The Aural System Part 1

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The Aural System.

by Anonymous.



_Respecting the time required to learn a language_, _the writer ventures to recommend the way he himself took when a boy to solve this question_.

_Having made choice of a known grammar_, _the exercises of which promise a satisfactory degree of proficiency_, _let the student affix to each and all of the lessons at the outset_, _the dates when they are to be done and observe them_. _Some weeks a little perseverance and determination may be necessary_, _but let him be inflexible with himself_, _curtail his indulgences if required and his task will be done with ease_.

_Subsequent studies are pleasant and easy_.

Some time ago, a Mr. Wm. Rodger came down from Glasgow for the purpose of showing how foreign languages should be taught. He brought on a gentleman, a clergyman from Leeds, who had gone through Otto’s German Grammar without being able either to speak or understand German; this gentleman was able to bear testimony to the merit of Mr. Rodger’s system because by it he had learnt to do both. Of course his testimony rested on one a.s.sumption. It a.s.sumed that having gone through Otto’s Grammar all learnt from it had been forgotten, and that the whole merit of his success was due to Mr. Rodger’s method.

Mr. Rodger was of opinion, that foreign languages should be learnt as a child learns its mother tongue. It seemed to me a strange use to make of the reason and intelligence of the adult, to cast it aside as useless and to ask the youth and man to become a child again. It appeared to me the most wasteful of methods. Is language a science, and if so, what would be thought of a similar proposal for acquiring any other science? But are the cases parallel? Is there any similarity of circ.u.mstance? Can the youth and man again place themselves in the circ.u.mstances of the child?

The child is constantly hearing the language spoken, everyone around it is teaching it to speak, everything around it stimulates it to do so.

Nearly everything it learns, comes to it through its mother tongue; at play it hears, it speaks. At five years of age it begins to go to school, and from that time until its fourteenth or sixteenth year, whatever else it studies, it must study its mother tongue. All other knowledge reaches it through this medium. Every other study compels the study and practice of its mother tongue and allowing ten hours per day for sleep, by the time it is fourteen years of age seventy-one thousand six hundred hours have been spent in such study and practice.

Let us take the case of the youth or man who commences the study of a foreign language. He has found that a foreign language will be of use to him or has become necessary to him in his work. He begins to study it and takes the usual one lesson per week of one hour’s duration. In a year he has spent fifty hours with the teacher; if he devoted two or three hours weekly to the preparation of each lesson, he will have spent 150 to 200 hours per annum upon it, or, less absences and omissions, perhaps 140 or 180 hours upon its study. This makes fourteen days of ten hours or perhaps three weeks as against fourteen years spent by the child upon its mother tongue. Multiply this amount of fourteen days by two or three, and grammar is still seen by comparison to have accomplished a stupendous miracle. But even this disparity is not complete, for whilst the child, whether at work or play, never ceases to study and practice its native language, and this is by far its occupation, the youth and man, on the other hand, devote to the study of a foreign language, the remnants, the odds and ends of their time, after having exhausted their energies in their work.

These were the considerations that occurred to me on thinking over Mr.

Rodger’s prospectus. Nevertheless, it was impossible to regard as satisfactory a method of tuition or study, which left the pupil unable to understand or speak a language after having gone through a grammar like that of Otto. The Grammatical Method being one which does not seek to render easy and simple at the cost of efficiency, by eluding and evading the difficulties and peculiarities of a language, but being the one which fairly meets and masters them: there can be no question of dispensing with its valuable a.s.sistance. The wise course is to adopt that method of using it, which will enable us to derive most benefit from its teachings, and ensure success. It is for this purpose the following has been written. It follows from this, that if the pupil’s time admit, the most complete Grammar is the best.

We have been amongst the most backward in this branch of study, but our grammars since then have been largely borrowed from our more successful compet.i.tors; from those who excelled as much in modern languages as we ourselves in industry. They are in many instances the work of foreign specialists and experts, they are the very instruments of success used by our most successful rivals, how then can they be inadequate? Translation has put us into possession of the best works used by our foreign rivals, and if we are less successful than they, it is due, as a Swiss correspondent of the “Manchester Guardian” recently stated, not to the superior apt.i.tude, but to the superior application of the foreigner.

The writer first commenced studying foreign languages nearly forty years ago, and has resided for nearly twenty years in various foreign countries. His experience with regard to those who learn foreign languages has been that those who commence the practice of a foreign language with a previous knowledge of its Grammar, learn to speak it with an ease, confidence and correctness never attained by those who try to dispense with such preparation and study. On the other hand those who have learnt to speak without such study, contract vicious and faulty locutions, and rarely if ever make good the deficiency. They are compelled of course to form a rough Grammar of their own, upon incomplete information, and have to do so hastily and imperfectly. For writing, where precision and accuracy are required a knowledge not based upon Grammar is next to worthless.

