HUGE DISCLAIMER : this article does NOT, in any way, refer to any learning/reading/writing/Speaking disorder like Dyslexia or anything that could affect language in any shape or form.
Do you know that feeling when someone writes « your » instead of « you’re » again and you just don’t understand why they keep doing it. No matter how and how many times you explain, they just don’t get it?
maybe you’re on the other side and you keep mixing up words and people seem very pissed at it, but for some reason you just do not get what you get wrong?
Just so you know, I’m French, and French spelling and grammar is an absolute nightmare. I honestly admire anyone who’s learning it, because if it wasn’t my mother tongue, I wouldn’t even bother trying. And because it’s difficult, the number of mistakes that make my soul bleed is frightening. They’ve made me cringe for as long as I can remember.
As time went by, I realized I would spot grammar mistakes in other languages too. And I was not the only non-native to spot it. I would also notice that people who had learned French tend to speak better than natives. When I say « better », I’m not talking about not using spoken familiar language and son on. But they would actually use the right word (so many people use wrong words that doesn’t mean what they want to say), they would use the right tense and everything.
So I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. And I came to a conclusion. I had a chat with my German teacher at the time and she thought exactly the same thing after years and years of teaching Russian and German. The more I observe the way people write, the more I’m convinced that this is the number one reason people struggle.
That reason is people just don’t know what they are saying.
Before you start hating on me or feeling hurt, hear me out. I do not mean this in a bad way whatsoever. I don’t mean to be harsh or make anybody feel crappy about themselves. Honestly.
Think about how you learned to speak when you were a child.
You spoke by hearing what was being said, by hearing your parents talk, etc. No textbook was handed to you.
Therefore, you learned through sounds and some visuals.
And even though we learn grammar and spelling in school, some people still think in sounds. So when, for example, they write « your » instead of « you’re », they are writing a sound instead of the meaning, really. Not in a conscious way.
In French, we have sooooo many ways to write they sound [e] at the end of a word, depending to the tense, the subject (number, gender,…), the type of verb….or all of the above. And the reason why people butcher these verbs is because they write sounds.
This can also be blamed on some methods used to teach today’s kids how to read as well as the « uniformity » in teaching methods despite the fact that all students learn in a different way.
When you get used to writing like that, your brain makes it a habit. You’ve always been doing it, making it deeper and deeper engraved in your brain.
So when you don’t know why you are saying the things you are saying, when the reasons behind the spelling/grammar choices are not clear in your head, your brain cannot make the connection it needs to learn the new language.
You cannot become fluent in a foreign language if you don’t master your mother tongue first.
I’m sorry to be this blunt, but it has to be said. It doesn’t mean people are stupid in any way. It just means some adjustment have to be made in our subconscious habits.
If a concept is not clear in your head in your mother tongue, there is absolutely no way you are going to understand it in your target language.
If you are new to language learning, you will realize how learning a new language makes you know your mother tongue better. But still, you need some knowledge first otherwise, the learning process will be longer, harder, more likely to discourage you, more likely for you to make mistakes, and I doubt that you will reach any kind of decent fluency.
So what to do about it ?
The next articles will focus on how to master (or at the very least, improve your knowledge in your) mother tongue if you happen to need some advice in this area, as well as why you should never neglect your mother tongue when learning a new language, which can be very tempting.