Before learning a foreign language, we should first find out why people speak (even in their native language). Do they really need to do so?
Well, it turns out that people speak to achieve a desirable result. Perhaps the exception is that sometimes we speak to ourselves, but if you think about it, even that can yield a result. When learning a foreign language, for instance, we tend to talk to ourselves, and this peculiar behaviour allows us to learn what we need to learn.
Now, I do not want to step back from the previous claim, but the truth is that people can do very well without conversing with others. If the situation is one in which everything is happening on its own, and you do not need anything other than what you have received already, then you do not need to speak.
When people are with others, though, they create situations which force them to talk. They pose questions to receive something that they need or the information which they require. People answer questions so as to feel proud about helping someone else. People recite long poems to create amazement, they tell jokes to get others to laugh, they speak to a schoolchild, student or an interesting audience for educational purposes, sometimes they simply babble to keep up a conversation and to satisfy the communicative needs which are of such vital importance to people. This means that people who talk always have a goal – achieving a material, informative or, most importantly, desirable result.
Because we’ve agreed on the way in which people speak so as to achieve a desirable result, it is now time to look at what a sentence is.
A sentence is a thought or idea that is expressed in words or written down so as to achieve a specific result. A single sentence can express one or more thoughts or ideas.
If you have a minimal command over the language, others will find it easier to perceive sentences in which you only try to express one thought. It is interesting that you can put together a sentence and specifically express a thought with just one word. All that we need to do is learn how to do that. Sometimes a single word in the right place and time can replace long sentences and resolve big problems: “Drink!”, “Go!”, “Stop!”
Remember that one-word sentences will only be understandable in a specific situation and context.
Short and rational sentences are needed if others are to understand you. As they said in ancient Sparta, be laconic. The briefer and shorter the expression of your desires, the better it will be. The recommendation is that you use sentences that have no more than three or four words.
A rational sentence that everyone can understand consists of these elements: The person, the activity, the subject, the type, and the ancillary word.
Because a rational sentence should not involve more than three or four words, it is better to put together several sentences of two or three words instead of using all five of the aforementioned elements. The next chapters will focus on how to express your desire with several sentences. First, however, let’s look at the elements of a rational sentence.
The person or doer: This refers to us, our partners in conversation, or people who are directly or indirectly involved in an event. This is someone who is doing something, has done something or is going to do something. You, me, woman, man. I look. Woman talk. Man go.
The activity: This is a process or activity in which the person or doer is involved. It can apply to an object, as well. Drink, take, eat. Man drink. Take ticket. Go on.
The object: This relates to the activity. Ticket, bread, water. Take ticket. Eat bread. Drink water.
The type: This refers to all types of properties and circumstances. These apply equally to the person, the object and the activity. Cold, outside, slow, to, from. Cold food. Sleep outside. Walk slowly. To Paris. From Paris.
Ancillary words: Ancillary words help us to put together sentences with questions or denials. We can also use them to link various elements in a sentence: Where, when, and, yes, no. When breakfast? Where bread? Tea and coffee. Tea, yes. Coffee, no.
Although we do not recommend sentences with more than three or four words, there may be cases where slightly longer sentences are needed.
This happens when there is more than one of each of the elements in the sentence (person, activity, object, type, ancillary word). Man and woman eat together. I want large hot tea. The first sentence includes two persons, while the second one includes two types.
Longer sentences can also involve ancillary words such as “and”, “where”, “yes”, and so on. The word “and” already appeared in the sentence about the man and woman eating together. Here’s another example involving “where”: “Where train to Paris?”
Still, let’s always remember: The shorter the sentence, the easier it is to express and understand it.
Before continuing, let’s repeat a few truths. First of all, people talk so as to achieve the result that they want. Second, you can make do without talking if everything in a specific situation is perfect.
If you want someone to do something specific, you have to say so. Perhaps you want the other person to answer your question about the direction in which you should go. If you can arrange one or more words into a logical sentence, then that means that you can express your desire, thought or idea.
A single thought, sentence or word will not always be enough to achieve your goal. That is because the things that we want to say or achieve can involve several things. We must learn a few things to understand what to do in such a situation.
Let’s name these things. The results that we desire are an idea, and each component in the idea is a thought.
Here’s a very simple situation: You are in Southern Europe. It is very hot. You are thirsty, and you want some cool water. That is the idea. It includes four different thoughts which can be expressed in brief sentences:
The first thought: You are thirsty.
The second thought: You want some water.
The third thought: You want some cool water.
The fourth thought: Just a small amount of water will be enough.
If you try to express this seemingly simply idea in one sentence, then the sentence will have to be long and grammatically complex. You will have to know the grammar of the language, as well as the specifics of forming sentences. You will have to put that knowledge to use. Otherwise you might be misunderstood. Someone might think that you are feeling cold, so you want to drink something hot. Perhaps you will be given water that is not good for drinking. If it is hot outside and you want cool water, of course, there will be no misunderstandings. In other situations, however, it is very easy to make a mistake. Use my advice. Divide up your idea into several thoughts. Express each thought with a short and simple sentence. People will understand you even if you have a small vocabulary and don’t have perfect knowledge about grammar.
