Last week a student, a beginner, had to read a text and say what structures are being presented in it. After the first reading he could only understand 10% of it - random nouns and function words. So we had to use the few clues we had. We partly succeeded, though.

The conclusions we came to:

1) the subject of the sentence is not just a word, it can be a phrase in which the main word is indicated by a certain function word;

2) the repeated ones are mainly function words and they can indicate grammar structures;

3) puncutaion is an important key;

4) the application of the previous three conclusions can help in understanding the relationships among the words and the text on the whole.

His hometask is to use the list of new words only, not a dictionary. He might be able to translate everything, but I think there will be some gaps again, which will leave some space for thinking.

I'll say once again: I believe translation is a good tool of analyzing grammar and learning structures of a foreign language :)

Next week I'm going to try this task with the two groups of about 10 students, will have more impressions :)


# Alexander Sokol 2011-01-12 10:42
Marija, can I ask you about the aim of the task? What I am trying to say that the aim to 'identify the structures' is a little artificial, isn't it? Why would someone need to identify the structures? How could we contextualise this task to make it more meaningful?
# Marija Nikolajeva 2011-01-13 19:42
Alexander, thanks for asking, I'll try to explain. The task was to read the text and say what it was about. This is the context, I think :) And when it's written in characters, many students just don't read. If they do, at first they can recognize 20 per cent of the characters and say they understand nothing except random words. But if they look at the word order, linking words etc, they will get more information.
Eg, a sentence looks like this: '... is our ...'. In Chinese, 'our' is formed as 'we's' (... is we's ...). For the beginners, such as these 20 students, the answer to the question 'what the sentence is about?' is 'It is about us'. When they are asked to look at the word after 'we', they see that the sentence is about 'our sth', because in such short sentences a possessive adjective is usually followed by a noun. Ok, so we know '... is our sth.' Good, because if we think about the word order, then there should be a subject in the beginning, which obviously is a noun or pronoun this/that. This is how identifying the structure helps.
Then in the following sentences, the linking words following 'our sth' indicate that the talk is about its belongings, location, etc. And when we see a sentence 'Our sth has many Chinese and foreign students' we think that this might be a school.
My further question to the students is: if we talk about students in the second paragraph, what do we say about a school in the first paragraph? The students are able to answer that since 'to have' is repeated often, so probably it's the description of the school's facilities. And again, the analysis of the word order helps to understand what is what, China, Chinese students or Chinese students' dormitory...
Or, if there is 'it is located...' then you expect a place then. What is 'a place'? A noun. And in certain contexts you can guess which nouns can be there, can't you?
See what I mean? I simply think that in any language we know well these ID processes occur unconsciously. And often there's no problem if we don't understand some words, we just go on reading. And when we really don't understand the meaning, we start looking at endings and words order, don't we? With Chinese you must teach yourself to notice these small details automatically and not to be scared by the barrier built of characters. This is what I'm trying to achieve with my students.

And you know what? After all this analytical work the students don't need to translate the whole text, they simply have to insert some new words into the gaps left. I mean, the focus moves to new words, they notice them better. Without this analysis, they wouldn't feel that they know quite much and now add something. They would feel that they are thrown into some new material in this terribly illogical language and wouldn't be able to say what exactly is new and what they have known before but couldn't activate easily... I believe it's easier to remember new words this way.
After the translation I draw a diagram of the text (me, the genius!) and they had to read the signs. They did it perfectly well :)
What do you think about all this?
# Alexander Sokol 2011-01-14 12:45
I like it :)

Especially, if the students also understand the purpose of analysing the text. This is essential here, isn't it? I mean that the students see how the grammatical analysis of the text becomes the tool to ease their understanding. As long as they see it, the grammatical analysis stops being sth artificial and becomes extremely useful. The problem is though that with many teachers students never reach this stage and continue seeing grammar as something they do for the teacher.
BTW, I think it'd be interesting to think about sth called 'linguistic problems in Chinese and approaches to their resolution'. It seems to me that this is close to how you work anyway. For others, this would be a good resource to make a step away from drilling. Think about it :)

May I also ask what 'a diagram of a text is'? Mind giving an example for less genius readers? :)
# Marija Nikolajeva 2011-01-14 18:50
Oh, thank you, thank you :) I'll think about your proposition...
I do hope that after some time the students will develop the habit of independent text analysis, I mean, without my help.

As to the diagram... The text was about a school campus. I draw a circle inside which there were different symbols. The students had to guess that the symbols meant certain objects mentioned in the text. And that the outer circle was the campus itself. That's it :)
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