Jak to dìlají jinde

Zde naleznete zapisky naseho skotskeho zpravodaje, Arthura Lawrieho,
o jeho zkusenostech s vyukou rodneho jazyka - v tomto pripade anglictiny.

From: "Arthur Lawrie" (arthur.lawrie*ukgateway.net)

How the Natives Learn English
A Personal Account

Formal instruction in our native tongue emerged slowly out of the various
things that we had to do at school as young children. As soon as we started
school at the age of 5 we were of course taught to read and write. The very
early lessons, needles to say, involved much chanting in unison and
scribbling in crayon, as we learnt what a sentence was and what it was
supposed to looked like on paper.

Once we could read, we had formal reading lessons until the age of 12. Each
night we would be asked to prepare a passage from some book, and the
following morning some of us would be selected at random to read from it
aloud. This was not difficult. By the time I was 8 I’d realised that I did
not have to read the thing in advance, I would be able to read it flawlessly
unseen, should I be selected the following morning to do so. Through these
reading lessons, we picked up an idea of what English is supposed to be

More formal instruction in English only emerged as a feature in the syllabus
when I was about 8 pr 9. These lessons were simple. We were taught the parts
of speech and simple verb tenses in both regular and irregular verbs. It’s
important to point out that these lessons did not teach us anything we did
not already know. We were simply being given names for things that we’d come
across in our reading (“interjection, infinitive”, etc.). We did not have to
learn any lists of verb conjugations or the like.

In addition to the daily reading exercise, which took about half an hour, we
had daily spelling exercises. We’d be given a list of words to learn
overnight (“receive; queue; Egypt; nought, naught”, etc.) and the following
day we’d have to write them down correctly for assessment. The spelling
exercises ended when I was about 11.

We also had exercises in comprehension. This involved reading a complex
passage, and then producing written answers to questions on the text. These
could be quite difficult. I must have been about 8 when I had my first one,
and 17 when I had my last. It was usual to have one, or sometimes two, a
week, and they took between one and two hours to complete. The early
comprehension exercises featured passages specially contrived for the
purpose, in later years the passages were extracted from the work of
well-known writers.

Also from the age of about 8, we had exercises in composition. We would be
given a choice of 2 or 3 topics and told to write about them. Typically, we
would then spend the next half an hour wondering what we could possibly say
about such dull topics, and then we would spend the few remaining minutes at
the end of the lesson hastily filling the page with whatever cane to mind,
be it relevant or not. I think our compositions were assessed for accuracy
rather than content. These exercises were frequent in the early years, but
faded from the age of 14 until, at the age of 16, they were almost

There were very few exercises in précis. I remember doing a few when I was
about 13 or 14. Perhaps it was thought that the standard comprehension
exercises were sufficient.

At the age of 10 we were also made aware of etymology, and the fact that
there are lots of foreign words in English. This was not rigorous tuition,
though. It was simply a matter of a teacher saying, “this word is Greek,”
or, “this word comes from the Latin xxxx, meaning xxxx.” We also got taught
proper punctuation at this time.

We were introduced to simple French at this stage. We did not have the
grammatical background for it to be anything other than rudimentary spoken
French, and I quickly forgot it as we did not keep it up. (Phew! Narrow
escape!). You may be interested to know that we also learnt a little Scots
at this stage. Scots is essentially an English dialect, in which much of the
vocabulary is derived from Gaelic or Old Norse. We would read some Scots
poetry, or the odd Scots short story. I didn’t like this at the time. I
could hardly understand a word of it whereas for some of my classmates it
seemed to be second nature.

