Studying the Verb:

Each language has distinct qualities that will require unique and specific exercises. Many languages are inflexive and use declensions in which certain words indicate agreement or specialized meaning. Inflexive languages have well-developed verbs with numerous forms. If your target language is inflexive, you will need to use carefully developed verb exercises. (English, however, is not an inflexive language.)

Many modern languages add a great deal of precision by their use of these linguistic constructions. For example, an adjective may be definitively identified with the noun that it modifies by its agreement in gender and number, thus setting it apart from other adjective/noun combinations within the same context. Since written language is derived from spoken language, the focus of this chapter is primarily the variations of meaning that result from manipulation of the spoken language. The following two definitions are important here:

  • An inflexive language is one that adds one phoneme — or one moneme in its written form — to a verb to denote case, number, gender, person, tense, etc. A phoneme is the smallest linguistic sound carrying meaning, whereas a moneme is the smallest linguistic unit (typically a letter in a phonemic alphabet) identifying a specific phoneme.
  • Declension is the occurrence of inflection in nouns, pronouns, and adjectives, indicating such features as number (typically singular vs. plural), case (subject, object, and other case functions), and gender. Declension occurs in a great many of the world’s languages.

This post will demonstrate how specialized exercises which focus on unique qualities in a language can be constructed. It is easy to demonstrate this type of exercise by using the English verb as an example. Probably nothing marks adults struggling to learn English quite as much as their improper use of verbs in regard to person and tense. Therefore, when teaching English to adults, it is necessary to use specialized English verb drills.

Of course, you will need to adapt these examples of English verb exercises to your own needs as you begin learning your target language. Inasmuch as English adjectives are seldom modified in order to agree with gender and number, we cannot give sample exercises for that purpose, though you could certainly develop them for French, Spanish, and many other languages. Other languages would require extensive exercises for the case within the verb. And were you to be studying Cantonese, you would certainly need to develop exercises using its six tons.

A short introduction to verb drills:

All of these illustrations are taken from the Spoken English Learned Quickly language course. In my own personal experience with language learning, I was frustrated when I would learn a present tense, then a week or two later learn its past or future tense, only to come back to it again a few months later to learn its subjunctive form. I would have done much better had I learned each verb as a complete unit. When I was studying French, the verb “etre” (to be) evolved into at least four verbs. First I learned the present tense etre, later the past tense etre, still later the future tense etre, and finally, an entirely new etre verb form called the subjunctive. It would have been much more effective for me to have learned one verb having four tenses than to have learned four separate tenses as though each was a new verb.

Of course, I am exaggerating to make a point. Yet, if we make a single package out of each verb, learning it in all its forms simultaneously, it becomes a far simpler memory task. In addition, full use of each verb as it is learned gives greater initial command of the language. I said many things incorrectly until months later when I finally learned the subjunctive form. Then I wasted additional time retraining my mind to use the subjunctive form in place of the tenses I had previously thought I was using correctly. I spent more time learning and then unlearning incorrect verb constructions than had I learned fewer verbs initially but learned them in their entirety.

There is, however, another equally forceful argument for learning all forms of the verb at one time. As I have taught the Spoken English Learned Quickly course, I have discovered that in a relatively few week of learning all new verbs in their entirety, adult students who have no previous knowledge of English are able to conjugate verbs which they have never before encountered. I have experimented with this many times. I choose an obscure regular verb and find a student who does not know its meaning. Then I have the student conjugate it in all of its persons and tenses. Only after they have successfully conjugated the verb do I tell them what it means. It is an amazing process to see. (Spoken English Learned Quickly was designed to be used as a self-study course. Most students study on their own. However, I have often conducted a weekly two-hour group session as a means of encouraging the students. It is during the group sessions that I have used these spoken conjugation drills.)

We strongly encourage you to learn all forms of each verb the first time you encounter them in your study. Verbs will become much more useful to you in a shorter period of time.

In traditional language instruction, once a particular verb tense is supposedly learned, it is then assumed that the students know that form and no longer need to review it. Yes, the students may be able to write all the present tense forms of a particular regular verb, but that is not the objective. Can they use all of those forms in spontaneous spoken English? In the Spoken English Learned Quickly course, the instruction does not stop when students are able to write the endings of certain verbs. The goal is to help the students reach a level of fluency in which they can correctly use the verb in all of its tenses and persons in normal speech.

That will be your objective as you learn to speak your target language. Do not be satisfied by simply learning verb tense and the person in written form. You will not know a particular verb until you can use it fluently in spontaneous conversation.

