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Prendergast Mastery System. Philosophers have pointed out that we all of us, far more than we are aware, act and think and speak in certain established sequences. From our dressing in the morning till we wind up our watches at night, we go on in a series of habitual 'trains;' scarcely an action or an idea is isolated. Indeed, the German proverb, Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagenHe who says A must also say B'-is of almost universal application. And, conversely, it is extremely hard to say B without the antecedent A. If we doubt this, the experiment is soon tried. Who can say the second line of the Æneid or Paradise Lost without running over the first line ? Who can count backward, or say the alphabet backward, as readily as he can forward? And when we come to examine into our knowledge of a language we find the language in our minds, not as a collection of words, but of sequences. Those who learn a foreign language in the country where it is spoken, do not translate English words into the foreign tongue; but they appropriate whole combinations, and make use of them without any thought of their English equivalents. And when they have thus learnt a foreign language-say German, e.g.--if they are asked the German for some conjunction or adverb, they have a difficulty in calling up the isolated word, and they form in their minds some combination in which it occurs, and in this it presents itself immediately. • From such considerations as these, Mr. Prendergast concludes that the beginner should learn not separate words but sentences. There are in every language a number of common sequences, which form its idiom. The learner must be babituated to these sequences, and must not be allowed to translate word by word from his own language; for so long as he does this he will group the words according to the English idiom. Mr. Prendergast, therefore, would put into the beginner's hand a book giving a number of idiomatic sentences in the foreign tongue, and the corresponding sentences in good English. The foreign sentences should be so framed as to include all the main constructions in the language. The language would thus be learnt in miniature.'
The learning by heart of sentences constructed for the purpose is the groundwork of the system. But a sentence thus learned might remain in the pupil's mind without life, the equivalent for a particular English sentence, and nothing more. So the learning of a model sentence is quite insufficient by itself. Mr. Prendergast requires the learner to 'master,' not only the sentence, but also a number of variations of it, in which he finds all that he has learnt in the previous sentences worked up with what he has learnt in the last one. Of course the possible combinations which may be thus formed when several sentences have been learnt, are inexhaustible; and by having the changes rung for him on the phrases he already knows, the pupil is to get his ear accustomed to the sequences of the language, until by mere imitation he can ring the changes for himself. Each sentence, and each group of variations, must be 'mastered' before the learner may go further; i.e., they must be repeated again and again till the pupil can read off the foreign sentence from the English as quickly and with as little effort as if the words themselves were before him. This is an essential feature of the system, and Mr. Prendergast dreads nothing so much as a multiplicity of rague impressions. He therefore calls his plan the Mastery System.
Supposing six hours a week, at the least, secured for the language, how should we set about teaching it? Here we find ourselves pulled in different directions by three classes of methodizers. The first would begin with the grammar. The second would have some small portion of the language thoroughly 'mastered.' The third would run the beginner straight through a book in the foreign tongue. For various reasons, which I can not now give at length, I am decidedly opposed to what I may call the rapid-impressionist school. I agree entirely with Mr. Prendergast, that, as a rule, we make far too great demands on the memory of beginners. At this point in preparing my lecture, I took down from my shelf Mr. Prendergast's very valuable work, The Mastery of Languages' (a work which should be read, as I think, by all teachers), and opening it at random, I at once lighted on the following sentence: ‘Let it be clearly understood that the most fatal of all errors is the overloading of the memory.' (p. 25.) I hold that this sentence pronounces the condemnation of at least nineteen out of every twenty books written for beginners in a foreign language. Let us hear the opinion of a man whom we have most of us read, and whose authority we all respect, Professor D'Arcy Thompson. “My own experience,' he says, 'in the tuition of elementary pupils, has taught me that, for a considerable time, a teacher should be content with a very small vocabulary, but that he should task to the utmost his own patience and ingenuity in presenting that limited stock of vocables to the minds of his charges, under, if possible, all the conceivable forms and phases of a kaleidoscopic diversity.