Most pupils have a fourfold object in studying a language; they wish to be able to read and write, to speak and to understand it. By what method could this be most easily achieved? If this work could be performed simultaneously, it would effect a saving of time and labour, as well as impress what was being studied more deeply upon the memory. The memory for sound, form, music, figures, spelling, etc., appears to be distinct and to vary in each one. If the memory for sound could be brought more into play, it must help to retain more tenaciously what was learnt.

Of course, the pupil can only expect to be master of the language so far as he has studied and learnt. He cannot expect to reap where he has not sown. Within this limit he learns to read, in preparing the lesson, and to write, in writing out the exercises.

But Mr. Charles Sauer says in the preface to his Italian Grammar 5th Ed., page iv., “Everyone who has occupied himself with study of modern languages knows, that by far the more difficult task is to _understand_ the foreign language,” (_i.e._, when spoken.)

That cannot be called a success which leaves the most difficult part of the task unaccomplished, nor can it be wise to allow difficulties to ama.s.s and acc.u.mulate, if they can be mastered in detail as they present themselves. The task is the education of the ear and tongue and this can only be done by practice.

To learn to understand the language when spoken, one must hear it spoken; to learn to speak it, one must speak it. It may even have its advantages if such conversation keep within the range of the pupil’s knowledge. He thus feels that he ought, must, and can understand, if he try.

If the pupil speak to himself both these results are attained. This he can do by studying aloud. His tongue will educate his ear and familiarise it with the new sounds, whilst the ear will correct the tongue. I a.s.sume, of course, that he is under the guidance of a teacher; in this case with attention to the teacher’s p.r.o.nunciation and care, and a little effort on his own part, he should soon p.r.o.nounce correctly, easily, and well. By translating the exercises aloud, from five to twenty times, they should become as familiar to him as English. But whether translating into or from English, the foreign sentences should always be uttered _aloud_ clearly and distinctly. It is, of course, a drawback, that in this translation aloud and alone of the exercises, the eye should antic.i.p.ate the ear in conveying the words to the brain, but, when full allowance has been made for this, the gain for the pupil is still immense as compared with the silent method of study.

The learner should not be satisfied with being able to translate the exercises, he should aim at being able to use his new tongue with the same ease, readiness and fluency, as his native language. At each successive translation, he gains in this respect whilst engraving his newly acquired knowledge more deeply on his memory. The exercise which the first time required fifteen minutes to translate, the fifth time will probably take but three.

A chief difficulty being the education of the ear, and the time spent with the teacher being the pupil’s best opportunity for this, the lesson for the pupil so far as possible should be aural, the exercises being spoken by the teacher to the pupil for translation and the pupil’s translations likewise being spoken. The pupil’s book should be kept closed during the translation.

Supposing the pupil to be studying French. The teacher should first speak the French exercise in French, the pupil translating each sentence as spoken, into English.

2. Then taking the English exercise, the teacher should translate it aloud into French, the pupil retranslating each sentence, when spoken, into English.

3. The teacher should then speak each sentence of the English exercise in English; the pupil translating each sentence in a distinct voice into French.

4. The teacher should then translate aloud sentence by sentence, the French exercise into English; the pupil retranslating each sentence into French.

This will double the exercises, which are usually rather scanty. As we see, this part of the lesson is for the pupil exclusively aural and oral; he works through the ear and tongue only, his book being kept closed.

In working alone at the preparation of his lesson, there is the disadvantage for the ear, that, before the sound reaches it, the eye has conveyed the meaning to the brain, but when working with the teacher as above, this drawback is obviated. The test is indeed a more severe one than actual conversation would be. When conversing, the subject is known, and the question suggests the reply; but with disconnected sentences, no such help is forthcoming.

The pupil can much hasten his own progress by varying the exercises, forming of them question and answer, changing tenses and moods of verbs, varying them so far as he can trying how far he can make conversation out of them.

This method has further the advantage of showing the pupil plainly, week by week, the progress he is making and the remedy being in his own hands, he becomes responsible for his own failure. If he cannot translate freely and easily, when with the teacher, he cannot expect later to speak freely and naturally, when he comes to engage in actual conversation with foreigners. His remedy is to translate his exercises alone, until he can do so, as readily, as if they were English. The shyness and diffidence that so frequently accompany first attempts to converse are not experienced under this method.

One reason why pupils in conversation fail to understand readily is because they do not know the verbs well; do not know their grammar; a sentence does not convey to them at once a definite meaning, and whilst engaged in puzzling out the meaning of what has already been said they cannot give their undivided attention to what their interlocutor is just saying.

I have described the manner in which on Mr. Wm. Rodger’s visit in March 1891, I was led to this method. Theoretically it seemed to me sound, and after having since tested it practically, I do not think its merit exaggerated. In April last 1894, a French Grammar by Mr. Paul Baume was brought under my notice. Mr. Baume recommends a similar method between teacher and pupil, but omits to state how the pupil can best prepare himself for it. Mr. Baume, will, I think find the difficulties he mentions to disappear, if the pupil prepare himself as I have prescribed.

