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teaching PRO-DROP

 
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srx600



Joined: 20 Dec 2010
Posts: 7
Location: UK

PostPosted: Mon Dec 20, 2010 11:09 pm    Post subject: teaching PRO-DROP Reply with quote

Various writers have proposed explicitly teaching the concept of pro-drop to learners in order to explain English as a non-pro-drop language. However on the net I can find no teaching ideas. I am loath to resort to explanation followed by gap-fill of dummies and identifying reference items in written texts. I mean I use these but I'd like something a bit more interactive for a conversation class. Has anyone come across any better ideas? I know this is the applied linguistics section but I thought it more likely this forum would deal with concepts like this.
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Lorikeet



Joined: 18 May 2003
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Care to explain what "pro-drop" is for those of us who are unaware?
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srx600



Joined: 20 Dec 2010
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 21, 2010 10:08 am    Post subject: pro-drop Reply with quote

sorry, too much time with my head in books. pro-drop languages are the majority in the world, but not english. pro-drop has, i believe, come from Chomsky's idea of parameters = that children recognise the settings of the language they are born into and once those are set, the child knows the basic rules of the language. there are a limited number of settings. one of them is pro-drop which means you don't have to have a subject, usually the pronoun is dropped. so in spanish they say - 'esta lloviendo' = is raining. but in English we must say 'IT is raining'. what is it? nothing, it is a 'dummy it' which we have to use because english is not pro-drop = we expect a subject even when there isn't one to be had. we also use 'there' as a dummy.
i've mentioned this to students before i'd ever heard of pro-drop. but now i've read so many writers advise it be taught, i wondered if someone had thought of a way of teaching it that wasn't just transmission-style. especially as some of the writers (respected at that) are suggesting this type of grammar is more useful than our traditional, classic language derived grammar. i know nothing about it so i was putting out feelers.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 2993
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Srx, and welcome to the forums!

Hmm, I suspect that, unfortunately ("unfortunately"? Smile ), not many English teachers (myself included!) will be familiar enough with Chomskyan theorizing to really be able to help you with this. (And I'm not quite sure what your approach would be anyway!). I guess that what ("all" that) ESL/EFL teachers generally do (can do?) is teach English exemplars (such as I'm an English teacher; He's a linguist; It's raining etc), and simply leave it to the individual students themselves to realize (or not LOL) when something is necessarily there in English but not in their own language. All that being said, I'll ty to take a quick flick through the few UG-inspired books or papers that I have and see if they have any sort of practical advice on such matters! Wink

If the pro-drop is at all related to the 'null subject parameter', then the following threads might be of interest:
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=10091
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=38308#38308
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srx600



Joined: 20 Dec 2010
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:48 pm    Post subject: thanks Reply with quote

many thanks. yes, we try to model natural english. i think the special point of these writers was that second language learners may be able to switch their parameters. i found this with German. once i had the pattern of sentence construction locked in, i could focus on the details. i guess the problem with the model-and-they'll-get-it approach with this particular theme is that pronouns aren't content words = don't carry a lot of meaning, and so aren't 'noticed'. hence the call for explicit teaching by writers over, i would guess, the last 2 decades. but of course, we are told what we should do, never how. i'll check out the sites you mentioned. thanks again.
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matbury



Joined: 08 May 2007
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Location: Brighton, UK

PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 7:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My guess is that you're after the answer to the question, "How can I get my learners to not drop pronouns when they write and speak?"

I think you're right that the traditional approach doesn't seem to be very effective at changing learners' behaviour: They can do the discreet grammar item exercises without any problems but then go straight back to dropping pronouns when they write and speak. Personally, I think that this kind of focus on form, tell and test approach to teaching is unproductive in most cases anyway.

So what can we do?

How about getting learners to create exercises or tests in pairs or groups for their classmates that focus on not dropping pronouns? I think that when learners have to use higher-order thinking skills, i.e. Analysing, Evaluating, Creating (Bloom) their retention increases substantially and often it's enough to "make the penny drop". Not only would they have to design and create exercises or tests, all the time thinking and discussing how best to identify the rule and test it, but they'd also have to check their classmates' performance and give feedback.

An added benefit would be that they'd have to improve their collaborative, communicative skills in English.

Do you think that this would be a productive approach?
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srx600



Joined: 20 Dec 2010
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:02 am    Post subject: pro-drop Reply with quote

that's an excellent idea. i've only done it with higher levels before but you are right, a bit of head scratching and i'll see what i can rustle up for beginners. thank you very much. Very Happy
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Metamorfose



Joined: 21 Jul 2003
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am one of the few teachers I know that subscribe to Chomskian's theories. Although I do reckon it is more of a background than explicit use in classroom as Chomsky himself puts it (something like this)"I don't see how this theory can work in second-language acquisition".

