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Thursday, February 26, 2015

It’s been two years since I first read Qué gramática enseñar, qué gramática aprender by Reyes Llopis, José Plácido, and Juan Manuel Real.

I’ve reread it three times because I think that the changes it inspires are important, the ones that effect your mental structures, the ones that change your way of seeing things, the ones that actually affect your attitude and behavior, the changes that take time to sink in because they stir up everything you thought before, everything you’ve studied, what you’ve been teaching for years and years in hundreds of courses, in other words the entire data base of your knowledge.

A few years ago, a Slideshare presentation by Juan Manuel Real Espinosa entitled La herejía de ser y estar (published by Marco Ele) shook up my database and influenced me so much that in just a few weeks I’d already completely changed my approach to explaining SER and ESTAR. His A=B formula to effectively explain SER, and A>B to help the Spanish learner operate with the verb ESTAR is fantastic. I began using it to teach and I must admit that it was highly satisfying.

As Juan Manuel himself mentions in his presentation, it doesn’t completely eliminate confusion over the topic, much less error… but I have to say that it has a double effect on my students: less errors, more critical analysis, and less frustration. It was a big motivator for me to continue researching cognitive grammar and to check out more studies that were starting to be published.

That was all before the work ensemble appeared that put a little bit of order in my head that was full of refreshing enthusiasm.

The authors of this work continue in the same direction as that of the Real Espinosa presentation, which I whole heartedly recommend to all my colleagues, but it provides one small added touch that makes its explanation more practical: the concept of inside and outside, interior and exterior. I used it in the classroom and my students found it very clear, but what made it most successful, so much so that it significantly reduced confusion and as a result errors, was how it removed time from the explanation of the two verbs’ uses. It’s quite frankly very effective.

This is my new battle, fighting with the concept of time (the classic ser to describe the permanent / estar to describe the temporary) creeping into the minds of students, sometimes because they learned it in previous courses, other times because they’ve used learning resources that include this criteria. It is a nearly impossible battle. And the mind just won’t stop, it keeps working away even after the teacher has left the classroom, it keeps on doing what minds do: a bit of generalization, a bit of inference, and it starts connecting mental structures, reference frames or who knows what it’s doing, but in the end the clear explanation gets blurred by the horrible issue of the temporary.   

Bibliography: Llopis García, R.; Real Espinosa J. M. and Ruiz Campillo J.P.: "Qué gramática enseñar, qué gramática aprender". Edinumen, 2012.

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