I have never encountered such difficulties, and attribute this to the fact, that I always recommend pupils to prepare themselves by studying aloud. Mr. Baume says he has practised his method with considerable success during twenty years. I was not very much surprised at having been partially antic.i.p.ated by Mr. Baume, for, while error is infinite, the truth is one; there can be only one straight line between two points, and this seems to me the most direct, the straightest way to the _simultaneous fourfold acquirement_ of a language.

With a Grammar like that of Otto an expeditious mode of learning words is desirable. Perhaps the quickest, is to transcribe the words to be learnt, into parallel columns and covering up each column in turn, to run down them ten or more times. Whilst doing this the foreign words should always be p.r.o.nounced aloud. The transcription impresses the spelling on the memory, and where the written alphabet differs from the English affords valuable practice. Arminius Vambery thought it a matter for congratulation when having begun by learning ten words daily, he was able to reach sixty. The column of twenty foreign words can be mastered in about one quarter of an hour, and I have myself done over 200 at this rate on some days, though I do not say they can be retained without repet.i.tion.

Lord Dufferin says that in a work of about 600 pages, there will probably be three thousand words of which the meaning will be unknown to the student. A list should be made of them, and they can be conveniently mastered at the rate of forty daily and thus all learnt in three months.

With each successive work, the process should be repeated, until it becomes unnecessary. He adds that this has the advantage that, if necessary, after a long interval, by preserving such lists, the words can be relearnt with little trouble.

An able Swiss authority recommends the pupil to learn from 10,000 to 12,000 words of each language, dividing them into three or four according to their usefulness or frequency of occurrence. He recommends their periodical repet.i.tion.

Asher’s German Correspondent and Booch-Arkossy in the “Eco de Madrid”

recommend the translation of a good idiomatic work into English and its translation into the language of the original, carefully comparing such retranslation with the original and noting mistakes. With the teacher, such translation may be made by word of mouth, the teacher translating into English and the pupil retranslating each sentence when uttered into the language of the original.

Another method is to read and translate some idiomatic foreign work. At the end of the paragraph, the teacher forms questions from each sentence, to which the pupil replies. So soon as able, the pupil, in turn, questions. This is I believe substantially the old “Robertsonian method.” The pupil can prepare his lesson by framing both question and answer himself. It is excellent drill.

Good practice in speaking is also to be obtained by the pupil’s narrating to the teacher in the language of the original, the contents of each paragraph. He need not of course attempt to recite by heart the words of the text, but merely repeat the sense.

Mr. Chardenal recommends the pupil to translate mentally an increasing number of sentences daily and to repeat them as frequently as possible during the day. The sentences should ill.u.s.trate important rules. His object is to induce mental work, personal labour on the part of the pupil.

Arminius Vambery’s method was to enter into imaginary conversations with himself.

All these methods do not mean discordance but agreement. All methods which concurrently with Grammar, mean practice or induce it, are good.

This is the pith and secret of all successful systems: _practice with method_ often, much, and aloud but by all means master the Grammar as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and thus practice strengthens grammar, while grammar guides and illumines practice.

Dr. Abercrombie in his work, “Intellectual Powers” chapter “Memory,” says the depth, the permanence of an impression on the mind depends upon the distinctness of the perception, the intensity with which it is contemplated, the length of time during which it is kept before the mind, the impression being very much strengthened by being repeatedly brought before the mind. This labour must be a voluntary act on the part of the individual. He adds: “The habit of listless activity should be carefully guarded against by the young, and the utmost care should be taken to cultivate the opposite, namely, of directing the mind intensely to whatever comes before it in reading or observation. This may be considered as forming the foundation of a sound intellectual character.”

Lord Macaulay attributed his marvellous memory to a very simple method, adopted when a boy. When reading, at the bottom of each page, he required himself to give an account of its contents. At the outset, said he, he needed to reperuse the page three or four times, but he ended by being able almost to recite a book from beginning to end after having once read it through. This is also the essential feature recommended by Dr. Abercrombie in his “Intellectual Powers” chapter on memory. Such a method of summarising each letter, order, invoice, or conversation at its close would also give good results to the Merchant, Clerk, or Traveller, both in leaving a clear impression and in strengthening the memory.

It certainly seems to me an excellent way for mastering the rules, and would admit of their recapitulation each time the exercises are gone through.

Reading aloud is also an excellent practice. It improves the p.r.o.nunciation and trains or keeps the ear in practice. Its benefit is not to be measured by what is retained by the memory. It confers also a benefit similar to that which is derived from a course of arithmetic.

Grammatical peculiarities may be noted at the end of the book, and the page added. As the limbs are invigorated and strengthened by suitable exercise, so the powers of the mind are strengthened and developed by following a great mind at its best, following its train of thought, of reason.

Mr. John Cryer in his school board electioneering address, 1894, ranges promising pupils in the order of workers, plodders and bright ones. The last are frequently overrated, the memory more quick than retentive.