What\’s more, the initial years of studying a language are tough: there is no escape from the grind of learning how to conjugate verbs, construct sentences and to absorb enough words to begin to understand what is written and said.
To elect to do this, young boys and girls need to know that, like practising a musical instrument, designing clothes or playing a sport, the end-result will be worthwhile. They need teachers who can inspire them, classmates who encourage them and families who understand the value of the skill. In Britain, none of this exists to a sufficient degree.
It is not as though the situation is new. Successive education secretaries say how they deplore the trends.
Well quite, English is one of the glories of our culture. A complex and near infinitely malleable language, capable in well trained hands of conveying nuances unavailable in many other languages.
So yes, children really should be taught the grammar of it, drilled in the vocabulary: they\’ve been blessed with being native speakers of this language, it is important that they be taught how to manipulate it properly.
Ah, yes, sorry, my mistake. Willy is of course saying that everyone should learn French or German or Mandarin this way: but not that anyone at all should learn English this way. For that would be to go against the educational establishment\’s insistence that children should not be taught their own language, only be taught other ones.
Myself I am actually rather annoyed that I never was taught English grammar, sentence structure, all those things. Whatever I do know has come simply from reading others and having a little mental light going off…..that doesn\’t look right, play with it until it does.
This has caused problems: one American place I used to write for fired me precisely because I wasn\’t using the grammatical structures insisted upon by whatever style book it was that they used. I simply did not understand the points that they were making (incomplete sentences? WTF are they?).
Similarly, in learning foreign languages I\’ve no idea what the various books and so on are trying to say. Past particple? Gerund? Matching verb and object? WTF? What are these things? As I\’ve no idea what they are in English I\’ve of course no idea at all what they are in German, Portuguese, French or Russian (the other languages that I have a smattering of).
Whatever I have learned of these languages has been learned the same way I learned English: listen, repeat, keep doing so until people understand you.
This method has its advantages: I was in Prague on Friday talking to some sciency types about my favourite metal. A lot of the conversation they were having was in Czech (of course) and I was able to correct the interpretation to me of several things from my rudimentary Russian. It seems that it\’s a common Slavic language thing to get confused between the thousands, hundreds, tens and teens in numbers (the tisiche or thousand in Russian, and I noted in Czech, often gets mistranslated to the teen and vice versa. So when they mean 12, or dvatsit, we get two thousand, or dver tisiche, or somethimes twenty, dvesti, or sometimes even two hundred, dversot…..spelling there is terrible of course) in English.
So that\’s good, but that\’s all been done by ear. I really do wish I knew grammar in any one language (but am far too lazy to start now) so that I could learn it in others. Perhaps that could be better put: I wish that someone had beaten grammer in one language into me when I was still amenable to having things beaten into me.
But that still leaves us with that wonderful Willy point, doesn\’t it? That all children should be encouraged to learn other languages in exactly the manner that the educational establishment insists that English children should not learn English.