In the past, when I got questions about grammar, I would check if it was just part of a wrong approach. I didn’t think it was that important, but now I’ve reformed my ways. When people ask questions about grammar, it’s another indication that they’re lost on a road with no signs.
The reason is because though grammar seems to have been fed as an unenecessary vitamins, most students are simply searching for nutrients. I was surprised to understand that most students have little knowledge of grammar for their own language and have learned only because it’s been covered in their English classes. Many might even think that grammar is an English thing and has nothing to do about Lao.
It only confirms the point for if most students think grammar is essential for understanding English, it explains why many cannot write in Lao. Without an understanding of word function and order, it would be very difficult to write. Granted, it’s never hard to simply copy. It would be very hard to compose and writing is a primary way to build higher level constructions of thought and logic.
So English is dropped from the sky as an important tool and almost like cargo worship, it gains more value that it’s worth. I say so because knowledge of terms is not enough to be able to make something useful. If a doctor only knew the names of internal organs without knowing their functions, they wouldn’t be able to cure many people. In the same way, students may have memorized what a conjunctive clause is, but it’s not going to help them to write correctly. Worst is if they’re a teacher and simply use the word to test the next generation.
Thus, in an experiment with Lao since more students are already dealing with the language at the level of a sentence, I had instructors identify the verb. The tricky part is to identify a verb without calling it a verb so we just call it a very important word in a sentence.
With students, they say, “In the sentence I just read, the important word is ….” So if, “Ms, Bua Kham raises vegetables in her yard so that she can sell them and make some extra money.” The important word (the main verb) is “raise” and the teacher can ask, “Who raises? She raises what? Where does she raise them? Why does she raise them? When she sells them, what can she get? Does she get a lot? Right, just a big of extra money.” Excellent.
The point is to reconstruct a sentence with the main verb acting as the fulcrum as it should do. There are other ways to do this exercise, but by reconstructing a sentence part by part, students start to understand structure. It’s not difficult, but apparently hasn’t been done. The only catch is that this works best first with the Lao language so, gasp, it would mean helping students to understand their first language before learning a second language rather than in reverse.
It is a very unique situation that things might very well be learned backwards, but then this is only the thoughts of one person. Who really knows what works? In another experiment, I was surprised that students could a repeat an English sentence better when heard backwards. Sadly, I suspect it is because it’s easier to start with the word you’ve just heard and it works best when you don’t know the meaning. Who really knows?