July 17, 2019

The Super Power of Words, Grammar and Ideas

This summer I have been putting together and delivering lessons to a group of English Second Language (ESL) kids ages 8-11. It has been and continues to be a great experience. I realized that you might have some use for these lessons. I thought I would pass them on. As I wrote them in words that a few of the older ESL students could read, I thought it might be simple enough for some of us “old foggies” (too fogged up to remember grade school).

Grammar is the way words are organized into speech and writings so as to get across exact thoughts, ideas and meanings between people.

It is really the agreements between people so that real communication is had.

Grammar is formed by common usage and forwarded to all by writers.

It isn’t the study of anything. It is the use of something. Grammar is part of everyday existence. If you don’t know it or can’t use it then you can’t understand others and they can’t understand you.

Examples: Have the students give examples of speech organization. Have them tell you verbally and by writing something down as a demonstration.

Communication is having an idea and making it come across to someone else. It can be through writing, talking, facial expressions – whatever else you can think of to get ideas across (another word for this is conveyed) to another person or thing.

But, it HAS TO BE understood by the other person to really be communication. You can’t think “banana” and they understand “apple”, that wouldn’t be communication.

The better a person understands Grammar, the better he communicates.

Examples: Have them show you at least 5 ways they can communicate an idea to another.

At the start of man, there was only an object and it had no name. There was no way to refer to it except by pointing it out, showing it to someone or drawing it.

People saw this thing and wanted to communicate to each other about it. It’s a little hard to drag around a bat or a dinosaur in order to show someone. So they invented a vocal sound that represents (or stands for) this thing. Usually, the sound imitated the thing itself. This was called an onomatopoeia, which means naming things in imitation of their sound. So that the name actually sounds like the things that it means. Onomatopoeia comes from Greek onoma, a name + poiein, to make.

The sound of “bat” was chosen as a flying bat’s wings, when they hit each other, seem to say “bat” – a sound.

Examples: Have them practice saying the word onomatopoeia. Have them give you a few more examples and show you what the onomatopoeia is.

How about written language? How do we record it? Written symbols were used to represent the sound. A symbol is something that could represent an idea or thought or meaning.

That is what the cave drawings were all about. That is how they communicated their ideas to others. You see their idea of man drawn to look like a man.

Later on, many languages came up with a system for letters or symbols to represent sounds. You could put together a bunch of letters and make words. Combinations of these letters have a sound, which gives a clue to how they are spoken.

When we want to get the idea across of a man, we now spell M-A-N and people who can read that language know what we are trying to say. It is agreed upon.

Bat is now spelled B-A-T.

Examples: Have the student write down 5 words that represent something in the room. Have them first get another student to get up and go over to see the object. Now have the first student show the second student the words. Was that faster and easier?

But, other things can now be represented by the same sound. For example, when a ball is hit by a bat it could be thought to make the sound “bat.” So this SAME sound and its written symbol are also used for an entirely different thing or idea – a bat used to hit a ball.

When one word is used to represent more than one idea, it is called a homonym from homo, the same + onym, a name.

                 Examples: bat, box

When a word is used to represent a single idea then is is called a mononym from mono, single + onym, a name.

                  Examples: giraffe, cat, hat

Examples: Have the student come up with 5 words that are homonyms and 5 words that are mononyms. Have them write them down.

A vocable is something that is able to be called or said out loud. It doesn’t matter how many meanings it has. It is just the sound or symbol itself. It comes from the word vocare, to call + able, able to be. When you speak, you are speaking vocables.  When you read, you are reading vocables.

Although that word isn’t used a lot, it helps when you are trying to define what a word is.

Sounds can be vocable. You can spell sounds – “sh”. When you are doing this, these are words.

Examples: Have the student list 5 vocables and tell you each is a vocable.

A word means either a vocable, or a mononym, or a homonym. That means that the word WORD is actually a homonym itself.

Examples: Have the student write down a word demonstration of a vocable, a mononym, and a homonym.

A concept is a thought that does not have any symbols, pictures, words, or sounds. It is a direct idea of something, rather than a sound or symbol. It has no connection to physical things you see or touch.

A symbol is something that could represent a concept, idea, thought, or meaning. Symbols such as words, are only substitutes (replacements – but not the same thing) for concepts, and are used to communicate these concepts.

Words ARE NOT the thing itself; they are just substitutes for things, the concepts, or ideas of things.

Words don’t hurt you. They don’t love you. They only get you to do or think or feel something. The word “fire” is nothing to be afraid of; it won’t pop up on the page and burn you.

They get you to remember things in the past that did hurt or love you.

Words and Grammar are only there to HELP you – the reader and writer. They are not as important as having the ideas themselves.

Examples: Have each student get a concept of something and write down a short story using words, symbols, and pictures to get across this concept. Have them read their story aloud, not using sounds to get the idea across.


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