The Project: An Introduction

Hello and welcome to linguisticsmattersblog, a proposal for the integration of basic linguistic analysis in language education.

Learning a new language can be challenging. I, myself, have always felt like I am a skilled language learner; I pick words and phrases up quickly and can usually converse with locals to at least barter to score some cheap Ugg boots for a sweet deal. However, not every language learner has the same strengths, and it can prove to be a bit more challenging to learn a brand new language, especially across language family lines.

I am a native Spanish speaker and I also have native-like fluency in English. In my language learning ventures, I found French to be quite comprehensible, and I can decipher quite a bit of most romance languages when spoken to me, or even reading them. However, the moment I moved to Shanghai and gave Mandarin a shot, or when I moved to Cape Town and jumped into Sesotho, I got insight into the actual challenge that is language acquisition, especially after the younger years of the critical period (usually before 6-7 years of age) is way behind me. Naturally, it is something I have been wanting to decode- how can we improve language education to make it more meaningful and influential to its students- actually teaching a language to the point where any student driven enough to commit to learning the language can attempt to speak to a native speaker at least on a conversational level? The answer became very clear to me after studying linguistics.

Linguistics is a term that is thrown around all over the place. It is a very broad field, so I understand how plenty of people do not distinguish the study of linguistics from the study of language learning… which, yes… in some ways does fall into the realm of linguistics. The distinction I want to make in terms of this project is between basic linguistic analysis (I know, I keep saying that, what does it mean?) and basic language education- aka language on a deconstructed level vs. language on a lexical level. When one learns a language in a classroom, it is usually taught on a repetition-memory base with vocabulary lists and grammar rules hammered into the heads of many students (half of which probably are not passionate about learning the language in the first place). So, when you have students with all kinds of learning styles and levels of enthusiasm, there must be a way to delve into the language to cater to all students and provide a structural breakdown of it.

Enter: Linguistic Analysis!

Instead of focusing solely on memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary words, I propose to include a basic breakdown of the language’s phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and, in effect, semantics. Keep reading the following posts to get a brief introduction and definition of each sub-topic of linguistic analysis (not delving too deeply outside of the basic breakdown components) in relation to the Sesotho language from Lesotho in South Africa. In this way, I will use a practical application of linguistic anthropological research on this language, merging the breakdown of the language and the process of learning a language by forming an imprint and deep understanding of how it is made up. As an avid linguist and language-learner, I have become aware of the fact that these two disciplines are not always used together to promote the effectiveness of one over the other like field method researchers do on site. Field method studies involve speaking to a group of native speakers, collecting data of the language in words, sounds, and sentences, and deconstructing the sounds and structures to its deepest levels. Over time, most field researchers end up learning the language by default, usually at a conversational level, not only by being exposed by the language regularly, but also by studying the most intricate structural makeup patterns. I present that breaking down the language to explain more than how grammatical rules apply will allow for a deeper understanding of how and why these grammatical rules are enforced- especially in languages that are completely foreign to the learner.

If a student like myself learns the sound pieces (or phonemes) of a language, the location in the mouth in which they are produced, and how they are distributed within the language, it makes it a lot more simple to then note and apply patterns and structures when learning new vocabulary or modes of speech. Keep reading for my experience with learning Sesotho in a classroom setting in South Africa and how I believe I may have learned more of the language if it were broken down on a deep structural, linguistic level.

I hope this encourages you to really explore language learning more fervently and research the linguistics of a language you’re learning- chances are, the breakdown has already been published for you!

For some more information on this topic, refer to articles like this one!

And for information about a previously published grammar of Sesotho and the main source for this blog visit this site.



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