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Feeling what’s "right"

  Tags: Grammar
 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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TzilTzal
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 Message 9 of 27
17 November 2010 at 3:14am | IP Logged 
I had a teacher in high school who really didn't like it when students made mistakes and then excused them by saying that to them it "felt right". His claim was that you can't really say that when you're learning another language because you're not a native speaker of that language. He has a point.

I suppose that learning rules on how to speak a language may be inevitable and even necessary, but I have to admit I find that it interferes with my ability to internalize things properly and really get the "feel" for those constructs. The main reason for that is simply because I keep wondering whether the situation fits the rule and merits using that construct. It's also happened to me in the past that I'd internalized things correctly and used them without even thinking or noticing. I was only made aware of a rule for them once someone had pointed it out to me. That's why I keep wondering whether learning rules explicitly is the way to go.

I hear a lot of native English speakers describing other languages as "really hard, because every noun has a gender". I don't consider something like that very hard because nouns always have that same gender regardless of context. Things like articles (definite vs. indefinite) or tenses, for example, are something I think most people will find far more difficult to master properly as there are very small subtleties in meaning. This is where I find that feeling what's "right" is extremely important... yet harder to achieve. Like you mentioned, sometimes rules simply aren't exactly correct, or they can fit into a vast range of situations which makes them very hard truly understand or internalize.

I certainly hope that this ability doesn't diminish with time but apparently to some (and even a great) extent it does. At least for most people. I do believe however it's still possible to speak a language like a native even at older ages. One might not "feel" some of the differences or subtleties when using different constructs but they might still use them correctly and sound like a native. It's a bit like asking "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?", but sometimes I wonder whether people who can speak another language like a native truly feel some of the differences in the constructs they're using even though they don't exist in their native language.

Edited by TzilTzal on 17 November 2010 at 3:16am

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justberta
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 Message 10 of 27
10 December 2010 at 4:42am | IP Logged 
I definitely feel the languages I've learned/am currently learning. I can't explain why I
say things the way I do, but I know that they are correct. Sort of like how in math class
I could never put down on paper HOW I found the answer. I do know English grammar though,
I'm obsessed with it as a matter of fact. It does however seem to come to me in a
more organic sense. I may not have studied the rule, word, exception to the rule or
conjugation of that verb but after hearing it a hundred times on TV I know it and when I
say it will certainly "feel" right.
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Budz
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 Message 11 of 27
11 December 2010 at 2:46pm | IP Logged 
Usually in maths... if you can't explain the 'how'... it was a guess.
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Iversen
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 Message 12 of 27
11 December 2010 at 6:12pm | IP Logged 
Actually this is Professor Arguelles' subforum, but ...

For me much of the Sprachgefühl of native and near-native speakers comes down to having seen and heard so many utterances that those speakers have started to store each expression or construction as a separate entity in their brains. In contrast mere intermediary learners have to extrapolate from a limited store of building blocks, using rules that cannot possibly be expected to allow only the correct sentences and block the impossible ones. Such a rule set was apparently the grand ambition of Mr. Chomsky, but he never made one even for English. So native speakers don't have to do the calculation when they hear a new sentence, they just consult their repository of acceptable utterances to see whether there is something similar there. Grammar rules are tools to learn a language, and when you don't need them anymore you stop using them.

Edited by Iversen on 05 November 2012 at 3:08am

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lingoleng
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Germany
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 Message 13 of 27
11 December 2010 at 9:28pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
Grammar rules are tools to learn a language, and when you don't need them anymore you stop using them.

I am sorry, but I really don't like this sentence. How could you stop using them? You stop thinking about them, you use them automatically, but you cannot stop using them, of course.
I agree that a lot of phrases are not built on the fly but kind of precomputed and prestored, so that you use them as a kind of "frozen grammar", without actually referring to any rule, but Chomsky's notion that not all sentences of a language can be learned by heart cannot be neglected, no matter wether one agrees with his theories in general or not.
I had written some sentences in the German subform about how I see "Sprachgefühl" (some words about Sprachgefühl), trivial stuff, but maybe you want to have a look to see if there is anything you don't agree with. I may have understood the quoted sentence in a wrong way, sorry then, but I really think it is misleading for learners without experience.
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Iversen
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 Message 14 of 27
12 December 2010 at 12:21pm | IP Logged 
I didn't write that grammar becomes irrelevant, but that you progressively stop thinking in terms of grammar rules when you approach advanced fluency. Well, I might still look up an English verb in the dictionary to see which preposition it is combined with, and in a sense that represents a grammatical rule - but I see it more as a question of idiomatics. Actually I don't even own an English or Danish grammar, and my German Duden is covered by dust.

Edited by Iversen on 12 December 2010 at 12:21pm

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Sennin
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 Message 15 of 27
12 December 2010 at 6:28pm | IP Logged 
Budz wrote:
Usually in maths... if you can't explain the 'how'... it was a guess.


...whereas in natural languages everything is besed on the subjective feeling of what is 'right' and appropriate.
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Budz
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 Message 16 of 27
12 December 2010 at 11:23pm | IP Logged 
Well, it's pretty obvious that after a while we stop thinking about the grammar; it just becomes natural. Otherwise no-one would be able to speak as fast as they do. This is just the nature of language it seems to me. And probably has something to do with the so-called language instinct.

But I think this is all getting away a bit from the original poster in this thread. I still think that the rules are first learnt and then they become automatic... but that's not to say that one doesn't actually use the rules anymore. (re-reading this I'm not sure now... I suppose the question is, is it a rule if one isn't aware of it? Certainly native speakers just go by what sounds correct.)

There must be something weird going on in the brain though. Considering all the different weird word orders that exist and different constructions, it never occurs to me that any of them are different from English. They have to be translated word for word into English before I realise how weird they are. But if I speak German, for example, I just go into German mode. How the brain manages all this, so quickly, I doubt whether anyone really knows.

As for internalising rules, I must say it's pretty weird how one can start learning a language, learn a rule, then within days one can be applying it quite naturally. Usually it's only the vocab that one has to think about and try to remember... the grammar rules become automatic very quickly. Language Instinct?


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