Hear, too, M. Marcel, who, oddly enough, is a rapid-impressionist,The introduction of new words is not so favorable to progress as the reiterated use of those already known. What is required for the exchange of thought is not so much the names of things as the power of affirming, denying, and questioning about them. The vocabulary of young children is very limited, and yet how readily and fluently they speak! ... Half the knowledge with twice the power of applying it, is better than twice the knowledge with half the power of application.'
The Mastery Method. Let us think first of Mastery. By Mastery Mr. Prendergast understands repeating a foreign sentence till one can at last give it with as much ease as its English equivalent; e.g., most English school-boys have mastered in this sense a certain portion of the French language—viz., Comment vous portez-vous ? But they have not mastered that expression in the same way in which a French school-boy has mastered it. To the
English boy it is one prolonged sound, to which a particular meaning is attached quite arbitrarily. To the French boy it is the natural expression of thought. The words live to the French boy ; but to the English boy they are mere jargon. And, unfortunately, mere jargon is frightfully hard to remember. But on Prendergast's plan the pupil must not advance till he has 'mastered' the first lesson. This requirement hardly seems to me wise, for two reasons—first, because, as I have pointed out, real mastery is at this stage impossible; secondly, because beginnersyoung beginners especially—are anxious to get on; and if they make no visible progress, their mental activity is checked. This last is, to my mind, a fatal objection to the methods which require every thing to be retained from the very beginning. The Christian is to avoid the appearance of evil, and the teacher should avoid even the appearance of stag. nation. As a rule, I believe we do not think half enough of what our pupils think. We sometimes seem to regard them as the Strassburg people regard their geese. I am told that they deprive these geese of all liberty, and stuff food down their throats till they consider them fit for examination. The crammer who has the credit of passing a great number of geese, and the owner of the goose who gets the pie, think this a most satisfactory system; but we have never heard the opinion of the goose. Perhaps the opinion of the goose may be neglected, but the opinion of the boy most assuredly may not. After all, when you think of it, he is himself concerned to some extent in the result of your teaching; and he is perfectly well aware of this, so you can not calculate on driving him, as a stoker drives his engine. It is not enough that he ought to learn on your system; he must feel that that he is learning.
One hears a great deal about the dullness of grammar. If by 'graminar'one means the complete account of the language—which of right belongs to the end rather than the beginning of the learner's career-of course it must be dull to those for whom it is both useless and unintelligible. But if we mean the common inflections, I deny altogether that learning these is disagreeable work. Of course it can be made dull. The Greek verbs, as they are commonly taught, are absolute torture, the contracts especially; but this is because we demand more from the memory than we can possibly get. Every thing as it is learnt should be used vira doce till it is known thoroughly.
Power of Audition. In order to pronounce well, the pupil must often hear the sounds he is to imitate. For this and other reasons, I would urge teachers from the very first to cultivate in their pupils what M. Marcel calls the power of audition. By audition he means understanding the foreign language when spoken. At present so little attention is paid to this, that people who have learnt to read and write a language, and even to use it a little in speech, very often can not understand the simplest viva voce sentence. But audition may be cultivated very easily. One can soon ask intelligi. ble questions in the foreign language, especially about numbers, the multiplication table, &c., or about something that has been just learnt, and require brisk answers in English.
