My girlfriend, Margie

As I’ve described before, I realized when I started teaching fl that in May my students remembered what I had said to them in August but not much of all the grammar I had taught in between. That got me to thinking about my own language ability. My knowledge of Russian grammar and vocabulary was impressive but my ability to communicate was poor, requiring lots of looking up, etc. My Spanish was more fluent, which made sense since I had used Spanish in my work as a counselor over 20 years.
But the language that simply flowed out of me without struggle was French, a language I had had two years of in high school and had not studied since. What was going on here that if someone walked in a started speaking French, I fell in with them effortlessly (keep in mind, my French is quite restricted in terms of vocabulary b/c I don’t use it much). And I remembered Margie, my girlfriend with no English when I was a senior in h.s.

I’ve described before how by coincidence I was charged with meeting a newly arrived French family when I was in my last year of French, a junior. The man was hired by my ROTC club but he took the job only on the condition that I interpret for him. So that senior year of h.s. saw me functioning in French a good deal of the time. And, IMHO, that is why French stays with me whereas the five semesters of college German + one year in h.s. have left me Deutschlos – Germanless. And don’t forget, all of you out there who are sure that learning grammar rules provides the basis for progress in L2, I love grammar and have at this moment at least 15 books on grammar going, both of individual languages like Norwegian and Hawaiian, but also linguistics books deeply analyzing a wide variety of grammars. I have on the table right now an article from 2000 on the Language Wars, prescriptivism vs descriptivism in teaching English grammar (the author leans toward the former).

So this is what convinced me that languages are learned via communication in them, not by studying the grammar. If the latter were the case, I would have learned over two dozen languages by now.

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