The Nature of Language by Maria Oliveira

by Maria Oliveira. ©2013. All rights reserved.

Conversational-Language LearningUsing language to communicate is an essential human activity.  It is so basic that we often take it for granted.  In whatever language we speak, our goal is to be understood by others and to comprehend what others say to us.  When we want to communicate with people who speak a different language, we try to learn that language.

Learning a new language can be challenging, but it is possible, and it can be a lot of fun.  We already have had the experience of learning a language when we arrived new into the world.  We will use some of the same steps we used then to learn a new language now.

The first step is learning how to pronounce the words.  We need to learn how to produce the same sounds that speakers of the target language use.  To do this, we first learn the alphabet, and we practice the sounds out loud.  We put the sounds together to make words, and we practice saying the words out loud.

The next step is to learn to put the words into a specific order so that they will make a sentence. In their correct arrangement, these words will make sense to all speakers of the language.  This is called grammar. 

The grammar of a new language can be learned in a short period of time because we already speak one language that uses grammar.  If we compare what we know with what we are learning we will save time because there are so many similarities between languages.  For example, we know that in a proper sentence, we must have a subject that is someone who performs an action, usually a noun or pronoun. Then we must have the action itself, a verb.  At first, just these two parts make sense by themselves, but soon we find we need more information; we need a direct object, something to receive the action of the verb.

In Spanish, to understand direct and indirect objects, it is necessary to understand if the verb is transitive or intransitive. An intransitive verb is one that stands with the subject to express a complete thought. A transitive verb requires a complement (more information) to complete the thought.  Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, like comer and beber.

When a verb is intransitive, it is modified by an adverb: I run fast.  The word fast answers the question, “How do I run?”

When a verb is transitive, the modifier answers the question, “What?”  For example, if you say, “I buy,” it requires the question, “You buy what?”  The answer to the question is the direct object of the sentence: “I buy a dress.”  Oh!  Now I know what you buy with your money! It makes sense to us!

A good dictionary will tell you if a verb is transitive or intransitive.  Just look for a “tr” or “intr” next to the word.  When you learn to form your sentences properly, you can learn to change the noun direct objects by using a pronoun, and be just like a native speaker!


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