Grammar teaching in The Czech Republic

  • Anna Vernerova, 2019 (email):
    I’ve looked up a few sites that list a suggestion of a syllabus for teaching Czech in primary schools (grades 1-5). The exact timing will differ from school to school (currently, there is no state-wide syllabus, only some general guidelines based on which each school constructs its own syllabus). According to this site http://skolik.cz/osnovy/ and a sample syllabus published a few years ago by the Ministry of Education http://www.vuppraha.rvp.cz/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Doporucene-ucebni-osnovy-predmetu-CJL-AJ-a-M-pro-zakladni-skolu.pdf, these are the requirements for the subject ČESKÝ JAZYK (I’ve skipped some points that relate to writing and communication skills):
    • GRADE 1 (age 6-7):
      • recognize sentences, words, syllables and letters
      • write letters and numbers (large size), connect letters, syllables and words, use punctuation
      • read fluently with comprehension
      • know some nursery rhymes and short poems, recognize the structure of their textbook or a children’s book
      • speak comprehensibly, read with awareness, express their own experience
    • GRADE 2:
      • be acquianted with the division of sounds (phones) and the division of words into syllables
      • recognize verbs and nouns; distinguish proper nouns from general nouns (and know that proper nouns are spelt with capital initial letters)
      • in current standard Czech, the letters i and y are pronounced the same; in grade 2, students learn the lists of consonants that are only followed by one of them
      • other spelling problems: a space between a preposition and the following word; recognizing the root of the word even when it is subject to voicedness assimilation (e.g. “d” pronounced at the end of a word as “t” – in order to achieve at the correct spelling, the child has to form the genitive case, where the correct consonant can be easily recognized)
      • basic punctuation (full stop, question mark, exclamation mark)
      • respect the word order, recognize speaker’s attittude, use connectives (in compound sentences as well as in clauses)
    • GRADE 3:
      • “i” vs “y” continued: for each of the 8 consonants that can be followed by both i and y, students learn a list of words spelt with y; this entails recognizing all word forms and also derivationally related words (a complex topic that will be thoroughly practiced over the next few years)
      • parts of speech
      • declension of nouns (know the categories of case, gender and number)
      • morphological categories of verbs: person, number, tense
      • recognize words that undergo inflection from those that do not
      • recognize a clause from a compound sentence
      • be able to find “syntactic pairs” (a word and its head), especially the subject-predicate pair
      • joins short sentences into a compound sentence by using appropriate connectives
    • GRADE 4:
      • continuation of the “i” vs “y” topic
      • parts of speech, noun declension, verb conjugation, respect subject-verb agreement
      • the difference between a simple clause and a compound sentence, find the subject-predicate pair, recognize unexpressed subject (Czech is a pro-drop language) and fill in the appropriate pronoun, distinguish types of compound sentences (coordination vs. subordination)
      • recognize direct and indirect speech
      • plan the structure of a speech, divide a text into paragraphs
      • know different kinds of description, construct the text of a telegram (sic!), achieve brevity and clarity on the phone, appropriately use the structure of a letter
      • use full verbs, connectives and compound clauses for narrating
      • recognize synonyms and homonyms
      • basic morphology: recognize root, prefix, suffix
      • in the Czech republic, there is a wide-spread diglossia (the spoken/informal and written/formal language differ especially in morphology (in particular endings) and pronunciation, partly also in lexicon); by this age, children should recognize formal and informal inflection of nouns, pronouns, and verbs
    • GRADE 5:
      • “i” vs “y” in endings
      • paradigms of nouns (14 models) and adjectives (2 models); recognize to which model a given noun/adjective belongs
      • types of prepositions and connectives
      • more practice in recognizing morphological categories of nouns (case, number, gender) and verbs (person, number, mood, tense; recognize analytical (multi-word) verb forms)
      • more spelling issues
      • correct placement of commas in a compound sentence (this is a complex topic that will be covered in the next few grades as well)
      • by this age, children are expected to be able to use the formal variety of Czech in speech as well as in writing
      • basic punctuation rules
      • use a standard spelling reference book
      • use children’s encyclopedias
      • fill forms
      • write down the structure of a text
      • distinguish an assertion from an opinion

As you can see, by grade 5, children should have quite a bit of linguistic knowledge. In grades 6-9, the most difficult topic is syntax (with concepts such as copula, object, attribute, adverbial, and the corresponding types of subordinate clauses; relations between two main clauses or between two coordinated sentence elements (John, Mary, and even Bill were there. => gradation), but the knowledge of morphology is also extended (e.g. the verbal category of aspect is considered more difficult than the other ones, so it is introduced somewhat later).

