Carol Gaab on the Subjunctive Mood

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9 thoughts on “Carol Gaab on the Subjunctive Mood”

  1. Robert Harrell

    I believe the teacher who said, “The students must know how to use the subjunctive”, meant something other than what she said. What she meant was “The students must know the technical terminology and be able to create subjunctive sentences when presented with prompts using that terminology.”

    Earlier, Judy DuBois posted the following anecdote in the thread on Speaking Output:

    A friend of mine (who is French) recently told me a story about an American student she knew who was studying in France. They had become good friends and spent a lot of time chatting together (in French). One day the American came in very upset about an exam that she had to take. She considered it a catastrophe because …..Il faut que je connaisse le subjonctif! Je ne sais pas ce que c’est le subjonctif! Il faut que j’aille acheter un livre pour apprendre le subjonctif! My friend burst out laughing and then explained that she was already using the subjonctif.

    Translation: I have to know the subjunctive. I don’t know what it is. I have to buy a book and study the subjunctive. “Il faut que” requires the subjunctive and she was using it correctly withou knowing ” what the subjunctive was”.

    The American in question was using the subjunctive – this teacher’s stated goal – but didn’t know the terminology – this teacher’s hidden (probably even from herself) agenda.

    If Melissa can have a non-confrontational discussion, it could be fruitful to pursue how best to achieve the teacher’s stated goal.

  2. When comments such as these about subjunctive are made, they flagrantly reveal the teachers’ lack of knowledge of second language acquisition. They are waving a flag that says: “I’m from the nineteenth century. I’ve never read/understood any second language acquisition research. Comprehensible input, what’s that? I cover more language than you, so I’m a better teacher. Teaching the subjunctive means I’m academic and every time I use it shows you how smart I am.”

    Good luck convincing those grammarians. Grammarians don’t get what “communicative competency” means. We TCI teachers realize that everyone could still understand Johnny even if he never spoke with the subjunctive. At the same time, Johnny would have no problem understanding the subjunctive when he heard/read it. I’m quite certain that success on the AP exam doesn’t require accurate use of the subjunctive. Can’t you do well on the exam, even ace it, if you have Intermediate-Mid to High proficiency?! I’m pretty sure subjunctive wouldn’t be expected until you reached upper Advanced levels on the ACTFL proficiency scale.

    Another angle to go at in educating FL teachers in SLA and dissuading them from explicit grammar instruction would be to find a good description of the evolution of FL teaching methodologies. I recently read a brief overview by Bill Van Patten

    that started by saying the grammar-translation method is from the nineteenth and early twentieth century and had as it’s goal the ability to read texts (great works of literature). By the middle of the twentieth century, inspired by needs of WWII to have oral communication skills, the grammar-translation method was changed for the audiolingual method, derived largely from theories of behaviorism. That eventually gave way to the sequencing of language and output practice model. All that before the 1970’s when VanPatten says we still didn’t know much about the processes and products of SLA. Then, in the early 1970’s came the research into the important role of input. I think we are being fair if we say that grammarians are actually 1800’s teachers and the output teachers are the 1950-70’s teachers. 40+ years later and teachers by and large still don’t get the role of input. This is just humiliating. All those openly grammar-oriented FL departments ought to feel embarrassed.

    At that link above you can only read VanPatten’s introduction to the book, but he quotes a lot of different leading researchers making statements about the importance of CI. I also LOVE how VanPatten defines input as “meaning-bearing input, language . . . used to communicate a message.” I especially like the car analogy of output vs. input, which ties into a recent article on this PLC about speaking output:

    “With its emphasis on output practice, a traditional approach to grammar instruction ignores the crucial role of input in second language acquisition – and the definition of input in second language acquisition does not include instructors’ explanations about how the second language works. The definition of input is limited to meaning-bearing input, language that the learner hears or sees that is used to communicate a message. Thus, in traditional instruction, learners practice a form or structure, but they are not getting the input that is needed to construct the mental representation of the structure itself. This is analogous to attempting to manipulate the exhaust fumes (output) of a car to make it run better. If we want to improve the performance of a car, we might first want to look into using a better grade of gasoline (input).”

  3. Robert H. is spot on. I think my colleague is worried that without the explicit routine teaching of the terms and charts the students won’t ‘know’ the language. I tried to approach her with the data. I was hoping that I could plant the seed(s) so that she might come to her own conclusion that teaching the grammar and vocabulary lists were actually not in our students’ best interests. That didn’t work… yet. So, my next step is to wow her with the incoming students’ abilities.

  4. Eric, I don’t know. She has taught for 20 years. 13 were at the college level and she lets me know almost weekly. I’ve only taught for 10 years. She is very popular with her students and her students do well with the dual credit testing. As for her actual knowledge of SLA, I think she likes what she knows and for her she thinks it works.— And it does. The students do well on tests and can perform, limitedly. HOWEVER, I think our differences are at the heart of the definition of language learning and language acquisition. We have a difference in goals. So, how do you change a teacher’s philosophy without making them feel attacked? You don’t. Not really. That person has to be open to said change and malleability. I am open and excited. My colleague is the exact opposite. (I believe.)

    1. I’m glad you dug that up Chrisz… that was just what I needed to read today.

      I’m going through a phase with a couple of my kids where they feel they are not learning enough (it’s the 4%ers, just a couple of them). Some of this is due to an Italian major who came in to sub the other day and thought that my kids did not have their conjugations known well enough and so scrapped my plans and went into a long grammar lesson of verb conjugations. Now this pissed me off, but I had to be cool about it because the kids know her well (small town) and respect and like her. It was only for my Span 3 class, who have a couple seniors who might actually benefit from it when they get to college. But still… dude… who does that?

      1. I did bust out The Natural Approach and read a bit to my kids from it the next day, so that they know I have my good reasons, even though some 4%er feels like making them feel inferior.

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