Than, when I was 11 years old (last year at primary school), a shock came –
formal, rigorous instruction in grammar and a deliberate attempt to expand
our vocabulary! The grammar lessons were about an hour long, and we had
about one per week. We covered everything, including both archaic
constructions we had come across in the King James version of the Bible, and
fine points of tense selection in subordinate clauses. There were written
exercises that we had to do and these were assessed. However, for the top
third of the class, there was nothing new being taught. We had come across
all this grammar in our reading, and this course was really only giving us a
formal framework for what we already knew. Most of us had been successfully
creating comparatives and superlatives and conjugating irregular verbs for
some time without realising it. For the middle third of the class I’m sure
the reiteration of old material gave them another chance to learn it. For
the bottom third of the class, it was all over their heads and would forever
be so. By the end of the year, half the class could formally analyse and
pars a long and ridiculously complex English sentence. The grammatical rules
we had been taught had not been learnt by rote, but by example. We had still
never learnt any irregular verbs by rote - we found that we had acquired the
knowledge of how to conjugate them through our reading.

By this time the reading exercises had progressed to Dickens (abridged!).
This alone must have increased our vocabularies substantially. In addition,
we had to compile little personal thesauri, in which we would enter new
words that we came across (“cantankerous; cadaverous”, etc. from Dickens)
plus any words that the teacher suggested we should put in. The entries were
cross-referenced by meaning (“rebuke, reprove, reproach, chastise, chide,
castigate, upbraid, admonish, scold”). Sometimes we would be given a list of
5 or 6 words and told to make a sentence for each in which the word was used
in such a way as to display fully and unambiguously its meaning. This could
sometimes be challenging. The year I spent doing these vocabulary and
grammar exercises did more for my linguistic and literary skills than
anything I had done before or have done since.

Then, at the age of 12, I moved to secondary school. Here there was no
formal instruction in grammar, no spelling exercises, and none of the old
class reading – only more comprehension exercises and…literature! This may
have been because here we were no longer in classes of mixed ability. We had
all been graded by ability and I was in the top stream. It was probably
assumed that we knew grammar and could more or less spell. Perhaps the other
streams still had tuition in these things. I think we had about 4 hours a
week of comprehension exercises and the study of literature, including
poetry and plays. Doing the plays was fun because we read them together in
class, with each person taking the part of one of the cast of characters. If
the teacher got the casting right, the text really cane alive and it was a
little like being in the theatre. As regards prose, we were advised as to
which writers we should read and left to get on with it in our own time.
There was a school library we sometimes used, but most of us would simply
buy the occasional recommended novel for ourselves, in addition to the usual
porno mags.

Also at this stage, I was required to study Latin, and to take a modern
foreign language. I chose German, for no real reason that I can remember. We
had a choice of only German or French. If you were keen on languages, you
would later be given the chance of taking Spanish, Italian, or Russian.

Latin was an eye-opener, and I quickly realised just how simple English is
in comparison. How could anyone ever actually communicate if they had to
negotiate that minefield of tenses and cases and the myriad of word endings?
Most of the learning was tackled by rote (“amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatus,
amant”) However, it boosted my understanding of language in general, and my
knowledge of English vocabulary. However, I had a sadistic teacher for Latin
(Latin teachers so often are, for some reason) and he turned me against it.
He would work us very hard and punish us cruelly if we did not meet
expectations. A teacher who behaved like that would end up in prison today.
At the age of 14, when I was required to reduce the number of subjects I was
taking from 14 to 9, I dropped Latin, to my everlasting regret.

The Latin and German also gave me a feel for the finer points of English
literary style. Writing in German, where verbs pile up at the end of the
sentence and where the genitive has a particularly pleasing quality, was a
very different kettle of fish from writing in English. There was much
learning of rules in German – “prepositions that take the accusative: durch,
für, gegen, ohne, wieder, um, bis, entlang.” I studied German until I was 17
(a year too far, I think) and ended up having to read Heinrich Böll in the
original. I was never a terribly fluent speaker, but I could read and write
routine German without too much trouble.

