Here’s a post on language learning that reflects the common belief that we learn our native language the same way we learn algebra.
“It’s not a load of crap that is the last nail in the
coffin of Latin. It is the reason why people can’t speak English properly –
because they never memorized the principal parts of verbs or other essential
forms necessary for speaking the language correctly. Yes, a person can
recognize that a word beginning with qu- is probably a form of who, which,
or what, but unless the chart is in the brain, when he goes to match it with
a noun, he’ll never make it. Not only that, but many Latin department
grammar placement tests also ask people to do things like list the forms of
the relative pronoun or all the endings for the six tenses. Things have to
be memorized. It hasn’t kept me from having over 200 students enroll in my
class every year!
Besides, I am not really advocating that they be memorized before they are
used, anyway – only that much of what we do is memorized before a person has
completely assimilated the information. Memorization does not mean
understanding, but unless the forms are there, there is not much with which
to work. Also, how many kids do summer reading for AP and are tested on the
works on the first day before they really know the significance of the
works? Several that I know of – whether or not it is a method of weeding
the motivated out from the unmotivated, it still happens!!! There are many
times in life in which one memorized something before completely
understanding what it means!”
Note the begging of the question: “the reason why people can’t speak English properly”. Really? There are those language mavens who would criticize the expression “the reason why”. Then he goes on to explain how we learn verb forms in our native language by memorizing them. Why don’t these people read even basic anthologies or something on language acquisition? The reason why is that they think they know it already. They’re teachers, after all, so they know everything.
This guy has some good insight. He realizes that “memorization does not mean understanding.” And I am the last person to say we know for sure that memorizing doesn’t help in SLA; maybe it does. No proof, though.
What strikes me is the way he adduces the placement test as the reason why we should memorize paradigms. It’s on the test, so you have to know it.
A key concept he lays out is, “…but unless the forms are there, there is not much with which to work.” That is what lies behind much of the emphasis among the ’old school’ teachers on memorizing vocabulary, forms, etc. What many teachers are realizing and some have always known is that the forms become part of your internal model of the language by using them. When learners memorize the ’qui, quae’ quod’ stuff (the title of the thread), they laboriously read, plugging in what they remember. Eventually, if they keep reading, they can read L2. The memorizing advocates then take credit when what may have happened is that the input caused acquisition to take place.
This issue will not go away. This person at least thinks about these issues, as when he acknowledges that memorizing doesn’t equal meaning.