Book-work. Now arises the question, Should the book be made with the object of teaching the language, or should it be selected from those written for other purposes? I see much to be said on either side. The three great facts we have to turn to account in teaching a language, are these :-first, a few words recur so constantly that a knowledge of them and grasp of them gives us a power in the language quite out of proportion to their number; second, large classes of words admit of many variations of meaning by inflection, which variations we can understand from analogy; third, compound words are formed ad infinitum on simple laws, so that the root word supplies the key to a whole family. Now, if the book is written by the language-teacher, he has the whole language before him, and he can make the most of all these advantages. He can use only the important words of the language; he can repeat them in various connections; he can bring the main facts of inflection and construction before the learner in a regular order, which is a great assistance to the memory; he can give the simple words before introducing words compounded of them; and he can provide that, when a word occurs for the first time, the learners shall connect it with its root meaning. A short book securing all these advantages would, no doubt, be a very useful implement, but I have never seen such a book. Almost all delectuses, &c., bury the learner under a pile of new words, from which he will not for a long time be able to extricate himself. So, as far as I know, the book has yet to be written. And even if it were written, with the greatest success from a linguistic point of view, it would of course make no pretension to a meaning. Having myself gone through a course of Ahn and of Ollendorf, I remember, as a sort of nightmare, innumerable questions and answers, such as 'Have you my thread stockings? No, I have your worsted stockings.' Still more repulsive are the long sentences of Mr. Prendergast:—How much must I give to the cabdriver to take my father to the Bank in New street before his second breakfast, and to bring him home again before half-past two o'clock ?' I can not forget Voltaire's mot, which has a good deal of truth in it, -Every way is good but the tiresome way.' And most of the books written for beginners are inexpressibly tiresome. No doubt it will be said, “Unless you adopt the rapid-impressionist plan, any book must be tiresome. What is a meaning at first becomes no meaning by frequent repetition.' This, however, is not altogether true. I myself have taught Niebuhr's Heroengeschichten for years, and I know some chapters by heart; but the old tales of Jason and Hercules as they are told in Niebuhr's simple language do not bore me in the least.
These, then, would be my books for a beginner, say in German :First, the principal inflections, followed by the main facts about gender,
&c. This we will call the Primer. Second, a book like the Heroengeschichten. This I would have prepared very much after the Robertsonian manner. It should be printed, as should also the Primer, in good-sized Roman type ; though, in an appendix, some of it should be reprinted in German type. The book should be divided into short lessons. A translation of each lesson should be given in parallel columns. Then should come a vocabulary, in which all useful information should be given about the really important words, the unimportant words being neglected. Finally should come variations and exercises in the lesson, and in these the important words of that and previous lessons should be used exclusively. The exercises should be such as the pupils could do in writing out of school, and viva voce in school. They should be very easy-real exercises in what is already known, not a series of linguistic puzzles. The ear, the voice, the hand should all be practiced on each lesson. When the construing is known, transcription of the German is not by any means to be despised. A good variety of transcription is, for the teacher to write the German clause by clause on the blackboard, and rub out each clause before the pupils begin to write it. Then a known piece may be prepared for dictation. In reading this as dictation, the master may introduce small variations, to teach his pupils to keep their ears open. He may, as another exercise, read the German aloud, and stop here and there for the boys to give the English of the last sentence read; or he may read to them either the exact German in the book or small variations on it, and make the pupils translate viva voce, clause by clause. He may then ask questions on the piece in German and require answers in English.
As soon as they get any feeling of the language, the pupils should commit some easy poetry in it. I should recommend their learning the English of the piece first, and then getting the German viva voce from the teacher. To quicken the German in their minds, I think it is well to give them in addition a German prose version, using almost the same words. Varia. tions of the more important sentences should be learnt at the same time.
In all these suggestions you will see what I am aiming at. I wish the learner to get a feeling of, and a power over, the main words of the language and the machinery in which they are employed. To use a mathematical illustration, I look upon the study of a language as the study of forces, like mechanics; and I wish to have the forces, not at rest, but in every kind of action; so that the problems will be not statical but dynamical.
How to Use a Construing Book. And lastly, I wish to point out how I would have the teacher use his construing book. He should carefully go over it, and mark in his own copy a selection of words and sentences which he intends to teach from it. With beginners these marked words and sentences will be the most ordinary things in the language. With more advanced pupils the teacher will mark idioms and less common words. Whatever he has thus marked