Secret no.3 is one of the really important lessons, but sadly one that many language-learners often fail to learn (and some teachers too!).
The Third Secret of Learning Italian
One of the most natural things to do when starting something that you’re not really sure how to do, like learning a foreign language, is to think back to previous experiences you might have had. Do you remember studying a foreign language at school? Perhaps in your school there was a syllabus based around a progressive study of the grammar of the language you were learning? It’s likely you remember some of the tenses of the language you studied, even if you are now unable to speak or understand a word.
So, when starting afresh with a new langauge, or picking up again with one that you’ve previously studied, many students reach straight for the grammar book. Teachers like grammar too, partly because they know their students like it, but also because it’s very “measurable”. Unlike the vocabulary of the language, which can be almost limitless in quantity and changes rapidly, there is a finite quantity of grammar to teach, so it’s possible to organise lessons in a coherent way and give participants a sense of progress. You can measure the results easily too, unlike say with more communicative activities. A quick test, and hey presto! Learning is demonstrated to have happened, and all are satisfied!
However, as anyone who has ever worked on the reception desk of a language school can tell you, virtually everyone in the market to buy a language course has studied the grammar before but failed to reach their goal to speak and understand. Potential clients arrive at our school saying that they studied the grammar at school, at home, with a private teacher, using a computer programme, or whatever, but admitting that they can’t really manage to speak or understand the language. Often, they will specifically ask for a course in which they will be able to study the grammar again, on the assumption that the problem is simply that they don’t remember what they studied well enough. Their assumption is that:
KNOWLEDGE OF GRAMMAR = ABILITY TO SPEAK / UNDERSTAND
And Secret no. 3? The above assumption is not true at all! THERE’S A LOT MORE TO LANGUAGE THAN GRAMMAR. In fact, it’s probably possible to get by very well in a language without ever studying it at all! Think of the pre-school age children you know. They may not write or read much, but they can certainly speak and understand! Foreign language learning has parallels with the way that children learn their first language (see also Secret no. 1 – langauge learning takes time – do small children learn to speak immediately?)
Conclusion? Any course based primarily on grammar will be poor in opportunities to develop essential language skills such as speaking and listening. You need to practise these skills, they don’t just come naturally when you’ve memorised all the tenses. So, do yourself a favour, put away your grammar book and do something more useful!
Read more: Secret no. 4