Let me repeat this: The shorter the sentence, the less effect grammar has on whether or not you will be understood.
There are two different elements in successful communications: A good vocabulary, and the ability to speak clearly. It is good if these two things supplement one another, but that is not always the case.
We all know about funny or sad situations in which someone speaks a language that we understand. He speaks and speaks, but no one in the audience understands what he wants to say. Perhaps things that the audience understood are no longer clear. THIS IS BABBLING.
We also know people who can quickly and concretely deliver an idea to each listener, even if he speaks a different language. That is laconic talk.
The word “laconic” comes from Ancient Sparta. We know that the Spartans were always going to war. They were born to become soldiers. Not everyone knows, however, that the Spartans laid the groundwork for laconic talking. In an extreme battle situation, any hesitation or misunderstanding could lead to terrible consequences. Short, concrete and comprehensible communication – laconic communication – was needed. The Spartans introduced that form of communication.
Only legends survive about Ancient Sparta, but we still appreciate people who can express themselves briefly and laconically. It is easy to communicate with them and understand them.
The conclusion: Learn to divide your desire or idea into separate thoughts or short, logical sentences. Then you can state your desire precisely, and it doesn’t matter how many words you do or do not know. Vocabulary and grammar are not of decisive importance here. Learn to speak briefly and understandably. Only then try to improve your grammatical and vocabulary skills to enrich your style of speaking. Here we can use a well-known phrase: Style is not important. Thirst determines everything.
If you can’t express your desire or idea with one sentence, then you need more than one sentence. Please remember, however, that the main thought must always be expressed before less important thoughts.
There is no point in discussing secondary issues if agreement has not been reached on the main one. Always pause between individual thoughts or sentences.
Which thought is important and which one is secondary? That depends on your situation. It is a subjective decision.
Think of it this way: You need a room for the night. The size and price of the hotel room are not important. First you must make it clear that you want to spend the night at the hotel. Only then is it worth talking about what kinds of rooms there are and how much they cost. If, however, price is more important than the hotel as such, you will act in the opposite way.
Don’t be afraid to use the same words in several sentences if you need more than one to express your desires. That is highly recommended. It will help you not to lose the overall concept of your thought.
Here’s an example: It is cold. You are hungry. You want hot food. You would prefer hot soup. Here are the sentence elements:
I want eat. Want eat hot. Want hot soup.
The first sentence makes it clear that you are hungry, and you will learn whether food is available. Next you agree on hot food. The last sentence expresses your specific desire.
If you only want hot soup and nothing else, then “want hot soup” will be enough.
Now you know how to put together a simple and rational sentence. Let’s turn to questions and denials.
Questions: If you want to ask a question in another language, the most important thing is to learn the ancillary words that are needed. There are just a few easy words: What, where, when and how much. If you also know how to ask how and why, your skills will be beyond survival level.
Next we’ll learn how to use these words correctly in sentences.
First you must determine the object of the question – a person, an activity, an object and, of course, a type.
If you want the other person to understand you precisely, choose just one thought or word as the object of the sentence. Make your sentences as short as possible. You can use just a couple of words – the object and the ancillary word: Where water? How much money?
Of course, there will be cases in which you can’t describe the object with just one word. For instance, you need to get to Paris. You need to take the train. Here is the question: When train to Paris? “Train” and “Paris” are a single thought in this example. You don’t need any train to any destination. You don’t need other transport to Paris. You will only be satisfied by “train to Paris.”
In questions, the questioning word is usually before the object of the question.
Denials: It is easier to put together a constructive denial than to ask a question. To deny something in another language, choose the object, just as if you were preparing a question. The object, again, can be a person, an activity, an object or a type.
One word is enough to express denial: “No”. Fast no, you no, coffee no.
Here I will repeat myself. Just like with questions, choose just one word as the object of the denial so that the other person understands you precisely. Reduce the length of your sentence as much as possible. Use just two words – the object and the word “no”.
A longer sentence may mean a misunderstanding. The other person may think that you are not thirsty at all. Perhaps he will think that you don’t want the beverage that he is offering.
Sometimes a sentence of denial is easier and more precise by contrasting one confirmation and one denial: Drink yes. Coffee no.
The word of denial can be before or after the object. If you want to stress the denial, use the ancillary word twice: No, no more! No, no tea!
Future and past tenses are put together similarly to questions and denials.
When you are traveling, you most often use the present or future tense. The past is not very important in such situations. The past is important when talking about your life or when the guilty person must be identified.
A sentence which does not apply to the present is easier to put together with a logical contradiction or comparison. As with a denial, you can compare the other tense to the present: Coffee drink later. Now no. Later.
If you need a sentence about the past, do the same as with a denial or the future tense. To express past events with a contradiction, you can use words such as now, later and before.