Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Tenses" Part 3

Keep that in mind, then, that when GPs panic because they aren’t being taught “past, present and future,” during the first week, it is because their folk-theory of language tells them that they are missing one of the main details of any language. But in fact, they may be trying to jump ahead three or four hundred hours!

Our own experience is that abilities that GPs have in comprehension at Phase X will become common in their production ability at Phase X + 1 (even from the beginning of Phase X+1):

Phase 1 (100 hours): comprehend here-&-now tense-aspect-mood
Phase 2 (150 hours): comprehend story-event tense-aspect-mood; produce here&now tense-aspect-mood
Phase 3 (250 hours): Produce story-event tense-aspect-mood; comprehend story-backgrounding tense-aspect (He was drinking his coffee when…)
Phase 4 (500 hours): Produce story-backgrounding tense-aspect-mood; Understand expository and argumentative discourse.
Phase 5 (500 hours): Produce expository and argumentative discourse.

This does not mean that there will be no experience whatsoever with “story-event tense-aspect-mood,” for example, “past tense” in Phases 1 and 2. Linguists talk about the inherent lexical semantics of verbs, for example, “burst” is inherently a brief event, not stretching out over time. (Other examples are “jab”,” “strike [a match],” “fall”.) In the here-and-now, you can’t typically describe something in the process of bursting because the event happens too suddenly and quickly to allow time to discuss it while it is underway. (Well, you can describe something that is in the process of bursting if it is in a still picture—such as a picture of a dam bursting.) With such verbs, a GP, like a host baby, may primarily hear them, and hence primarily know them, them in their story-event form (in English that is the simple past tense). Or consider what linguists call “habitual aspect” (and English teachers call them, ever-so-misleadingly, “simple present”). Such verb forms might naturally belong to Phase 3 comprehension and Phase 4 production, since they involve a type of “backgrounding” tense/aspect. However with “stative” verbs such as “live” (Jean lives in France), and “know,” (Jean knows French) again, GPs, like host babies may most frequently hear them in this aspect.

So the point is not that GPs following the Six-Phase Programme have no experience with, say, “past tense” in listening comprehension before Phase 2, nor with past tense production before Phase 3. Lots of more advanced grammatical riches are going to be there all along. GPs become aware of them to varying degrees before their time. Think of English “the” and “a” which are extremely common even in Phase 1 listening, and probably come into production already a little bit, even in Phase 1B. Yet most GPs will still not use them in fully host-like ways (in listening comprehension, and hence also in speaking) even in Phase 6.

If the nurturer were a teacher, she might have a list of all the grammatical content she’d want to make GPs master. Based on the common folk theory of language in the Anglophone world, then “Past, present and future” will be high on her list of grammar points to teach as early as possible, and she’ll try to get the GPs to master “the tenses” and to display their mastery as early as possible.

However, a nurturer is not a teacher. A nurturer is just including you in her languacultural world, and helping you to do what you’re trying to do as you continue to develop and change. In Phase 1 and Phase 2 GPs aren’t generally trying to tell stories, and so the nurturer won’t be helping them to form “past-tense” verbs very often. Those GPs will naturally be trying to supply “past-tense” forms a lot in Phase 3, and hence the nurturer will naturally be helping them a lot with this in Phase 3.

I haven’t been talking about “future tense,” but as “past tense” goes with narrative, with story telling, “future tense” may come into play when we share plans or undertake commitments, right? GPs can expect to hear such forms in dialogues between characters in Phase 2 stories that they help build, or in vocalisation of the thoughts of characters. In Phase 3 GPs should be interacting with host people quite a lot outside of supercharged participation, and naturally talking about plans, and undertaking commitments.

In terms of the US FSI/ILR levels, “future” is placed with “past” at proficiency level 2 (720 hours).

Forms that are more naturally encountered in expository discourse (you might hear grammar terms like “subjunctive” and “conditional” and “irrealis”) will come in large quantities by Phase 4 and 5.

Languacultures differ much in all of these areas. In Urdu, some of the more advanced forms (subjunctive and counterfactual conditional) are truncations of less advanced forms (future and habitual, respectively). So they aren’t that hard to form, but they still come in their own time in terms of comprehending and producing them, because the speech genres that are rich in them are difficult to understand and produce until the GP is fairly far along.

In much of life, most GPs will be speaking a “personal pidgin” (a term I learned from anthropologist Robbins Burling) in early phases. In English, you’ll hear things like “I go to store” (used for “I went to the store,” and “I’m going to go to the store.”) Personal pidgins really work, and the personal pidgin stage really is a stage we need to pass through. The only path to host-sounding speech lies across a large terrain of strange-sounding speech.

At the point when you find yourself trying to produce a grammatical form which you previously were comprehending, then the GPA advocates special effort, in a “just-in-time” spirit. Nurturers and other host people help GPs to do what they are currently trying to do in natural communication—not more advanced forms. This sometimes called “focus on form” as opposed to the common teachers’ style of “focus on formS.” The latter ignores what the students are and are not currently trying to do in their own spontaneous speaking efforts. The GPA encourages focusing on form through structured input, input flooding, output flooding, and record-yourself-for feedback, but probably pre-eminently, in the constant process of conversation between the GPs and nurturer, in which the GP struggles and the nurturer scaffolds. Our “grammar-awareness raising” strategies begin, of course, in Phase 1, with input floods and structured input, and the later grammar awareness raising activities, like record-yourself-for feedback, can be used in an ongoing way, even in Phase 6.
Note: If you have received LLA training, but find you have forgotten terms like “structured input” then you need to come again! Non-memory of “structured input” could be the tip of an iceberg of non-memory!

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