For the same reason that you were encouraged to learn cognate forms of words in Selecting a Text, you are encouraged to learn all of the individual forms of a single verb at one time. This will greatly reduce the time required to learn verb vocabulary. Depending on your target language, this could include tenses, persons, imperatives, declensions, etc. Combining all forms of each verb as you learn them will also improve your intuitive understanding of that particular verb. You will be better able to use the verb in its different forms when you want to use it to convey a similar meaning.

All of the above comments relate to spoken language. You may find it helpful to write tables. But you must learn to use the words in the tables as spoken vocabulary, not merely as written tables.

Four types of verb drills:

The Spoken English Learned Quickly lessons use four verb table forms. In the early lessons, only the following form is used. It will be called an “A” format for this illustration:

  1. An “A” format English verb drill.

TO OWN (to own) / She promised to own it. (She promised to own it.) Own. (Own.) / Please own it. (Please own it.) owning (owning) / He is owning it. (He is owning it.) owned (owned) / it is owned (it is owned) / it was owned (it was owned) / it will be owned (it will be owned)

  • I own (I own) / he owns (he owns) / she owns (she owns) / it owns (it owns) / you own (you own) / we own (we own) / they own (they own)
  • I owned (I owned) / he owned (he owned) / she owned (she owned) / it owned (it owned) / you owned (you owned) / we owned (we owned) / they owned (they owned)
  • I will own (I will own) / he will own (he will own) / she will own (she will own) / it will own (it will own) / you will own (you will own) / we will own (we will own) / they will own (they will own).

Since all of the exercises are recorded as audio lessons, the students respond by repeating the words enclosed in the ellipses (. . .). A Student Workbook is provided that contains the written text for all spoken drills. The parenthetical phrases are included in the written text. Thus, the narrator says, “to own” and the students respond, “to own.” The narrator says, “She promised to own it,” and the students respond, “She promised to own it.” Everything is spoken, and as soon as the students understand a new exercise, they put the written text aside and complete the exercise by using only the audio recording without the text.

Repeated use of this format allows the students to conjugate an unknown verb correctly. Can you see how their fluency increases when they can correctly use English verbs so early in their language learning experience? That is the same fluency you will want to develop as you study your target language.

Quite early in the lesson series, another verb table format is introduced. Throughout the Student Workbook, all irregular verb forms appear in bold type. A drill for the irregular verb “to meet” looks like this:

  1. A sentence completion English verb drill.

Complete the following sentences with “them here every evening.”

  • I always meet (I always meet them here every evening.) / He always meets (He always meets them here every evening.) / You always meet (You always meet them here every evening.) / We always meet (We always meet them here every evening.) / They always meet (They always meet them here every evening.)

Complete the following sentences with “them here after work.”

  • I always met (I always met them here after work.) / She always met (She always met them here after work.) / You always met (You always met them here after work.) / We always met (We always met them here after work.) / They always met (They always met them here after work.)

Complete the following sentences with “them all before evening.”

  • I will meet (I will meet them all before evening.) / She will meet (She will meet them all before evening.) / You will meet (You will meet them all before evening.) / We will meet (We will meet them all before evening.) / They will meet (They will meet them all before evening.)

Though the sentences are simple, this format teaches the verb conjugation in the context of the spoken language. It also forces the students to be more mentally alert during the exercise. Later in the lessons, the third type of verb table is added that is identified here as a “B” format table. It looks like this:

  1. “B” format English verb drill.
  • TO TEST (to test) / He promised to test it. (He promised to test it.) Test. (Test.) / Please test it. (Please test it.) testing (testing) / He is testing some. (He is testing some.) tested (tested) / it is tested (it is tested) / it was tested (it was tested) / it will be tested (it will be tested)
  • I test (I test) I tested (I tested) I will test (I will test) He tests (he tests) he tested (he tested) he will test (he will test) she tests (she tests) she tested (she tested) she will test (she will test) it tests (it tests) it tested (it tested) it will test (it will test) you test (you test) you tested (you tested) you will test (you will test) we test (we test) we tested (we tested) we will test (we will test) they test (they test) they tested (they tested) they will test (they will test)

In this format, students are forced to move from tense to tense using the same person, rather than from person to person using the same tense as they did in the A format drills. Language requires both skills, so students are taught to do both at normal conversation speed.

However, by this time in the lessons, students should be able to do both. Consequently, they alternate between table formats in the same exercise. That is, the first verb uses the A format, the second verb uses the B format, the third verb uses the A format, the fourth uses the B format, and so on to the end of the exercise. This increases the students’ abilities to use the verb with all tenses and persons while, at the same time, forcing them to develop spontaneity while using verbs.

Again, this will be your objective in learning your target language. You want to be able to manipulate the spoken verb quickly and accurately, using all persons and tenses in addition to any other verb functions in your target language. You should also be able to see the great advantage of learning all tenses and persons of a verb at one time. If you learn all the forms of the entire verb each time you encounter a new verb, you will have learned one meaning with multiple forms rather than a mix of verb forms and meanings. Learning all forms of a single verb in this way will take you less time than learning the same material using a traditional method.

