The Basics of a Language

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This is just a test blog post which is still to be edited. Eventually this has to be incorporated in the labs. I would greatly appreciate if you helped me improve this list and left comments here or preferably in a topic I decicated for this on the forums. There is a dense printer-friendly version of this here. Thanks!

The whole philosophy of I Kinda Like Languages is based on making courses which enable people to use the language in speaking and/or reading immediately after having taken the course. In other words, we strive to teach the basics of the language. But what exactly is the basics and how do you go about teaching it?

This question has to be decided in order to have these courses and I have given a lot of thought to it. I have looked at language courses, wordlists, and tried to use common sense and composed a list of what should be included in a course to make it complete. This list should be taken as a guidance to help you build courses and not as a definite complete bulletproof way to teach any language. It is perfectly okay if you do not include some of the things in the list and you are more than welcome to include extra things especially because the extra things just fall out naturally by teaching the language. That is alright.

The main idea of the course is to give the learner an understanding of the language. Whatever way you achieve it, as long as it is effective and efficient, works. The way is for you to choose. However, for those of you that need some help choosing, I have made this general guidance about what the basics of a language are.

First, I have made a list of suggested words that I suggest you teach in each course. I have looked at word lists of most frequently used words, general practice and some other courses and come up with some most useful words. Ones that I feel are more important are in CAPS. I divided the parts of speech into those that are used in English to help you deal with the table better but in practice I do advise you to avoid using grammatical terms or to at least try to simplify them. Here is the table of suggested words:

List of Suggested Words

nouns verbs verbs adjectives adverbs pronouns pronouns prepositions conjunctions
TIME

THING

PEOPLE

person
name
friend

father

mother

day
evening
morning
year

MONEY
price
work

place

language
word
English

HAVE
WANT
NEED
MUST
CAN

BE

SPEAK
KNOW
understand
say
ask
mean
think

WAIT

USE

STAY
GO
come
leave

DO (MAKE)

SEE
feel
sense

FIND
search

EAT
drink

BUY
sell
spend

learn
teach

hurry

begin
finish

TAKE
put

work

READ
write

send

LIKE

(love)
dislike

call

offer

open
close

agree
disagree

get up
wake up

good
bad

possible
necessary

important

next

last

same
different

easy
difficult

early
late

big
little

fast
slow

happy

sad

new

easy
hard

busy
ready

MANY
FEW
LITTLE

VERY

MORE
LESS

where
when
how
how much

OFTEN
always
never

HERE
there

NOW
today,
tomorrow
yesterday
soon

TOO

ALREADY
STILL

maybe
probably

ENOUGH

usually

IT

I
you
he
she
we
they

my
your
his
her
our
their

THIS

that

ME
YOU
him
her
us
them

TO ME,
TO YOU
to him
to her
to them

WHAT
which

who

everything
nothing
something

both

everybody
nobody

other

TO
for

WITH
without

OF

about

between

FROM

IN

since
until

before
after

AND

BUT

THAT

because

if

Of course, you are not obliged to include all of them and you can include words that you see fit on your own. This table is here just to give you some general guidance.

Grammar

Second of all, I composed a list of some grammatical points that, I believe, should be introduced.

Even without going into details, I should say is that the main point is that you should teach how to deal with all major parts of speech. The learner should be able to use a dictionary after the course and should be able to converse with the help of it (or without in very basic conversations).

If you can do that, then I guess you won’t be needing this.

As a general guidance, however, I have decided to go through some parts of speech and underline what, in my opinion, should be taught about them.

Here is what I think should be introduced about each of the more important parts of speech:

Verbs:

  • present, past, future – all person conjugations, most common irregular verb conjugations
  • the “would” forms, especially “would like”, “would be”
  • the reflexive form (if it exists)
  • commands – how to give commands to you and us (let’s)
  • the subjunctive (if it exists and is used)

Nouns:

  • gender (if it exists), explain how to tell genders apart
  • if there are cases: the functions of all cases, most common declensions (at least one most common example declension for each gender)
  • plural, how to form it from singular

Adjectives:

  • comparative (better, best), forming them, major exceptions
  • accord with nouns, singular and plural
  • if there are cases: most common declensions (can be done together with nouns)
  • participles – some basic ideas how to form them, basic ones (like closed)

Adverbs:

  • how to form adverbs from adjectives, major exceptions
  • comparative forms

Pronouns:

  • how they work, position in sentences (or within words)
  • most common interrogative pronouns – pronouns to form questions, such as “which” or “what” – and how they work

Prepositions:

  • how prepositions work (position in sentence, position relative to other words)
  • major prepositions, their changes and unusual application (if there is any)
  • if cases exist: what cases prepositions require (if they do)

I have also come up with a few general points which should also be taught in courses:

General points:

  • Negations – “not”, “no” and making negative sentences. Crucial.
  • The use of “it” – handling “it” in all kinds of situations such as he has it, he doesn’t have it, it is interesting, etc.
  • Sentence connections – connecting sentences together (usually through the use of conjunctions)
  • OTHER things – you can introduce MORE and anything else that goes with the course according to your taste.

Remember: the functions of parts of speech might be different in different languages of the world. What matters is to give a functional use of the language and to enable expressing the basic ideas underlined here in whatever ways the target language chooses to express these ideas.

Tip: at the end of lessons, write what the next lesson is going to be about. That helps you write it later and also it helps the learner maintain interest.

Finishing words

The languages in the world are different and even if we accept Chomsky’s hypothesis about language being innate and having some underlying structure, making a guide to teach all languages and making it practical is nearly impossible. This adapts to different languages in different ways.I am saying time and time again that this is just general guidance.

Whatever it it, this should still hopefully provide you some foundations and ideas on how to build courses. It might seem lots of work at some points in time but remember: this is all there is to a language. It’s never as bad as it seems. A lot of times doing it is fun as well because not only you teach people, you understand the structure of the language better yourself.

Lastly, as a general note, this list is not complete. I am waiting for your ideas, suggestions and corrections to be left here. I want to improve this page. I will probably be improving it and making changes myself. You can still use it and apply the ideas. Just be aware that it can change: we are always trying to improve.

Similar Posts:

Common European Languages Framework (CEFR) and Vocabulary Size
Good Teaching: Should You Try To Make The Word Patterns You Ask Make Sense?
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3 Comments

  1. me
    ·

    Some of your pronouns are really cases. “Me” is just “I” but with certain circumstances attached. In Spanish, for example, you don’t have a different pronoun for “him” vs. “he” — “él” always suffices. However, you have many particles for “it” — él, ella, ello, lo, la. So learning these fundamentals strictly depends on the language you’re learning.

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