Focusing on the Target Language:

It would be impossible to say that any spoken language has a neatly defined vocabulary and syntax, or that it can be fully taught through a single language training program. According to Maria’s Choice; So Let’s illustrate that with the following example:

Maria, a Bolivian national, wants to complete her undergraduate studies at a university in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Then she plans to enter the civil engineering program at the University of Texas because she wants to work in flood control in Bolivia.  In order to succeed, she will need to achieve fluency in the following six English forms:

  • Legal and technical English. Maria will need to be able to read and write legal and technical English in order to submit her university application, immigration forms, and financial paperwork.  In addition, she will also need to use this English form as spoken language when such things as textbook glossary terms and engineering legal matters are discussed in classes.  This English form will use specialized — and often unfamiliar — vocabulary.
  • Grammatically complete written English. Almost all of Maria’s textbooks will use this English form in which complete sentences containing a full complement of all necessary parts of speech are used.  Coincidentally, vocabulary will often consist of precise terms used in a specific field such as engineering, law, finance, etc.  Most of her need for this English form will be in reading, though it will occasionally be used in speech.
  • Grammatically complete spoken English. Many of her instructors will often use grammatically complete spoken English during their class or lab presentations.  Local newspapers will also use this English form in written format even though it will be on the reading level of the general populace.  The newspaper will use a simpler vocabulary and less complex sentence structure than more technical publications might. For our purposes, the term grammatically complete English means that sentences contain all necessary parts of speech, while conversational English means that sentences sometimes employ understood (but unspoken) parts of speech.
  • Conversational spoken English. Maria will need to master the English used by the ordinary people on the street in her American university city.  She will also need to communicate with fellow students using conversational English common to her own age group.  In English — and probably most languages — conversational spoken language often abbreviates sentences and alters vocabulary.  When properly used, conversational English is grammatically correct English, but it is not always grammatically complete
  • Slang, ethnic, and vulgar English. Maria will most likely watch American movies and television and will be involved in social contexts where unique vocabulary and sentence structure will be used.  Whether or not she chooses to incorporate these terms into her own speech, she will need to learn the vocabulary in order to avoid the risk of using socially inappropriate language.
  • Regional pronunciation and vocabulary. Though she will need to be familiar with standard American broadcasting English as it is used in national news casting, national media, and cinema productions, Maria will also need to be able to mimic the accent and vocabulary used at the University of Texas.

Assuming that Maria is able to fulfill her goal of completing an advanced degree at the University of Texas, by the time she graduates she will most likely have learned to adequately communicate in the six English forms listed above.  But an important decision she will need to make while she is still a student in Santa Cruz is which of these six English forms she should begin studying first.

Selecting a precise language for study:

Before going further, a point of reference needs to be developed that will aid a student like Maria in selecting her language study program.  As already discussed, there are six English forms that she must choose between.  She needs to choose wisely at this point in order to avoid wasting time in her English study.  Students using the Spoken English Learned Quickly course have commented that they have studied English for a number of years without learning the technical English vocabulary they needed to enter their chosen field of study or employment.  Others have said that their poor pronunciation has been a hindrance to their employment opportunities.  These students spent years in “English” study, but it was not tailored to fit their future need.

The question Maria or any other language student must ask is, “What language do the people with whom I will be communicating speak?” A simplistic answer like “Polish,” or “Chichewa,” or “English” is inadequate.

Propose the following terminology:

  • The term target language in its customary sense will indicate the language that will be learned.
  • The term target language group — and a synonym needed for comparative purposes, general target language group — are loosely defined terms that simply identify those who speak a particular language. This group will typically be spread over a wide geographical area with members having dissimilar socioeconomic status.  Nonetheless, speakers within this group will use syntax and pronunciation that is understood by all others in the same target group when the speaker is using non-regional or non-technical vocabulary.
  • The term general target language group will then be contrasted with a new term specific target language group. It is this second term that has the precise meaning we want.  A specific target language group will more likely be in a particular geographical location, and will, because of the similar socio-economic status of its members, use vocabulary, syntax, and pronunciation that is generally common to all in that group.

Could classify all Americans who speak fluent English as being included in a single general target language group because, in spite of regional differences in dialect and vocabulary, they can readily communicate with each other.  It is the specific target language group that is important to Maria because she will need to learn an English form that will allow her to communicate with instructors and Texas-raised students in the Engineering Department at the University of Texas.

Strongly encourage you to gain as much information as possible about the specific target language group with which you will be communicating.  Carefully plan your language learning program so that the pronunciation and vocabulary you learn will be useful to you.  This may save you a great deal of wasted effort.

Maria’s choice:

A first observation can now be made.  Maria will need to learn the same English which is spoken by her future classmates at the University of Texas Engineering Department.  The majority of her American fellow students will be able to correctly use the six English forms above as they have been described.  Many writers in the field of English-as-a world-language make a distinction between forms of English which are grammatically complete, written, conversational, slang, and the like — often identifying them as separate kinds of English.  We will simply state, however, that the language we are defining as the target language for any language student is the one spoken in a single location by the specific group of people with whom the student will be communicating.  In Maria’s case, that will be the English that her future fellow students in Texas will use both inside and outside of the classroom, whether talking to each other, listening to an instructor’s lecture, buying a hamburger at McDonald’s, taking an exam, watching a movie or television, or reading an assignment.  This will be the specific target language group she will want to communicate with.  On the other hand, there will be other groups of people living in her university city who will use English speech which Maria may not need to learn.

What has been said so far actually simplifies Maria’s choice?  Even though she will eventually want to gain fluency in each of these six English forms, they are now defined for her.  For now, she must only decide on which of the above six English forms to focus as she begins her study.

There is a surprisingly simple second suggestion we can make.  Because of her three years of grammar-based English classes in Bolivia, her ability to read and write English far exceeds her ability to speak it.  Therefore, she should try to find an English course which would include a strong foundation in grammatically complete spoken English (English form 3), but which would also include a mix of colloquial conversational spoken English (English form 4).  The accent used in this ideal language course for Maria would be Texan.

However, it is highly unlikely that Maria would be able to find an English course that would fit her need this precisely.  The closest thing she might be able to find would be a course that would use grammatically complete spoken English with American national broadcast pronunciation.

Because the Spoken English Learned Quickly language course was developed for university students and young professionals, it uses grammatically complete spoken English along with some colloquial conversational spoken English.  Furthermore, the audio recordings provide the option of either American or British national broadcast accents.  We feel that this level of English syntax and vocabulary will best serve the needs of most of our students.  It will also allow them to acquire with the least amount of difficulty the other English forms of spoken English that are not included in the Spoken English Learned Quickly lessons.  We clearly understand, however, that there is no universal spoken English, so there can be no single English course that can be used to simultaneously teach all of the worldwide varieties of English.  We are certainly not saying that there is only one kind of English that is used worldwide.

As you consider the target language you want to learn, you will need to evaluate the materials and courses that are available to you.  You will need to decide how you can best use them to reach your fluency goals.  You will need to focus on a language study program that will teach you to fluently speak the language that is spoken in a single location by the specific group of people with whom you wish to communicate.

Where to start:

Finally, you will need to begin your language study by using some kind of vocabulary and sentences.  We strongly suggest that you do not look for a beginning level of language but that as quickly as possible you begin by using simple sentences and vocabulary in the everyday language of your specific target language group.  You will want to begin your language study using the same sentences that you will want to perfect as you become fluent.

This topic will be covered fully in Do You Need Both Beginning and Advanced Lessons?


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