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REGULAR INSTRUCTION IN THE MOTHERTONGUE AS THE MEANS OF EXPRESSING
The Conditions which regular Instruction in Language must, in
this point of view, fulfil.
1. Gradation of Regular Instruction. UPILS bring from home a knowledge of language
which is by no means contemptible. Their young minds are already furnished with a multitude of words full of signification to them, and they know and use no others; they have also learnt how to combine them so as to express their thoughts. By means of imitation, they have gradually made a grammar for themselves, and they practise its rules without being conscious of its existence. They have been entirely taught by tradition; wherever this is defective, the same defects will be observed in their practical grammar. Regular instruction in language will have then to rectify these defects; but this will be the least part of its work, and may be done incidentally. A much more arduous task, which must continually be kept in view, will be to extend, in all directions, the knowledge of language which children bring with them when they first cross the threshold of the school. Their dictionary, whatever it may have gained during the first seven years, will still be very limited, when compared with that of mature age, and the time will soon come when the knowledge of the latter will be necessary to them. Instruction should therefore gradually familiarize them with its use, and this will require much time and attention. Another less important, but perhaps more difficult task, will be to familiarize them with the construction of words, so as to make them understand the different thoughts it conveys by the various combination of the same words, and thus to enable them to express their own thoughts. Here a vast field is opened to us; for only consider to what a degree a proposition may be amplified by concentrating on one verb, not only the subject and object of its action, but various circumstances relative to time, place, end, motive, quantity, &c. The complex proposition may be rendered still more complicated by doubling and trebling the subject and object of action, and of other integral parts of one and the same thought. The phrase, which is a combination of several propositions, joined together by means of conjunctions, is a still larger and more complicated work.
Now the language of our pupils is at first far below this standard, both in its extent and in the simplicity of its construction. You will only hear them utter simple propositions; and next, phrases of two or at most of three propositions, one of which will only be grammatical or expletive. Yet they are called upon to apprehend and concentrate on one point a chain of thoughts rising one out of another; or to understand a composition in which the different parts are variously grouped around one common centre, that each may add a feature to the picture, and thus complete the painting of one and the same thought. They will meet with these chains and these groups in their books, in the sermons they will hear, and even in their Prayer Books. Instruction in language must therefore familiarize them with these groups and these chains, in order to bring down to their comprehension what now soars so far above it.
2. Progressive Developement. Every thing in nature advances by a regular successive developement, and our instruction in language, if we
would obtain a satisfactory result, must observe a similar gradation in its exercises, which comprise within their range, notions simple or compound, complex or not complex; things therefore easy to be understood, and others in which there is more or less of difficulty. We have just now spoken of the proposition which from simple becomes compound, and afterwards complex by the fusion of several into one. The phrase may become still more complicated by connecting a group of propositions in order to the formation of one thought. It has been truly said, that conjugation is the very soul of language; for on the verb turns all that we think or say of persons, animals, or things. Now conjugation has certain forms adapted to the proposition, and others which only appear in the phrase, and which require what we call the compound tenses. These secondary and subaltern forms should be reserved, till, in their proper place in the phrase, they will be understood by our pupils. It would not only be useless, but prejudicial, to introduce them earlier, for we should thus accustom childhood to run away with mere words, and to substitute memory for intelligence.
As to the regular enlargement of the vocabulary in our teaching, the rules are not so clearly defined, but still there are some very obvious ones : as, for example, that the so-called synonymes should be placed at the end of the series, because they represent the most delicate shades of expression. Also that compound must come after simple words; and that words which indicate objects beyond the reach of our pupils should yield precedence to those which express things nearer to them. We need only hint at this natural order, for it carries its own sanction with it.
Is it necessary to add that instruction must advance by slow and short steps, except that teachers, measuring children by themselves, are too apt to heap difficulties together in one lesson, instead of bringing them forward one at a time? Thence the good old rule, to study few things at once, but to study them thoroughly, for thus alone can deep and lasting impressions be made on the mind.
For this purpose it is also necessary to retrace our steps. Experience has justly compared young minds to loose sand, which easily receives the figures we trace upon it, but loses them again as quickly, for the slightest breath of wind suffices to obliterate them. Thence that other maxim in teaching : “Repetition is the very soul of instruction.”. Now there are two kinds of repetition : one, in which instruction retraces its steps, in order to imprint them more deeply; and there is the further advantage in thus going over our ground again, that the intelligence of our pupils has been strengthened by exercise, and consequently understands us better the second time than the first. We would, therefore, by no means supersede this kind while we also recommend another, which does not avow itself as openly; it consists in referring occasionally to what has gone before, and thus unwinding the thread of our instructions, without ever breaking it. Children love novelty, and wish to advance in the career which we open to them; and by the process which I recommend, they will continually go forward, and the old will appear new, because it will be seen in connection with what is and will therefore present itself in a new light.
3. Practical Instruction,
Beginners understand their mother-tongue, and speak it; but they cannot classify its words, or discern the various combinations by means of which they express their thoughts. We must initiate them into grammatical study, and lead them from practice, which they have acquired, to theory, of which they are as yet utterly ignorant. But this theory may be raised and amplified at will : it may even become very subtle and abstruse ; and the question is, where to fix its boundary in a school for childhood. Now it is practice which determines this boundary. To go beyond it is superfluous and wearisome to our pupils, and consequently as injurious to their progress as to their enjoyment in life. We must then expunge from their lessons all that metaphysical redun
dance of definitions and distinctions which has been invented by scholastic subtlety, and which is as much beyond the reach as the wants of children. Besides, it entails a cloud of terms which sound harshly in their ears, however men may think to display their own learning by writing or uttering them. There are also many other and more modern refinements in language of which we would not speak to children, because they do not refer to practice. Our grammars
the Latin one, and are therefore loaded with a great deal of matter foreign to our own tongue: the object may, perhaps, have been thus to
pave for the study of the Roman tongue, which is well worthy of attention; but why, on this account, distort our own ? Besides, we should remember that women do not pass on to classical studies; and that, among boys, it is but a small proportion who do, and that only for a few years, and then lay them aside for ever : so, with a view to the whole rising generation, and with practice for our rule, we cannot listen to any compromise in this matter. We, therefore, loudly protest against passive verbs and their conjugation, for though our language has a passive power, it has not one passive termination in its verbs. We therefore hope that those which have been gratuitously imposed upon it will be cast aside, together with those nominative, genitive, and dative cases which have been imputed to a language which does not acknowledge them; but which has, in their stead, prepositions, by means of which it expresses circumstances of time, place, cause, end, manner, means, &c.; circumstances which play indeed an important part in our thoughts, and with which regular instruction in language must familiarize its pupils, under pain of having neglected one of its most essential duties.
Regular instruction in language cannot be carried on without rules; but there is a mode and a measure to be observed in our way of presenting them to childhood. Rules have been established on facts, and to facts we must refer them; and thus teach children to do by a rational process what hitherto they have only done by blind imi