>From the age of 14 I was essentially studying for examinations on which much
of my future would depend. There were two diets of these, at ages 16 and 17.
I took English as a subject in both. There was no change in method of
teaching for English. I was doing almost exactly the same at 17 as I had at
12. Only the subject matter had moved on. Shakespeare was introduced
seriously when I was about 15, and Chaucer at 16. I think I can best
describe what happened to my English during this period as a slow broadening
of understanding and a maturation of personal style. When I was 13, I wrote
in long, convoluted sentences with as many long words thrown in as I could
manage. My writing was technically correct, but not especially readable. In
the ensuing years I learnt that what a sentence doesn’t say can sometimes
shout louder than what it does say. I also learnt that punctuation is not
just an arbitrary rule to be followed – it’s about pace. I learnt when to
use, and when not to use, specialist vocabulary. I learnt to write for an
audience - how to write for a newspaper or for a scientific journal, and how
to imitate the style of an Eighteenth Century pamphleteer or a Twentieth
Century American pulp novelist.

I dropped the subject of English when I was 17. I’d learnt all I needed to,
and I’d done well in my exams. If I had continued for a further year, I
would have had to study Middle English in detail. Had I also wished to study
Old English, I would have had to do so at university.

Was my experience good or bad? I was fortunate to find myself attending a
school that was quite good. Not great, but it tried its best. I enjoyed the
brief spell of formal grammar, because I liked the analytical approach. It
was also invaluable. In the latter stages of my schooling I came to enjoy
literature very much. There was such a lot to choose from, all you needed in
order to find something totally engrossing was to be pointed in the right
direction. I did not care for the comprehension exercises. Throughout my
entire schooling, I found them tedious. Occasionally, when the teacher
decided to push us a bit, they would also be hard.

Finally, let’s put the above in perspective, by making a few important
· For non-native speakers, English is easy to get to grips with. I’m sure it
can be done without any formal instruction in grammar. Even its spelling, so
often thought of as irrational, is easier than that of French. It only gets
hard at the truly advanced level, where it can get very hard indeed.
However, as this level is beyond that of most native speakers, this does not
really matter.
· English is a very idiomatic language. If you want to know how to use such
typically English expressions as “Shanks’s pony”, “Davey Jones’ locker”,
“sick as a parrot”, or “over the Moon”, it is probably best done by coming
across them being used correctly in your reading. Also, English has a vast
vocabulary. In his works, Shakespeare used 40,000 words (many of them
different!). That’s an awful lot. The best way to learn vocabulary is
through seeing it in use in your reading.
· My experience was gained in Scotland. England has its own, quite different
education system. The general features of the two are similar, but the
detailed structures are undoubtedly different. I suspect the two are quite
different from the US system, where (correct me if I’m wrong) the important,
life-determining exams are tests of innate ability rather than familiarity
with a prescribed body of knowledge.
· Education in the U.K. has declined these past 20 years. I was one of the
last to pass through the system before radical and fashionable approaches
were adopted, such as teaching English without any grammar lessons at all.
Of course, it is now recognised that this was a grave error, and changes are
being implemented to ensure that we never again rear a generation of
sub-literate oafs such as the one that is snapping at my heels. ”If it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it.”
· There is a revival in the teaching of Latin, both in schools and amongst
adults. I’m not sure why its popularity has increased.
· Everyone speaks English better than the English do. The most correct
spoken English in the U.K. is found in the city of Inverness, in the
Scottish Highlands. However, this observation does not apply solely to the
English-speaking world. Educated Europeans (the Dutch in particular, I’ve
noticed) speak better English than Joe Bloggs in the average English town.
· Other native British languages are taught in British schools - Gaelic in
Scotland, Welsh in Wales. It is even possible to find yourself being taught
other subjects in the medium of these languages, if you are living in the
rights area. Manx and Cornish are taught on a very small scale, but I’m not
sure if this is done as part of the formal curriculum. Also, I know we
sometimes teach in the medium of the languages of ethnic minorities (e.g.,
Gujarati, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, etc.) I don’t know how this will develop, if
at all.

Does the above describe a “gentlemanly” approach? Maybe, but from what you
say about that mysterious and impenetrable Czech tongue, maybe it is only
“gentlemanly” in comparison to the teaching of Czech. Different languages
may need different approaches.


Arthur Lawrie

© 2002 Gustav pro jazyk èeský

  Gustav ---------------- Trdlovní Vestník