Sunday, November 21, 2010

Word order and Spanish teaching

Just to say I wish we (Spanish teachers of English speaking students the world over, as well as Taco Bell marketing wizards) would stop teaching kids to stay "yo quiero" "tú quieres" etc. etc.

Of course, "yo quiero" is a valid sentence in Spanish (as is "quiero yo"). So what's the problem?

The problem is as follows:
1. English speaking students will always understand and produce sentences like "yo quiero" based on their native language anyway so we don't need to drill this into them more.
2. English speaking students will *not* understand sentences like "Es un lugar donde conviven diversas culturas" (to pick a sentence a Spanish 4 student just misunderstood).
3. English speaking students are already primed to misunderstand sentences like "te quiero" or "me quieres." Explicitly teaching them valid but stilted and awkward sentences like "tú quieres" from day 1 does not help the matter.

The trouble is that in a relative clause, Spanish speakers are much more likely to put the subject after the verb, so just as the difficulty of reading ramps up (with more complex sentences), students are much more likely to see sentences with seeming "backwards" word order. If we teach students from the start that word order is flexible, and that the verb ending is the real "home" of subject-meaning rather than the word before the verb, we do much better.

I don't have any actual evidence that teaching e.g. "tú quieres" makes the problem worse, but I am suspicious that it does and I'm certain that it doesn't help the matter.

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