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Feeling what’s "right"

  Tags: Grammar
 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
27 messages over 4 pages: 1 24  Next >>
Joined 5048 days ago

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Speaks: Modern Hebrew*, English, Arabic (classical)

 Message 17 of 27
15 December 2010 at 12:57pm | IP Logged 
Budz wrote:
... 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 ... Certainly native speakers just go by what sounds correct.)

That's was exactly my point when I asked the question. Native speakers go by what sounds correct. They just have this ability. The question is, can non-native speakers trust their own instincts to know what's correct and what's not? Even when you learn a rule "by the book", it still doesn't mean you'll properly internalize it! Maybe you won't think about it from some point on, but you'll still speak incorrectly. Fluency doesn't necessarily mean you're speaking the language correctly.

I agree that no one truly knows how the brain does internalize or infers rules correctly - either during first or second language acquisition. I have to say I find it quite fascinating; probably more the latter than the first. I've always wondered how one can just internalize implicit rules and structures that don't exist in one's native language.
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Super Polyglot
Joined 6513 days ago

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Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 18 of 27
15 December 2010 at 1:39pm | IP Logged 
As I see it there isn't a fundamental difference between native speakers and non native speakers - what we have is an immense difference in skills and knowledge. Right now I write in English without using an English grammar and an English dictionary and insofar I follow grammatical rules it is certainly not on the conscious level. Or in other words, I navigate using my instincts exactly as a native speaker, just with instincts that are significantly less trustworthy than those of a native speaker.

With languages I know less well I still rely in my instincts when I speak or write, but I supplement it with explicit rules which I get from grammars or from my own observations. An instinct is something you get when you have internalized a lot of rules - whether or not you discovered those rules, were told about them by your peers or read about them in a grammar book.
I don't buy that only native speakers are allowed to judge utterances in their language. If I see something looking like a blatant error in something written by a native speaker, then that person can claim that it is correct according to his/her grammar and maybe it is normal in his/group, but I may still have seen 100.000 examples following rule A1 and just this one following rule A2 so I'm entitled to be sceptical. A native speaker would be in the same situation, but with a background of maybe 1.000.000 cases against one. However if I'm a beginner I have to trust that the native speaker knows the language better, including other variants than his/her own - and why? Because I then haven't seen 100.000 cases of rule A1, but maybe just 10.   

Edited by Iversen on 15 December 2010 at 1:51pm

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Senior Member
Joined 5161 days ago

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Speaks: Swedish*, English, German
Studies: Cantonese

 Message 19 of 27
02 January 2011 at 10:26pm | IP Logged 
I've witnessed a clear example of "language feeling" in my English class in school (I am Swedish). The teacher wrote a sentence on the board, I don't remember what exactly but it was something like "I am interested in singing" and then she asked us why the -ing form was used in the word 'singing'. All we could answer was 'it sounds right', nobody could explain why, including me. I could still tell that it was correct though. She then explained the rule about the preposition but I had never learned that rule before. Despite this I still know how to say this sentence correctly since I've heard this form so many times before. I would call that 'language feeling', or 'språkkänsla' as we say in Swedish.
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Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*, Spanish, Arabic (Written), Mandarin, French
Studies: German

 Message 20 of 27
22 January 2011 at 5:08am | IP Logged 
lingoleng wrote:
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.

Iversen was referring to prescriptive rules. Lingoleng was referring to descriptive rules. The former are rules in the traditional sense--guidelines that humans lay down for themselves and others. The latter are "rules" in a more abstract way, like any patterns of nature... no one enforces them.

For example, maintaining a "correct" distinction between "who" and "whom" in English is a prescribed rule. It doesn't always hold and it's no longer natural. Marking regular past tense verbs with "-ed" on the other hand is a rule in the sense that it is simply observed to happen. You don't have to pound it into native speakers' heads like a prescribed rule.

That said, my personal experience is that language learners can definitely internalize their new language to the point that what's right sounds--or "feels"--right and what's wrong feels wrong. The only fundamental difference I see is that it takes will and dedication, while a native speaker gets a freeby...

Edited by Ygangerg on 22 January 2011 at 5:12am

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Senior Member
Russian Federation
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Speaks: Russian*, English
Studies: Spanish, Greek, Azerbaijani

 Message 21 of 27
05 February 2011 at 12:44pm | IP Logged 
When I moved to America as a child, nobody ever bothered to explain me the grammar, so I simply avoided using articles for YEARS. Well, I knew that you have to stick in an "a" when you say something like "I have a cat," but why, or what's deal with "the," was an utter mystery to me, and being a young hooligan, that wasn't something I cared to find out. It wasn't until four years later that I began to pay attention in school and actually use articles, though I still didn't know the rules and relied only on my ability to sense what sounds natural.

I often encounter Russians who left the motherland at a young age and still skip an article here or there, not to mention the many Russians who did learn the grammar but still don't have a feel for the language. Those miss articles whenever they don't pay attention, like when they're typing a reply on some forum.

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Kevin Hsu
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Speaks: English, Mandarin*, Korean
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 Message 22 of 27
10 March 2012 at 5:08pm | IP Logged 
I haven't studied grammar directly with both the languages in which I am fluent. I only
use my instincts to tell me what is correct in both of these languages and 99.9% of the
time they are right. To me, having a "feeling" for what's right/wrong is part of the
criteria of fluency.
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Senior Member
Russian Federation
Joined 4866 days ago

2096 posts - 2972 votes 
Speaks: Russian*

 Message 23 of 27
10 March 2012 at 8:14pm | IP Logged 
TzilTzal wrote:
Dear Prof. Arguelles,

One thing that I've always found extremely interesting in language learning is the
ability of the learner (or the brain itself actually) to simply infer rules and learn
constructs that don't exist in the speaker's native language. I'm not talking about
learning a grammatical rule consciously but rather inately understanding a
construct/rule so you just "know" or "feel" that it's correct. One such example would
be a native speaker of Russian (or some other Slavic language) - a language which
doesn't have the concept of the definite article - being able to use "the" correctly,
without having learned the actual rules for how to use it, but simply by knowing
they're using it correctly. Another example would be an Arabic native speaker "feeling"
that he/she is using the correct tense in English even though Arabic has only 3 (past,
present & future).

It seems like this ability wears off as one gets older. I wanted to ask you if you find
you have this ability in the languages you've learned? Do you find you have to rely
more on memorizing rules to know you're speaking correctly? Even when it comes to
languages you know very well, do you find you're sometimes not 100% sure how to say
what you want or what construct to use?

There are no neither definite nor indefinite articles in Russian, that's why we have
such problems with them.
Of course feeling of the language is necessary. For articles it is extremely difficult
to get, but for example the continious tenses can be mastered quickly.
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Senior Member
United States
Joined 4410 days ago

232 posts - 287 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Japanese, Mandarin

 Message 24 of 27
03 November 2012 at 11:59pm | IP Logged 
this is not a response to anyone in particular, just my thoughts on the things in this thread that stuck out to me...

first, in my experience so far, with enough speaking, grammar does become intuitive, as long as you arent so
obsessed with consciously thinking of the rules

and second, I dont think grammar should be viewed as difinite rules, sometimes the colloquial sayings with bad
grammar make perfect sense ( every native English speaker, and many non native know what "that aint no burger"
would mean if someone said it) not to say that its using good language, but its widely known

here is an interesting self check question... have you ever said anything in a TL and new it didnt come out right (not
that you tried to make it wrong) as for japanese, I can feel when I am strong or week in a grammar pattern, and to
me, thats more valuable then knowing all the rules.

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