Contrastive Grammar in Anchorage

At our local TPRS meeting yesterday, Betsy demonstrated the Contrastive Grammar technique. She talked about the three levels of comprehension questions for different levels of learners. Here is one example for each:

Barometer: ask what something means
Mid-level: ask what a particular part of a phrase or sentence with the new grammar means
High-level: ask kids to apply the new grammar, translating from a sentence in English.

Then she went on to show how to do negation in Japanese, meanwhile throwing in “little” words that don’t have equivalents in English. We all practiced the negation of the verbs, but every few statements, Betsy would ask whether we’d heard something new. If we had, she explained it. 

First of all, Contrastive Grammar is a great technique to use–thanks, Susie! It helps those of us who like to talk about grammar. But this new twist, which turned out to be a sort of stealth focus on the little words, while making us think we were practicing the negation, was brilliant. It has taken my brain all night, but now I’m beginning to understand what features I might “stealth-teach” through Contrastive Grammar. One of those is the little “bwi” that signifies the subjunctive. In a way, I realize that I’ve been doing this, but as Martina has said earlier, it’s helpful to have a good practice explained and codified, so that you can identify when and where you can use it to good effect. 

Tam pointed out that, for those of us who would otherwise uselessly obsess over the “little words” (or whatever else you’re stealth-teaching), the focus on something else gives our analytic brain something to do while we’re secretly pounding away on the real topic. 

For more on Contrastive Grammar, check Susie Gross’ website. She is the creator of this technique, but for clear presentation and examples, I’m feeling lucky to live in the same town with Betsy! 

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