Anyway, as my native language (and 99% of my students share the same native language) is a pro drop one, I simply keep telling my students that they have to put their 'Is', 'hes','shes' and etc in their speech, and to add 'it' when in Portuguese the sentence "doesn't have a pronoun". People here say that doing so might sound "redundant", maybe because in traditional teaching of our mother tongue it is said to avoid subject pronouns in order to keep redundancy away. And just out of curiosity, in Brazilian Portuguese objects are more frequently dropped than subjects, the other way round holds true for European Portuguese.

Now, is English really a pro-drop language? The imperative does not require the pronoun 'you' (you can use it but I don't see it around that much) some sentences sometimes are uttered without a subject, I know you may say it's marginal, but anyways it's part of the Grammar of the language, English is not a V2 language like German and It seems that English speakers never go ???I can meat eat., not saying that being a V2 language is a parameter to fix but rather analysing what should be pervasive according to theory and it is not.

One book that discusses the inclusion of Chomskian theory (or any rationalist approach for the matter) and relativist theories is Geoff Jordan's Theory Construction in Second Language Acquisition.

José
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srx600



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:05 pm    Post subject: brasil Reply with quote

hi jose,
interesting. i am half brasilian and learnt the language in situ last year. i found the pro-drop made it all much easier.
you are right, natives often drop the subject in english. 'correctly' in grammar terms (if that can be said) in imperatives for example, and in casual form - chat, postcards, notes ... - which is called ellipsis apparently. the thing is, that from a discourse point of view, the learners need to know when it is acceptable. i think it isn't acceptable in most formal situations such as a speech or a business report.
from what i've read, pro-drop is 'marked' which means it is unusual. not surprising that we break the 'rules' often then. i want to aim for learners getting the SVO right first, then show them when we can drop certain elements because contextually and textually they are redundant, if that makes sense.
i'm afraid the bit about german V2 went over my head. i've only read about this recently and found that german, english and surprisingly, french, are considered non-pro-drop meaning we consider a stated subject 'standard'. i'm sure some languages are stricter about this than others.
i think matbury's ideas on this thread great. they fit neatly into a P.P.P. format lesson which ends on a hotel simulation activity and a discussion about hometowns hopefully encouaging dummy 'it', 'they' and 'there' use ('lesson' is the wrong word coz it'll be a recycled theme over several classes). matbury's learner-test-learner idea could well provide the step from gap-fill type exercises, robbed from senhor murphy, and controlled freer practice in the hotel simulation.
i really appreciate the feedback on this and i'm not sensitive about criticism so if you find any of my ideas flaky, please say so. that's how i learn!
thanks again!
ps. i agree that consistent reminding over the long-term is the best solution, but i agree with the writers i've read, that this aspect of english is worthy of explicit teaching.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm glad to see that others have joined in and added to the thread! Smile Has taken the "pressure" off of me a bit! (Ooh, was that a pro-drop just then?).

Coming back to it then (after plenty of mince pies in between flicking through a number of books), I reckon firstly that it would be best to not talk of pro-drop at all, or at least call English more a "pro-add" or (better yet!) "pro-retaining/maintaining/using" language than, negatively and potentially misleadingly-confusingly, 'not - José! - a pro-drop one'. (I know that all is a bit Englo-centric or whatever the word is, but EFL students are, well, more studying English than surveying the world's languages!).

Secondly, the few teaching-related UG-based bits and pieces that I have (Vivian Cook's paper on 'Universal Grammar' in Odlin's Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar, and Terry Shortall's on 'What learners know and what they need to learn' in Willis & Willis' Challenge and Change in Language Teaching) really don't appear (appear?) to offer very much (not in the eventual way of concrete teaching suggestions, at any rate). A more informed, sympathetic and ultimately tenacious reader might get more out of such stuff than I do, however. I guess I would prefer to read Carl James' Contrastive Analysis, which Shortall quotes from, in that it apparently anticipates (presages? LOL Wink ) UG, P&P etc. Or one can read general typological-functional stuff with profit still, for which Mairal & Gil's Linguistic Universals seems a good guide to thought in both UG and functional camps - see for example the footnote at the bottom of its pages 16-17.* Then, there is the likes of the interesting section 3.7 (in fact, the whole of this third chapter on syntax is worth reading!), 'Unrealized Words and Ellipsis', of Hudson's Language Networks, though this book is unfortunately no longer previewable even in part on Google Books. Sad (Aside to José: I've only dipped into Jordan's book, mainly to read what Piaget and Bates in addition to our old pal Sampson might've had to say about Chomsky. I guess I'm happy sticking with Sampson's Empirical Linguistics and The Language Instinct Debate as my main guides to "the science in linguistics", and would now have preferred to get e.g. Radden & Dirven's Cognitive English Grammar, if I had to keep a book from John Benjamins, than Jordan's book. Cool Smile As for Chomsky’s supposed indifference to AL concerns, see page 138 of Newmeyer’s Grammatical Theory: Its Limits and Its Possibilities, alluded to/quoted here: http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=37139#37139 ).

