Teaching Foreign Languages

As poor as my Spanish and French speaking abilities are, I forget how much more I know than those I am substitute teaching in middle school or high school, so that when I conjugate a verb on the board in a foreign language, the students always ask me what the words mean. You see, I am still an English Grammar Geek, no matter what language I am teaching. I conjugate verbs in the same fashion:

I speak ——————— we speak
you [informal] speak —- you [formal plural] speak
he, she, or it speaks —— they speak

In the plural first and third person, in foreign languages, you need a male and a female “we” and “they.” It is nosotros [plural male “we”] or nosotras [plural female “we”] hablamos, “speak” in Spanish, or ils [plural male “they”] or elles [plural female “they”] parlent, “speak” in French. There doesn’t seem to be a subject pronoun “it” in some foreign languages because objects as well as people have a gender. La voiture is female “car” in French and el coche, male “car” in Spanish.

Now back to my grammar geekiness which makes me think of sentence construction regardless of the language I am speaking or substitute teaching. Nouns and adjectives need to agree in gender and number in foreign languages, whereas English usually has one form for most adjectives. One dress or five dresses, “red” remains the same form, no singular/plural, male/female forms. Additionally, you wear a “red dress” in English, but in Spanish or French it is a “dress red,” as in une robe rouge [singular female “dress” and “red”] in French or des robes rouges [plural female “dress” and “red”].

Because of all this geekiness, the language teachers try to request me to substitute for them, especially the French teacher as French was the foreign language of my college years where I wrote French essays and research papers, but that’s another story. To keep myself fresh, I do any grammar worksheets with the students. We work together many times, I explaining the grammar placement and rules of the foreign language and the students assisting with the vocabulary. Like any other task, I find that if people, or in this case students, see that you are willing to work right alongside of them, they are more willing to put their best effort into the assignment.

Now if only the students could understand things, or rather the words naming those things, as having a gender. In English our indefinite and definite articles “a,” “an,” and “the” have one form and negate gender. In English, our books are not male and our windows, not female. Windows, I tell the students, are just perceptual openings that sometimes allow a cool breeze to blow about the cobwebs of my mind.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Foreign Languages”

  1. Sometimes I think it's innate; either you're a "grammar geek" or you're not.

    However, the only thing my "geekiness" did for me when I needed to learn a new language was to help me focus on sentence construction. It did nothing to help me learn vocabulary, spelling, or pronunciation. That came with hours of study, as with any subject you wish to master…not that I ever mastered pronunciation…really.

    Thank you, Michelle Kathryn, for reading my blog.


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