Teaching a Basic Foundation

When learning the grammar of any language, what is the best way to start off? The truth is there is no perfect way to start teaching and/or learning grammar. Factors may include the teaching methods, the language being learned, the lesson materials, etc. Personally, I don't believe in teaching the stiff, formal language rules as traditionally taught in books and classes. I usually combine both the important grammar the student needs to know along with the realities of the language they need to survive if found in a non-English environment. For beginning students, there is a set of very basic grammar rules that can be learned to give them the foundation they need to build on when learning outside the classroom. In fact, the student can have a good foundation in any language just by learning half of what they really need to know.

The Formalities

Being formal is more than just knowing the formal parts of speech and being polite. Formalities include mannerisms, body language and how you treat others in passing.

As an example, let's take a student who is visiting Madrid with a group of tourists. He or she decides to break away from the group and find the out of the way places shops and cafés to try out their Spanish skills. Depending on what was taught in class, this person can be either confident in their use of Spanish and use it wherever they go, or fear of using the language can cause them to use mostly English – or all English and make this person seem either shy or arrogant (e.g. you're browsing around in a shop for a half hour without saying a word to anyone and leaving without saying goodbye, or someone greets you and you just smile and keep going about your business).

Instruct your student that in any foreign language environment you should always greet people whose lives you've invaded, no matter how brief. I'm not saying that you have to say ‘hello' to everyone you pass on the street, but greeting a shop clerk, waiter, secretary or guests will help in making a good first impression and make new friends. You may also find that certain services improve after greeting someone in their language.

Let your student be aware that most languages require more spoken formalities than English. Skipping over them may give the first impression of the student as rude.

Other formalities include shaking hands whenever you meet someone and when leaving them, making small talk before getting down to business.

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