Grammar teaching in Spain

  • [Joe Hilferty in 1997]
    • [Do schools teach the classification of words, the identification of grammatical functions and diagramming of sentence structure?] Yes, in Spain. In Catalonia all three are done in both Catalan and Spanish classes. However, it is my impression that syntactic analyses using tree diagrams are especially prevalent in Spanish class. I should add that the parsing exercises (and tests) are pretty demanding, and they cover all sentence types. The approach is more structuralist than generative (in fact, they draw their trees below the sentence rather than above!).
    • At what age does it start? They start diagramming constituent structure at twelve years of age, in the sixth grade.
    • This stands in stark contrast to the US. I remember that our grammatical analyses consisted of identifying basic word classes and grammatical functions (we started in the seventh grade). It was very elementary stuff compared to what they do in Spain. (To tell you the truth, I never saw a tree diagram until I started working on my Spanish degree at San Francisco State!)
    • How successful is it? My personal view is that such a heavy focus on grammatical analysis in Spain is detrimental to students’ writing skills. Kids spend all their time diagramming sentences, but they really do not know how to communicate effectively when they write. This is a problem at the university level also. I also feel that students are unable to translate their previous grammatical training into anything special when they study English syntax or generative grammar. So, on the whole, I think that students take sentence analysis as an exercise in empty-symbol manipulation.
  • [Margaret Nelson] In Madrid, all students study ‘Lengua Castellana’. The compulsory parts of the Spanish national curriculum include ‘syntaxis’ which is a bit like sentence parsing, where they learn word types and functions within sentences and as part of their official accreditation for this class they have to do things like give examples of word classes and then, given example sentences have to label components like objeto, sujeto, complemento directo, etc.  – see the official documentation (in Spanish).
  • In a little research project in 2010, students in Zaragoza University performed much better in a grammar test in English and applied to an English sentence than any students in English universities!
  • See the GREAL (Grup de Recerca sobre l’Ensenyament i Aprenentatge de Llengües) project in Barcelona.

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