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Linguaholic
Accredited Online TEFL

Using Examples Instead of Technical Terms


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I see a lot of people using a lot of terms like superlative, infinitive and so on to try and help those learning the English language understand why and how we say things the way we do.

My question is, aside from the basics like tense, possessives and pluralizing, are the terms getting in the way of helping learners understand the English language?

Is it not better to just show an example instead of throwing out a whole bunch of terms that may or may not help them at this point?

I suppose a lot of it depends on the reason the person is trying to learn the language, whether it be for conversation or other.

Just a thought to discuss, your input would be greatly appreciated. :wacky:

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I was thinking just the same thing! Reading through some help threads, I couldn't help but wonder if people were trying to sound smart by purposefully obfuscating their explanations :tongue:

Eloquence is the power to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to the person to whom you speak.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's likely that anyone studying English is familiar with English grammar terms, since these are probably used in their classroom. However, people who are studying by themselves, or seeking to refresh their knowledge, might very well not know or remember them. Not only that, but—whether or not people are familiar with these terms—examples are indispensable.

Because everyone learns differently, it's not bad to explain something in 3-4 different ways. Different explanations are going to click for different people. Another thing to point out is that learners might be familiar with grammar terms... in their native language. When I was learning Japanese, I knew very well what terms were assigned to different word classifications, but the extent of my Japanese vocabulary didn't go past simple nouns and verbs. Had my friends tried to correct my mistakes with unknown language terms, it wouldn't have gone far!

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I'm a huge advocate of learning through examples and context rather than using the systematic approach. At the end of the day the goal should be to make students comfortable with language first, then they can be analytical about it. Of course, the rules of conjugation, gender assignment, and sentence structure are necessary tools for learning, but I think we too often confuse kids and adults alike by throwing drills and out of context structures at them. You're much more well equipped to communicate in a foreign language if you can say and understand simple things fluently than you are if you can deconstruct very complex things over time.

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Myself I wish I could use more technical terms than what I do, as sometimes they can be useful to place a sentence, however I tend to go by trying to explain from my experience, the problem is I tend to rant and may end up making things more difficult instead of easier. I think examples often help to understand things. For me a winner is when a post explains using technical terms but without expecting a  person to know it all by heart and then help solve your doubts with a few nice examples.

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It's been a little while since I studied the proper grammatical terms such as "superlative," so I would be confused at first in a discussion involving technical terms. However, in a learning environment, I think it is very beneficial to properly define those terms and give students a solid understanding of them, and this certainly comes about by providing examples.

Once the terminology has been established, students and scholars of language can communicate better when it comes to discussing the mechanics of a language. It would be too difficult to engage in a conversation about grammar if every term had to be explained in examples. Unlike other academic branches like science, I don't think language technical terms can even be described in layman's terms. The vertebrae might be the spine in anatomy, but a superlative is still a superlative. Outside of the classroom, I think most of us would still be in need of examples to get the point across though!

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I think it's pretty useful to do both. The boring stuff tends to map everything out and examples makes sense of it all. People tend to get overwhelmed and quit once language learning gets complicated with terms and specifics . I think that as long as the person takes everything a step at a time and makes sense of it through a organized, coherent example they'll be fine.

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  • 3 months later...

They should save the confusing technical terms for later and just teach the person the basic translation of the words that can make them get their point across to people, that's what matters. The technical stuff can follow once the person is fluent in speaking that certain language already.

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It depends on what situation though. I would rather use examples because at least I don't have to actually use some technical terms in which people have no idea what I am talking about. This is the biggest obstacle for some new learners when comes to technical terms because they would want to learn in simpler ways or have people to explain the meaning every time they use technical terms. I also think it depends on the area of the field.

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