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An Advanced English Course for Foreign Students


During the course of some ten years devoted to the teaching of English to foreign students, I have noticed that, while there are a large number of fairly good elementary textbooks for foreigners, there is a real need for an advanced course which will help pupils to under­stand and use the more complicated grammatical con­structions, the idiomatic expressions, and the compound verbs. By “compound" verbs, I mean those whose meaning is modified or completely changed by the addition of one or more prepositions or prepositional adverbs. I have found that while, on the one hand, the average foreign pupil is often able to express himself fairly correctly in a kind of over-simplified" foreigners' English, ”he is, on the other hand, generally quite incapable of reading an English novel or play, or of understanding an ordinary conversation properly. He will puzzle over a sentence like "John dropped in this evening," quite unaware that "to drop in" is a group with a meaning quite apart from that of the words taken separately; and he is completely floored by idiomatic expressions like "to burn the candle at both ends," or, "to come off with flying colours."


Moreover, no matter how well they have been taught at home, I have found few foreigners able to express themselves correctly when they attempt anything more complicated than the simplest grammatical constructions. I feel that this is due to a defect of method in their teaching. Most grammars begin with the treatment of the noun, followed in succession by that of the adjective, the pronoun, and the verb. Moreover, the so-called auxiliary, defective, and anomalous verbs are studied after the strong and weak verbs. This order seems to me to be completely wrong. People do not think in isolated words, but in sentences. The key word to the sentence is the verb, and the type of verb most frequently used in English is what H. E. Palmer has called the "anomalous finite" (see Lesson i). The use of one of the anomalous finites is necessary in practically every English sentence except the simplest kind of positive affirmation (see the Introductory Note to Lessons 1-6). In the sentence " He can speak English," it is not necessary to know any grammar to write "he" and "English." But it is necessary to know some grammar to understand that "can" does not take the inflexion "s" in the third person singular, that it is followed by an infinitive, and that "to" before the following infinitive is suppressed. But if a Scandinavian studies the nouns before learning the use of the anomalous finites, he tends to acquire the habit of saying "He can English"; while "the version of a Latin student will probably be "He can to speak English." Experienced teachers know how difficult it is to eliminate such faults, once they have become habitual. And they do become habitual, unless they are attacked at the very beginning.


The Course therefore begins with die treatment of the anomalous finites, followed by that of the ordinary verbs. In the study of the latter, the uses of the preterite and perfect tenses have received special attention. One lesson has been devoted entirely to the special difficulties of the present habitual and present progressive forms. With regard to "shall" and "will," I have avoided the temptation of trying to over-simplify the problem. The complete edition of the Oxford Dictionary has been freely drawn on for examples. The infinitive, another stumbling-block, has been treated in an original and effective way, by analysing its functions, rather than by relying on long lists to be learnt by heart.


The treatment of the definite and indefinite articles follows that of the verbs. Here, again, I have ignored the conventional order of treatment. The use or omission of the noun does not usually depend on grammatical considerations, whereas the employment of the article is governed by fairly complicated grammatical rules. Few foreigners employ the definite article correctly, and my students have found the general rules in Lesson 15 most helpful.


I have tried to bring the section on adjectives up to date by including new adjectival forms such as "Shavian," "Chestertonian," etc., and by giving special attention to the position of adjectival groups.


The lesson on animals, their masculine, feminine, common, and collective names, as well as their sounds, movements, homes, and traits, has not, I believe, been treated in this way before. In doing so, I have endeavoured to give a key to the puzzling idioms based on the names and habits of animals, which are the despair of every foreign student.


Instead of writing a special Prose Passage to illustrate the position of each type of adverb in the sentence, I have incorporated one special type of adverb into one or more of the Prose Passages dealing with other grammatical problems, so as to get pupils gradually accustomed to their use.


Prepositions, in their grammatical aspect, are given treatment in Lessons 12, 13, 23, 25, 31. But illustrations of their idiomatic use are to be found throughout the Prose Passages.


The completeness of the grammatical explanations will probably surprise the more rigid adherents of the "direct" method of teaching languages. It is true that the direct method is incontrovertibly the best for children, since the minds of children are more imitative than analytic. Moreover, children have usually a number of years at their disposal for study, while adults have neither the time nor the wish to work up slowly from the simple to the more complicated constructions. Again, the average educated adult and the more advanced secondary school student have grown out of the purely imitative stage. Their minds are analytic. They feel under the imperious necessity of taking a sentence to pieces, and knowing why a certain type of construction is,used, and they are incapable of imitating blindly. The grammatical explanations have therefore been furnished to supply a real need. But they are in English, and give the pupil an opportunity to think and study in the language he is trying to learn. This is a splendid exercise in itself.


