21 November 2008

Grammar learning vs. acquisition

My 38 Spanish 1 darlings just turned in a stack of projects--they had to describe and illustrate five family members, at least one of them a plural set, at least one outside their immediate family. They had to tell me 1) what their name was, 2) ¿cómo es?, and 3) ¿cómo está?

We worked on it some in class and they turned it in before they did so marvelously on their test, and I think it had a lot to do with those good scores. Also, I was SO happy while I read it. Spanish 1 students are going to make mistakes, naturally, but not all mistakes are created equal. When they map English onto Spanish, la profesora Sarita is not so feliz. If they're overgeneralizing their Spanish, it's still counted points off, but la profesora Sarita is pretty feliz.

Check this out: Not one of my students wrote Su llama es.... Amazing. I don't know if you get that, but my Spanish 2 students incessantly put that in their writing and blogs. It's aggravating. They're taking their English structure and mapping it onto Spanish even though they "learned" this structure in week 2 of their Spanish 1 class (with a different teacher) last year. I did get a couple of Mi padre es llama... and I wonder if they were going for "My father is named...", but I just had one student do that for all 5 family members, and another for 2 out of 5.

So what about the overgeneralization? My biggest grammatical error was Mi padre se llamo but the same student would write Mi prima se llama. Wow! They know that o words are boy words and a words are girl words, and they're overgeneralizing that to verbs. They still lost 6-8 points for it, but there's a mistake I'll take any day over English mapping!

Trust me, a commitment to communication and "natural-ish" acquisition is SO worth it.

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