Do You Need Both Beginning and Advanced?

Your perceived needs as you begin studying your target language will significantly influence how you answer this chapter’s title question.  If you decide that you need beginning lessons when you start your language study — meaning a simplified form of the language — you will expend much time looking for such a program.  You will find that your target language does not have a beginner’s level of language.  On the other hand, if you decide that the language of the daily newspaper is what you want to learn, you will find that language all around you.

You will certainly need to begin on a rudimentary level.  But the simple sentences and vocabulary you will use should, nonetheless, be sentences and words you would hear in daily conversation.

All target languages are different in structure, and can’t be analyzed individually in this book.  Therefore, let’s use English as an example and try to analyze this same question from the perspective of a non-English speaker who is trying to learn English.  You should then be able to apply this information to your own needs as you learn another language.

The need for beginning and advanced lessons in English:

Can both beginning and advanced students in our target group of university students and young professionals use the same level of lessons to learn spoken English?  Before you give an intuitive answer, let’s ask the question another way: “Does English have multiple, specialized language divisions?”

The answer is, “No, it does not.” There is no high English language spoken by the gentry versus a low language spoken by commoners.  Historically, many languages such as Greek and Chinese, to mention only two, have indeed had multiple divisions of the language used within the same society.

Modern English, however, does not even have a specialized construction for folklore.  Many languages in which oral tradition has been preserved have a storytelling form of the language that is distinct from everyday conversation.  In these language groups, there are often specialists who recount the folklore in public gatherings.  Common English has none of that.  Though Ebonics — and more recently Rap — are sub-classes of English that would not be broadly understood, all English-speakers within that general target language group understand everyday English.

In fact, English is so simple in regard to multiple divisions of speech that we do not even have two forms of address for people of different social standing.  French, for instance, has strict conventions regarding the use of “TU” or “VOUS” when addressing another person.  A U.S. citizen, however, would address both a person of higher social standing and a young child as “you.”

English has a wide spectrum of language variances including regional accents and dialects.  It also has many specialized vocabularies.  Any student who has taken courses in anatomy, law, physics, automotive technology, psychology, engineering, geology, or anthropology has spent a great deal of time learning specialized terminology.  Nonetheless, the essential English syntax that holds even these specialized words together in a sentence is still the language of common speech — or the language of the daily newspaper.

So, aside from specialized vocabularies, English has no divisions representing increasing levels of language complexity.

The exception to the above paragraph would be found in technical documents such as legal briefs, real estate transactions, and the like.  However, this style of English is far removed from the language used in normal conversation.

For any one target language group, there is only one kind of English that needs to be learned.  A student will not need two — or more — different course levels.  This is not to say that English is a simple language to learn.  Far from it.  Strange grammatical constructions, abstract concepts, idioms, and literary language can prove to be difficult for anyone.  However, the same complexity is found in all spoken English, not merely in some higher level.

Why have traditional language programs insisted that there must be beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels of English study?  It is not because there are a beginning and advanced levels of spoken English.  It is because there are beginning, intermediate, and advanced explanations of English grammar.  This means that some rules of English grammar are easy to explain.  Some rules of grammar are more difficult to explain.  And some are complex enough to require a highly technical explanation.  But spoken English is one subject of study, whereas the formal rules of English grammar are quite another.

A second perspective:

Let’s ask our question again.  “Do international English students need both beginning and advanced English lessons in order to learn the language?”  No, they don’t.  There is only one level of spoken English.  Beginning students must start by speaking normal English sentences.  Advanced students must continue until they are able to fluently pronounce the words in those same normal English sentences.

There will be a great difference in the levels of fluency between a beginning and advanced students, and as such, it may be entirely appropriate to group students accordingly.  But there is no difference in the level of English sentences they must study.  They must both use the same English sentences to initiate — and then to master — the process that will develop the necessary cognitive, motor, and auditory skills used to speak English fluently.

Let’s clarify a potential area of confusion.  English grammar lists simple sentences (sentences with one main clause), compound sentences (sentences with two or more main clauses), complex sentences (sentences with one main clause and at least one subordinate clause), and compound-complex sentences (sentences made up of two or more main clauses and at least one subordinate clause).  An example of a compound-complex sentence would be, “The Saturday afternoon program was like a two-ring circus; while one part of the TV screen carried the professional football game, the other part showed scores from collegiate games.”  Of course, this is not a sentence we would expect beginning English students to use.  However, the language itself is not what makes the sentence complex.  It is grammatically defined as a complex sentence simply because of its grammatical construction.  With very little change, the sentence could become three simple sentences: “The Saturday afternoon program was like a two-ring circus.  One part of the TV screen showed the professional football game.  The other part of the TV screen showed scores from collegiate games.”  Aside from vocabulary, any one of these three sentences is a beginning level sentence.