But it should be clearly understood that the gram­matical explanations are given merely to help the pupil, and are not an end in themselves. The Course does not centre round them, but round the Prose Passages, Exer­cises, and Questions. The Prose Passages have been composed especially for the Course. They contain, not merely as large a number as possible of examples of the special constructions under consideration, but also in­numerable idiomatic expressions and compound verbs. I have found that the use of extracts from well-known authors is less practical, from the student's viewpoint. Idiomatic expressions, compound verbs, and interesting constructions are scattered more sparsely over such extracts, and advance is not rapid in proportion to the time spent in studying them. The reading of English literature in general should, of course, be encouraged as a recreation, both for its intrinsic interest and cultural value, and as a means of passive assimilation. But in texts for active study, there should be concentrated as much useful material as possible. And though, in these Prose Passages, it has not been found possible to include all the idiomatic expressions and compound verbs in the language, they are sufficiently numerous to enable the pupil to form the mental habit of recognizing them when he meets them, and of consulting a good dictionary if they are new to him. After a thorough study of the Prose Passages, the student should have no serious difficulties with modern English literature.


The pupil should be taught to use the Oxford Dictionary or some similar work, as soon as possible. Except for nouns representing what can, be counted or physically measured, bilingual dictionaries are, at best, unsatisfactory, and, at worst, positively harmful. This because there are many English words and word groups which can be adequately explained only in English, and by an Englishman. Consulting an English dictionary is in itself an excellent exercise in English. I have found by experience that not only do pupils master the initial difficulties of using such a dictionary with surprising rapidity, but that they in the end prefer its use to that of a bilingual one.


As this is an advanced course, its use presupposes a certain elementary knowledge of the language on the part of the pupil. In this case, it will not be necessary for the teacher to use the pupil's mother-tongue in his explana­tions. But I have found, in practice, that even with beginners there are no insuperable difficulties, provided the teacher has a perfect mastery of the pupil's mother-tongue. This, again, is a departure from the rigid canons of the direct method. But it is now universally recognized that the strict application of the rules of the direct method to adult beginners is impracticable; and that, while the exclusive use of English in English classes is desirable, where possible, the judicious use of translation saves a great deal of time, and does no harm. In any case, the use of the pupil's native language as a teaching medium should not be necessary after the first five or six lessons.




1. Before beginning the study* of the Prose Passage as a whole, explain the meaning of the underlined idiomatic expressions. (Sentences incorporating these expressions should be a regular part of homework.) Next read the Prose Passage with the pupil, and explain the text to him. As soon as he can use an English dictionary, he should be required to prepare the Passage at home, before the class. Thoroughness and exactitude are essential, and pupils should not be allowed to fall into the very bad habit of being satisfied with understanding what they are pleased to call the " general sense " of a text. They will thus avoid many ludicrous misinter­pretations. Grammatical difficulties should be treated as they arise, with reference to the grammatical explanations.Teachers who are not native English speakers should, of course, study the Prose Passages carefully before attempting to explain them in class.
2. In Lessons 1-17, and also in Lesson 23, test the pupil's understanding of the constructions under con­ sideration, by means of the Exercises. These latter should first be done in writing, and then repeated orally.
3. Finally, the pupil should be required to answer the Questions on the Prose Passage orally, from memory. These answers must reproduce the constructions and idiomatic  expressions in the text exactly. It cannot be over-emphasized that the pupil will have to cultivate his powers of memory in order to acquire an almost slavish facility for exact imitation, if he is to obtain an idiomatic mastery of English.For language, from the point of view of its practical employment, is a habit of speech acquired by exact imitation. A pupil  has conform his speech to the usages of the' language he is studying, as slavishly as a soldier has to move his body in conformity with the orders of his drill sergeant. Educated people react against this, which probably explains why children and uneducated adults Usually learn a language far more easily and quickly than a highly educated and imaginative person. It is to help pupils over this real difficulty, and enable them to associate new words and expressions with interesting situations or provocative statements, that the Prose Passages have been made as intrinsically interesting as possible.
4. With regard to original compositions, it will prob­ably be found better-I offer the suggestion for what itis worth-not to insist on them until after Lesson 17. Language is primarily speech, and one naturally learnsto speak long before one learns to write. If, during the first seventeen lessons, the pupil has learnt to givecorrect oral. answers to the Questions on the Prose Passages, and do the Exercises well, he will have acquiredfluency in the use of practically all the difficult con­structions which worry foreigners. He may then safely replace the Exercises with original compositions and occasional translations. The answers to the Questions on the Prose Passages will then be found to afford sufficient practice in the use of the material treated, especially as most of it requires the exercise of memory rather than of thought.   
Exceptions have been made, for obvious reasons, in the cases of Lessons 23 and 27.
5. (a) Words illustrating the matter of the lesson are printed in italics, e.g., Nor will he take a hint (p. 3). 
(b)  Idiomatic expressions and compound verbs are underlined, e.g.,  Nor will he take a hint. 
(c)  Adverbs printed in grotesque draw attention to the position of that special type in the sentence, e.g., In an instant  the natives had forgotten their fears (p. 129).

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