THE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN
English is rather a logical study dealing with sentences and the positions that words occupy in them than with words and what they are in their own right. Therefore it is better that a child should begin with a sentence and not with the parts of speech, that is, he should learn a little of what is called analysis before he learns to parse. It requires some effort of abstraction for a child to perceive that when we speak, we speak about something and say something about it; and he has learned nearly all the grammar that is necessary when he knows that when we speak we use sentences and that a sentence makes sense; that we can put words together so as to make utter nonsense, as,—“Tom immediately candle-stick uproarious nevertheless”—a string of words making perfect nonsense and therefore not a sentence. If we use words in such a way as to make sense we get a sentence; “John goes to school” is a sentence. Every sentence has two parts, (1), the thing we speak of, and (2), what we say about it. We speak of John, we say about him that he goes to school. At this stage the children require many exercises in finding out the first and second
parts of simple sentences. When they are quite familiar with the fact that the first part of a sentence is what we speak about, they may get a name for it, subject, which will be made simpler to them if they know the word subject means that which we talk about. For instance, we may say, the subject of conversation was parsley, which is another way of saying the thing we were speaking about was parsley. To sum up such a lesson, the class should learn,—Words put together so as to make sense form a sentence. A sentence has two parts, that which we speak of and what we say about it. That which we speak of is the subject.
Children will probably be slow to receive this first lesson in abstract knowledge, and we must remember that knowledge in this sort is difficult and uncongenial. Their minds deal with the concrete and they have the singular faculty of being able to make concrete images out of the merest gossamer of a fairy tale. A seven year old child sings,—
“I cannot see fairies,
I dream them.
There is no fairy that can hide from me;
I keep on dreaming till I find him.
There you are, Primrose! I see you, Blackwing!”
But a child cannot dream parts of speech, and any grown-up twaddle attempting to personify such abstractions offends a small person who with all his love of play and nonsense has a serious mind. Most children can be got to take in the notion of a sentence as, words making sense, especially if they are allowed a few excursions into non-sense, the gibberish of strings of words which do not make sense. Again, by dint of many interesting exercises in which they never lose sight of the subject, they get hold of that idea also.
One more initial idea is necessary if children are not to wander blindfold through the mazes of grammar ‘as
she is’ not ‘spoke,’ but writ in books. They must be familiar with verbs and perhaps the simplest way to approach this idea is to cause them to make sentences with two words, the thing they speak of and what they say about it,—Mary sings, Auntie knits, Henry runs. In each of these examples, the child will see the thing we speak of and what we say about it.
But these are matters familiar to all teachers and we have nothing new in the teaching of grammar to suggest; but we probably gain in the fact that our scholars pay full attention to grammar, as to all other lessons. We look forward hopefully to the result of efforts so to unify grammar that it will no longer perplex the student, as English, Latin, French grammar, each with its own nomenclature.
Children in Form IIB have easy French Lessons with pictures which they describe, but in IIA while still engaged on the Primary French Course children begin to use the method which is as full of promise in the teaching of languages as in English, that is, they are expected to narrate the sentence or paragraph which has been read to them. Young children find little difficulty in using French vocables, but at this stage the teacher should with the children’s help translate the little passage which is to be narrated, then re-read it in French and require the children to narrate it. This they do after a time surprisingly well, and the act of narrating gives them some command of French phrases as far as they go, much more so than if they learnt the little passage off by heart. They learn French songs in both divisions and act French Fables (by Violet Partington) in Form IIA. This method of closely attentive reading of the text followed by narration is continued in each of the Forms. Thus Form II is required to “Describe in French, picture 20.” “Narrate the story Esope et le Voyageur.” Part of the term’s work in Form III is to “Read and narrate
Nouveaux Contes Français, by Marc Ceppi.” Form IV is required amongst other things to “Read and narrate Molière’s Les Femmes Savantes.” Forms V and VI are required to “Write a résumé of Le Misanthrope or L’Avare,” “Translate into French, Modern Verse, page 50, “Leisure.’”
We have not space to follow in detail the work of the P.U.S. in French, which of course includes the usual attention to French Grammar but it may interest the reader to see the sort of thing that students of the House of Education are able to accomplish in the way of narration. The French mistress gives, let us suppose, a lecture in history or literature lasting, say, for half an hour. At the end the students will narrate the substance of the lecture with few omissions and few errors. Here is an example of the sort of thing Mr. Household heard, on the occasion of a short visit to the House of Education, Ambleside,—
“A French lesson was given to the second-year students by the French mistress, a native of Tournai, who came to Ambleside in 1915. She had been teaching in England for some years, but had not previously come into contact with Miss Mason’s methods. Those methods were exactly followed during the lesson. There was the book of recognised literary merit, the single reading, and the immediate narration-of course in French. The book was Alphonse Daudet’s Lettres de Mon Moulin, and the story read was ‘La Chèvre de M. Seguin’. Before the reading began, a few—a very few—words of explanation were given—of course, in French. Then nine pages of the story were read straight through by the mistress, without pause or interruption of any kind, at the same pace that one would read an English story. The students followed by ear only: they had no books. As soon as the reading ended, on the instant, without hesitation of any kind, narration began in French, different members of the class taking up the story in turn till it was finished. All were good; some astonishingly good. To all French was a tongue in which they could think and speak with considerable facility. Yet the time given to French is two hours and three-quarters a week only. Such results compel attention. It may be added that last year
the writer heard a history lecture on the reign of Louis XI given in French by the same mistress to the then senior students, and the content of the lecture was narrated in a similar manner, with the same astonishing success.”
This hitherto unused power of concentrated attention in the study of languages whether ancient or modern appears to hold promise of making us at last a nation of linguists. We have attained very good results in Italian and German by this same method, both in the House of Education and the Practising School belonging to it, and we are in a fair way to produce noticeable results in Latin. The Classical mistress writes,—
“Latin is taught at the House of Education by means of narration after each section has been thoroughly studied in grammar, syntax and style. The literature studied increases in difficulty as the pupil advances in grammar, etc. Nothing but good Latin is ever narrated, so the pupil acquires style as well as structure. The substance of the passage is usually reproduced with the phraseology and style of the original and both students and children learn what is really Latin and realise that it is a language and not a mere grammar.”
Here we get Grammar, that is, construction, learned as we learn it in English, at the lips of those who know, and the extraordinary readiness in acquiring new words shewn by the scholars promises English folk the copious vocabulary in one or another foreign language, the lack of which is a national distress.