Talking of ellipsis, the actual examples that Carter, Hughes & McCarthy provide of it in their CANCODE-inspired Exploring Grammar in Context: Grammar Reference and Practice (Upper intermediate and Advanced), like those they provide for 'Tails' (which I've moaned about on several occasions), unfortunately fail to make the phenomenon they are meant to be illustrating appear that essential, that "vital".

The most immediately practical stuff that I could find then (other than the likes of Murphy, who you are obviously familiar with from having mentioned him already, Srx!) is the following:

Ur's Grammar Practice Activities simply if somewhat hoarily (hoaryally?) suggests that groups or teams of students give hints (It's [made of] metal; It's sharp; It's for cutting up food; or She's quite old and/or in bad shape; She certainly can't dance; She was likened to "a dalek in drag"; etc) to help others guess what is being referred to. Obviously this sort of "repetition-based" activity is for more "real/concrete" referents/reference, and can't be used much for dummy subjects (unless we permit conjunction: It's raining and windy and generally horrible, but that's England for you! That, or nursery rhyme-like stuff: It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring...), not that the former couldn't provide a means of leading into and better apprehending the latter.

Thornbury's Natural English (subtitled 'The keywords of English and how they work', so it's a somewhat lexicogrammary approach that T's taking) meanwhile has a unit on 'it', with four exercises (to complement the pattern, and collocational-phrasal, info preceding 'em), the first of which would seem the most useful: 1) add n instances of 'it' back into a story in which they have all been omitted, and in which there are no gaps or gap-fills (obviously, for here the question isn't which form to use but simply where to use/place it! It starts thus: Was getting dark and the road was wet. Seemed to go on forever. 'Is another fifty miles,' said Tom. 'Will we make before nightfall?' Debbie asked. 'I hate when you keep asking that,' Tom replied. ...). (The other three exercises briefly are: 2) Rewriting sentences like To miss the start would be a shame as It would be a shame to miss the start; 3) Filling in gaps in sentences such as It's no _____ you are hungry: you haven't eaten all day by choosing items from a range of n offered [funny, aim, fault, wonder, obvious, etc]; 4) Transforming two sentences into one: I didn't break the window. Rob did. > It was Rob who broke the window, not me. (It wasn't me who broke the window, but Rob?)).

Sorry for the long post...must've been bored from all the Xmas lounging around!


*Which I'll quote here due to it being currently unavailable in the limited preview on Google Books: "In the P&P model, speakers have a markedness theory which guides them in their choice of options represented by parameters. One of the two possible values of each parameter represents the unmarked or neutral option, which is the initial one that is set by default. This setting only changes if language acquirers deduce from contextual input that the language that they are learning has selected the marked option. They will thus adjust their grammar to the corresponding parameter value. In other words, what the generativist model has always maintained is the idea that markedness should be understood in binary rather than scalar terms. Accordingly, categories are defined by the presence or absence of binary features. In fact, it is argued on the basis of very clear phonological and syntactic evidence, as well as the implicit or explicit belief that cognitive processing in language is binary, that all ramifications must be so as well. Consequently, the binary tradition of marked and unmarked pairs for each differentiating feature is one of the most salient features of markedness theory within Generative Grammar. This vision contrasts with that proposed by functional models in which the concept of markedness in recent years has been revised by Givon (1984, 1990, 1995) and Croft (1990), among others. More recently, the functional approach to markedness has been linked to cognitive linguistics. For this reason, Croft (1990, 59-60) no longer believes in discrete binary categories, but rather proposes continuous categories that radially cluster around prototypical elements. Consequently, he does not interpret markedness in the traditional way - nor as the generativists do - by postulating that an element has or does not have a certain feature (thus making possible the opposition or neutralization of the opposition in certain contexts), but proposes a gradual differentiation of the marked element from the unmarked one. This differentiation is established through a progressive increase in the structural complexity (of marked elements), a lower textual frequency, and a greater cognitive complexity, as pointed out by Croft himself (1990, 59-60). Once more, this differentiation highlights the tensions between the use of internal or external criteria in the formulation of interlinguistic generalizations."


Last edited by fluffyhamster on Thu Dec 30, 2010 6:25 pm; edited 2 times in total
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srx600



Joined: 20 Dec 2010
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 9:37 pm    Post subject: hmmmm Reply with quote

hi fluffyhamster,

i too have a lot of time on my hands. thank you for your input. am envious of your library and speed typing.
he was not alone, but cook was the fellow who set me off on this wild goose chase. it does seem another case of - well this is obviously a jolly good idea, you should do it - and no thought as to the implications.
and i agree with him that it is a good idea. i just think a short sharp (shock) presentation is best followed by some fun. but that's my preferred style and may be not taken into account when thinking up teaching aims.
i sound like i'm knocking good old viv but actually i loved his book. something about second language acquisition.

SRX
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