  • Štěpáník, S. 2019. Pupil preconception as a source of solutions to lingering problems of grammar teaching? (Ed.) Kaisu Rättyä, Elżbieta Awramiuk & Xavier Fontich. L1 Educational Studies in Language and Literature Special Issue What is Grammar in L1 Education Today?(Special Issue What is Grammar in L1 Education Today?). 1–24. doi:10.17239/L1ESLL-2019.19.02.05.
    • The main aim of the paper is to show pupil language preconception as a fundamental part of L1 teaching. This theorisation is compliant with the model of educational reconstruction and constructivist principles in education which are the sources of the modern productive culture in education. Based on concrete examples of grammar matter in Czech, the study demonstrates how research into pupil preconceptions can guide teaching grammar so that it is functional, communication-oriented and cognitively challenging. The results of the presented studies show that even pupils of primary school possess developed preconceptions of language phenomena, which, however, school education often ignores. This fact is later a potential source of various lingering problems and failure of L1 teaching. The study illustrates (a) how it is possible to use language preconceptions as a source for modelling the curriculum of L1 teaching, and (b) how lingering problems of L1 teaching can be linked to the fact that pupils’ understanding and thinking about language is mostly neglected.
  • [James Kirchner in 1997]
    • [Do schools teach the classification of words, the idenfification of grammatical functions and the  diagramming of sentence structure?] I can only give you sketchy details on this, but I know that in the Czech school system, where I taught for a few years, the 14-year-olds I got in high school had a detailed command of the first two items you mention above in their native language. My students came from all over the country, and all had comparable knowledge, which I would characterize as being something approaching that conveyed in a university-level introductory linguistics course in the United States. The main difference was that they had drilled this knowledge for years by the time I got them, so their command of it was rather more precise than American university students would have after only one course. The Czech kids knew all the classifications of vowels and consonants, including place and manner of articulation, so at that tender age, they were already familiar with, say, the palatalization of alveolar consonants before front vowels. I could mention it in exactly that way, and they understood me perfectly.
    • The standard Czech grammar book for Czech primary schools is simply called “Cesky jazyk” and its authors are Jiri Melichar and Vlastimil Styblik. I had to use it to prepare for my state Czech proficiency exam there, and I will say that adults do not find it less challenging than a clearly written basic linguistics text. It starts with a general introduction to language study, moves into phonology, and from there goes to semantics, morphology and word formation (in great detail, including all conjugations and declensions), then to syntax (including highly complex sentences), and ends with stylistics.
    •  At what age does it start? The important thing that I can’t tell you is at what age they start with this book. I believe it must be when they’re 11 or 12, and I suppose they spend two or three years with it. However, the earlier curriculum must contain a lot of this material already, because by age 10, most of the kids have started two foreign languages, and the instructional material used for them contains the theoretical basics of grammar.
    • I think that a good place to look for early and intense grammar instruction would be in small countries whose languages are spoken by no more than, say, 15 million people, since these nations tend to be very adamant about sustaining their languages in the face of outside pressure, even as they impress upon their children the necessity of learning foreign languages well. It also helps if the nation speaks a reconstructed language, like Czech or Hebrew.
    • How successful is it? I’m 43, and in the schools of my suburb of Detroit, Michigan, we learned the meaning and etymology of the main Latin and Greek roots and suffixes of English at around age 9 (this was in our spelling book, and was also incorporated into dictionary practice). At age 10 and 11, we already knew the parts of speech and were diagramming sentences ad nauseum, in terms of subject, predicate, direct object, etc. This instruction has been left by the wayside, and I now hear complaints from local parents that their high school kids can’t analyze a sentence well enough to see why it doesn’t work well. Nuns at a local university claim that the break-off point between “people who can write well” and people who can’t is now about age 30, and I see that my own university linguistics students in the US (even those who are already certified teachers) often write with less clarity and prescriptive accuracy than a cousin of mine did in high school when he was drunk. The interesting thing is that this instruction on language structure has become so attenuated, even in the various university English curricula, that the magazine publisher I work for no longer considers an English degree to be a good qualification for a job as an editor or copy editor. For the latter, they mainly interview linguistics and foreign language majors, because “you can’t count on English majors to know structure.” After it had hired a large influx of native anglophones, of various levels of qualification, to teach English, I saw the Czech school authorities reach the conclusion that an American or British university degree is no indication of a solid grounding in English language structure. Thus, even certified British ESL instructors, with years of experience, were often relegated to hour-long chat sessions, while the students learned structure from a Czech (and often faultily).
 

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