Most importantly, if you use spoken exercises as a means of learning verb tables, you will find that the conjugation you are learning for one verb will be quickly transferred to other verbs.

The same transfer of knowledge will also be true with any kind of word or sentence construction you learn as you use this table format. Once you are familiar with that exercise, you will always study the information in the table as a spoken exercise without reading from the text.

There is a final verb exercise format used in the Spoken English Learned Quickly course. The exercise with its spoken introductory explanation looks like this:

  1. Tense or person selection English verb drill.

Say each sentence using the word I will give you. I will tell you if the sentence should be in the present, the past, or the future. Use the word “to ride.”

Present. The children in that family always _________ the bus.

(The children in that family always ride the bus.) The children in that family always ride the bus. (The children in that family always ride the bus.) Present. That family with three children always _________ the bus.

(That family with three children always rides the bus.) That family with three children always rides the bus. (That family with three children always rides the bus.)

This verb table format is used frequently with a large number of regular and irregular verbs. It uses all tenses and persons and incorporates as much vocabulary from each new lesson as possible. In Making the Proprioceptive Method Work, you will learn more about the process of recording these written tables as audio exercises.

Manipulating language:

Development of the ability to manipulate language is easily illustrated. Imagine that four-year-old Ryan lives next door to his best friend. The boys frequently go on each other’s family outings together. On one occasion, the two boys rode a miniature train that circled a picnic area at the zoo. When Ryan returned home, he excitedly told his parents, “. . . and we rode the train.”

As a young child, Ryan’s developing language skills include his growing ability to manipulate language. He can correctly use “…ed” to signal past tense with regular verbs. In time, he will learn the correct conjugation of the irregular verb to ride and will be able to report that they rode the train. We often hear young children doing this. Probably the most frequently made mistake is attaching “…ed” to irregular verbs to create the past tense. Other instances include “gooder” or “baddest” for the words good or bad that do not follow convention, even though the child is using the correct pattern (“tall/taller/tallest” or “large/larger/largest”). Thus, prior to attaining maturity in language, growth is evident as a child develops the ability to manipulate language. The child is intuitively attempting to express unknown, yet grammatically correct thoughts. As adults, we may detect a mistake in conjugation. Yet, how often have we heard a child incidentally use a past tense correctly, when we did not realize that the correct conjugated form itself was not yet a part of that child’s recall vocabulary?

Thus, when the Feedback Training Method teaches students to manipulate language in a way that can be used to create the new vocabulary, it closely replicates a child’s language development. As far as we know, no studies have been conducted to evaluate this process. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable that the best way to teach a new language is to group cognitive and the tenses and persons of verbs in a way that mirrors a child’s progression in language development.

The proprioceptive influence:

Notice how the emphasis on the proprioceptive sense in language learning has influenced this method. Verb usage is important in English, as it likely is in all languages. In order to use verbs properly in English, the speaker must use tense and person correctly.

However, tense and person have multiple components. There are cognitive components that are essentially controlled by memory. So drills that retain memory will be needed. This is accomplished by using a great deal of repetition. These verb forms will be repeated thousands of times throughout these lessons.

During cognitive learning, however, students should also develop the proprioceptive sense that will retrain their mouths to pronounce the words correctly. After all, the difference in knowing whether to use “ride” or “rides” is a function of pronunciation as far as the tongue and hearing are concerned. Therefore, in all of these exercises, the students’ cognitive, proprioceptive sense, and hearing have simultaneously been retrained by forcing them to speak aloud, listening to both the narrator and their own voice, and experiencing the feedback from their own mouth as they speak.

Something else has also been done that is extremely important. For the entire time the students work on the exercises, everything they hear the narrator say has been an example of perfect English. It is perfect in both its pronunciation and syntax. The students could use this lesson from which these sample exercises were taken for two hours a day for five days a week. If the students repeat exactly what the narrator says, they could speak perfect English for 10 hours during that week, even though they are studying by themselves.

These same students could probably do a written exercise using the same material. It would be a cognitive exercise, but it would not involve any retraining of their mouths or hearing. They would probably work on it for two hours or less during the week. The results would be negligible in terms of producing fluent spoken English.

You will want to establish an effective training experience when you study your target language. If you want to be successful, you must avoid complacency with written exercises. Your goal is to advance to effective spoken language learning.

However, it will be difficult. There is no way that you can repeat the same sentences enough times to retrain your mind, mouth, and hearing without becoming weary in the process. That is the price you must be willing to pay in order to efficiently learn to speak a new language fluently.

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