Theory 102 – Full, Natural Sentences

by Robbie Kunz

So, if you shouldn’t be focusing on the grammatical rules and vocabulary lists, then what should you be focusing on?

Full, natural sentences.

The meat of one’s language learning experience should be looking at and learning full phrases of the foreign language.

There are some flaws in the vocabulary list approach in that vocabulary lists give you one word in your native language and then one word in the foreign language. This method gives you almost no information about how the word is used, what other words are often used with that particular item, how often the word is used, in which contexts it is used, etc.

Consider the English word “grasp”. In English, we can use this word both in a physical sense, “he grasped the handle bars tightly” or in a more abstract sense, “he grasped the ideas quickly.”

In a foreign language, they might have two different words for these two different uses. It might be possible that if you look up the word for “grasp” in a dictionary, it will give you the word “grasp” for the physical sense but not the abstract sense, or vice versa.

If you look at a vocabulary list and simply see the word “grasp”, how can you know if it’s used for both of these cases or only one of them?

Also, if we are only looking at a vocabulary list, how do we know which sorts of words are used with the vocabulary?

In the case of “grasp”, we can see from the example sentences that there are no prepositions. But, for a word like “grapple”, we might say “He grappled with the ideas.” How then does a learner know not to say something like “He grasped with the ideas”? There is no way unless he or she has seen the example sentence “He grasped the ideas.”

In this way, the full, natural sentences of “he grasped the handle bars tightly” and “he grasped the ideas quickly” provide us a lot more information than a simple vocabulary sheet could. This is why full, natural sentences are much more powerful than simple word translations.

Since we don’t learn grammar, how do we construct new sentences? By building sentence structures.

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