Thus, when we say that there is no difference in the level of English sentences a beginning and advanced student must study, we are not talking about a grammar definition.  We are saying that there is not one language that would be used by commoners and another that would be used by an upper class.  Even though the example sentence about the TV’s split screen is not a sentence that we would want to include in the first lesson, it does not represent multiple, specialized language divisions.

Finally, however, if beginning students stumble across something equivalent to an English compound-complex sentence in a newspaper, they could skip it for the present time and focus on the sentences they are able to use.

Appendix A: Introductory Lesson was included to illustrate the first lesson a non-English speaking student will encounter in the Spoken English Learned Quickly course.

As you look at Appendix A, you will see that even though only simple sentences cast in the present tense are used, they are, nonetheless, complete sentences.  The first lesson in this course requires that non-English speaking students start their language learning experience with complete sentences used in everyday speech.

Making this model fit your own language study:

Up to this point, the attempt has only been made to show that so-called beginning and advanced sentences are unnecessary in an English language program.  You will likely discover very little in your target language that would require two levels of language study any more than would be required in English.

You will need to learn normal greetings and salutations when you begin your target language study.  You will want to learn how to ask basic directions, how to find a store or office, what bus to take, or how to make the change.  Yet, all of the vocabulary and phrases you will use are a part of the everyday language used by everyone, not just beginners.

Therefore, you should understand that the spoken language you want to learn is not divided into levelsThroughout the entire time, you will be learning your target language, you will essentially be adding vocabulary and new syntax to a single level of language complexity.

If you understand this concept, it will help you immensely.  Your task is not to learn a beginning language, progress to an intermediate language, and finally, pass an exam on the advanced language before you can finally begin talking to real people.  Your task is to immediately begin speaking your target language even though you may use short, simple sentences and limited vocabulary.  Language learning is a continuum.  Everything you learn to say correctly in your first week of language study should be just as useful in normal conversation as the things you will learn later as you become more fluent.

There may be exceptions:

Your target language may use specialized language for folklore, proverbs, weddings, funerals, and when addressing individuals from a higher class of society.  If that is the case, you will need to learn those forms at some point if you aspire to that level of fluency.  Nonetheless, most of those specialized forms (excepting possibly those used when addressing someone from a higher class of society) will be used very infrequently in daily conversation.

 Designing the early lessons:

A language course using the Feedback Training Method would normally begin with at least one introductory lesson for students who are just beginning their study of a new language.  The first lesson would use simple sentences, a limited vocabulary, and restricted verb tenses.  The first Spoken English Learned Quickly lesson uses complete sentences that are limited to the present tense.  However, beginning with Lesson, all lessons use verbs in past, present, and future tenses, and newspaper-quality sentences.

Nonetheless, even though this course uses normal — though simple — everyday English sentences in the early lessons, there is another way in which the audio portion of the course accommodates the student who has no previous knowledge of English.  This is demonstrated more easily than explained.  This example comes from the text exercise in Appendix B.  The narrator records the phrase outside of the ellipses (….).  The student then repeats this phrase during the pause.

Audio recordings for the first few lessons would be structured like this:

A long time ago, (A long time ago,) there was a wise man (there was a wise man) living in a mountain country.  (living in a mountain country.)  A long time ago, there was a wise man living in a mountain country.  (A long time ago, there was a wise man living in a mountain country.)  The country was beautiful.  (The country was beautiful.)  But it was always difficult (But it was always difficult) to find enough food.  (to find enough food.)  But it was always difficult to find enough food.  (But it was always difficult to find enough food.)

Audio recordings for later lessons would use longer phrases like this:

A long time ago, there was a wise man living in a mountain country.  (A long time ago, there was a wise man living in a mountain country.)  The country was beautiful.  (The country was beautiful.)  But it was always difficult to find enough food.  (But it was always difficult to find enough food.)

The variation, therefore, is not in the complexity of the sentence itself, but in the length of the segments used to build the sentence.  Thus, a beginning student with no prior knowledge of the target language and a student who has gained considerably greater fluency may use the same kinds of sentences.  The structure of the audio exercises will take into account these varying levels of fluency, though in later lessons the student will be forced to manipulate the language to a far greater degree.  Though the beginning student will spend more time learning the proper pronunciation of each sentence, and the more advanced student will spend more time substituting tenses and component parts of the exercise sentences, the end result is that both the beginning and advanced student will be speaking the same language that is used in normal conversation.

But it’s too difficult to start with normal speech:

Not really.  Once you understand the greetings and salutations, you are ready to begin practicing with normal sentences.  Say, for instance, that you are reading a newspaper article as you study.  Aside from the sentences that contain specialized vocabulary, most sentences will use common verbs and syntax construction.  This is the language you want to speak.  Use it from the very start of your language study.

This will be explained more fully in Studying the Verb and Making the Feedback Training Method Work.

Therefore, you can be assured that the spoken language you want to learn is everyday languageIt will reduce stress if you realize that, in the very first week of language study, you are learning normal speech.  By and large, the language will never become any more difficult than it is when you first begin because you will be studying normal spoken language throughout your formal study.

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