicated reading is the first aid. If they are based on current texts and contexts, classroom exercises can also partly perform this role on the way to a very advanced level of the knowledge of English.
There is one more kind of practice in the guise of an academic exercise, which I have found useful. This is learning quotations and maxims (sententiae) in any language available and translating them into English or into any other foreign language that you may be learning. Such units are short. Their translation requires a revision of the grammar of the foreign language and deep thinking. When you succeed in translating such wise or winged words, you experience a great pleasure at your success with them and with the wisdom of the sayings. Several things happen here. First, this engagement is with the best of words in the shortest volume. Second, they are too short to tire you. Third, their translation shall test and reassemble your knowledge of grammar. Learning a foreign language through beautiful words is very pleasant and rewarding. Margaret Drabble, a British novelist and a modern classic, even said, in one interview, that literature is beaux mots, that is “beautiful words”. Beauty is expensive but it is always fulfilling. Literature can and does polish the language of its readers, not only helps them memorise the words, while giving a real pleasure at the same time. I, for one, learned more and better English when I studied Shakespeare and English poetry printed on paper rather than when I spend hours reading what interests me on the Internet. Even if learning a foreign language through literature is an expensive way, it pays and is worth it.
Having mentioned translation exercise as an academic practice, I have to explain this point, as I am familiar with a remark of an education instructor (Umair Malik, 8 May 2014, in an online discussion : The Return of Latin, on Linkedin – http://www.linkedin.com/groups/post…). It read: “The return must not bring with itself GMT”, that is “the Grammar Translation Method”. I must say that I personally have no power to recommend any approach or method. I am no administrator, not even an academic head. I am only deliberating the uses of what I have found useful myself.
Learning through maxims (or sententiae, Latin) is a known practice in the Classics Departments in some universities. All classicists in the University of Vilnius, for instance, require that students learn sententiae. I happened to overhear how well a classicist discussed the meaning and figurative sense of such a saying as Acquila non captat muscas, (An eagle does not catch flies), in the classroom. The students in question were made to mind the literal meaning of the words and to understand it well, and only then discuss the figurative meaning of the saying. To my knowledge, university undergraduates in English as a foreign language often tend to skip the detailed literal meaning of the words in stylistic analysis of English literature, much to the loss of their knowledge of English and to the poverty of their analysis. I remember the late Professor John Povey, who rammed the significance of the literal meaning of the words in literary analysis into the minds of European participants of a Summer Programme at the University of Los Angeles, USA, in 1976, and showed them how well a student has to know the English language and its words to talk sense when he analyses literature. Classicists do not overlook the ground in language matters and few can rival their expertise with words. Their treatment of sententiae from Latin and Greek can only be borrowed and, given the English student’s dedication, can be practised like mini exercises in translation. Incidentally, translation as a kind of exercise, not the routine and extensive practice, has already been resurrected in methodological approaches to English in some schools and approaches.
Although seemingly scholastic and academic, translation of maxims and quotations can be done with ease and only with a little concentration. In my attempt to improve my Polish, I would translate quotations-maxims at any moment which I can spare. I have a housewife’s weekly guide and note-calendar (Tygodniowy poradnik Pani domu) on my desk. This calendar has quotations from different authors in Polish accompanying every week of every month. I have these quotations in front of me every time I sit down at my desk. And almost every day, I try to translate one of them from Polish into English and Lithuanian. It does not take either too much of my time or effort. If I cannot translate a longer quotation at once, I stretch it for two days, and keep learning Polish this way in addition to my more disciplined study of Polish grammar. Quotations and sayings are not only short and fine; they are also contextualized units and so are relatively easy to memorise. Their grammatical patterns can be used as models to produce new units as easily.
A word on translation. It is decades ago that translation was discredited as a method in ELT but it has already been revived of late. As I have said, translation can be useful if a learner likes it and if it is practiced with measure. Here is more to be said on how methods are discredited, again with reference to the classics. A Greek author, Epictetus, has outlined a stoic conception of ethic of a late period, in his work titled The Manual (Enchoridion) (Epiktetas. The Manual, Fragments, Talks. The Lithuanian translation by Vanda Kazanskiene. Vilnius: “Alma littera”, 2014. – 335p.). In describing man’s discontent with things which depend on his own making and with those which are not, Epictetus claimed that human discontent is senseless if it is directed to what does not depend on man. Freedom of will and works that issue from this freedom is man’s own doing. Our body, body parts, wealth, parents and children, fatherland and everything that stands next to us do not depend on man (Talks, XXII). Make no mistake, Epictetus explained man’s right dissatisfaction with wrong-doing prior to this seemingly extremely liberal philosophical stance.
When read consistently, The Manual encourages to be reasonably philosophical and to differentiate between the right and wrong, but not to waste effort on what does not depend on us. In his further explanation of the roots of man’s discontent, Epictetus assumed that people are shaken by opinions rather than by the things themselves (The Manual, V, XV, XVI, XX). “It is not death that we fear. It is rather an opinion that it is dreadful.” But here is what we can learn from Epictetus about methods. Methods like fashions do not become wrong or date so quickly as they happen to be written off. It is an opinion about the methods that works for or against them. Depending on how much emphasis is placed on the opinion, the method can be wholly rejected or embraced by schools and countries. This is not right. Any method can be useful if usefully employed. Their change is most often the question of fashion or money or both. So, I tend to think that none of the practices I have described above is dated. Any can be useful if a person finds it to his liking in his independent study. Happily, Professor Theodore S. Rodgers has announced, at an international conference, “In Medias Res”, in Near East University, Nicosia, Cyprus, in September 2013, that “Methods are dead. Approaches remain ”. He and Jack C. Richards have reiterated this statement in their book, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, (Richards and Rodgers, CUP, 2012/1986):
“…an approach as a set of beliefs and principles that can be used as the basis for teaching a language./…/ (No approach), however, leads to a specific set of prescriptions and techniques to be used in teaching a language. They are characterized by a variety of interpretations as to how the principles can be applied. Because of this level of flexibility and the possibility of varying interpretations and application, approaches tend to have a long shelf life. They allow for individual interpretation and application. They can be revised and updated over time as new practices emerge.” (pp. 244-245).
“A method, on the other hand, refers to a specific instructional design or system based on a particular theory of language and of language learning. It contains detailed specifications of content, roles of teachers and learners, and teaching procedures and techniques. It is relatively fixed in time and there is generally little scope for individual interpretation. Methods are learned through training. The teacher’s role is to follow the method and apply it precisely according to the rules.” (p.245)
This is a happy state. My strong belief is that the teacher’s and student’s liberation, by the clarity of these definitions, from superstitions about the rights and wrongs of the methods, leaves us a choice in the ways of learning foreign languages and can enhance our success with them. As my students may have noticed, the ways of learning are not really meagre or very limited in number, yet those that are helpful in concrete cases can be very few. Some of them are known and some are newer, and any can help when there is a will.

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