Training in ‘General Structures?/span>
We saw the first instalment of GSs
in Lesson 2. Let’s now go through the second instalment.
Some of you may now be thinking like this:
‘Oh, these are all elementary sentences. Why should I learn
them at all?? If you have any such thought, give it
up. The aim of the practice with GSs is not to improve your
understanding of the meanings of words or word groups. The
aim of the practice is to help you get your organs of speech
used to working in a special way ?the way the English language
wants them to work. You must be clear in your mind about this
aim. That’s why I explained the reasons behind our drills
early on. (Here, read through what I have said about GSs in
Lesson 2). Of course, the drills give you another benefit
on the side: They put you in the midst of ‘everyday vocabulary?
?word groups that help you carry on conversations of all
kinds. But that’s only a side benefit. The main aim of the
drills with GSs is this: To get the patterns of the structures
fixed in your mind, so that it becomes second nature to you
to use those patterns to build speech.
The way speech gets produced
Here’s something you should firmly understand:
You know, human beings have a tendency ?
the tendency to imitate things. You have that tendency; everybody
has that tendency.
The word ‘imitate?only roughly expresses the idea. There’s
no exact word for that tendency. But you can easily get an
idea of what that tendency is: That tendency is to make things
by copying. To make new things that are similar to the things
that are already known ?by using the known things as models.
For example, if you hear a song with a special
tune, you have a tendency to make up other songs with the
same tune ?using other words. If you notice that most others
are wearing a particular kind of dress, you have a tendency
to get a similar dress for you. If you’re faced with a tough
situation and you have to take a decision, your tendency is
to find out whether others have faced similar situations in
the past, and if so, what decisions they have taken.
All these are examples of the same thing
?our mental slant. We always imitate. Sometimes consciously;
sometimes unconsciously. Show me something. I am sure
to imitate it ?consciously or unconsciously. And here comes
the importance of the GSs. I’m putting you in the middle of
those GSs. You’re sure to imitate them ?consciously
or unconsciously. And what is the result of this imitation?
Production of new idea units, of course! That is, new idea
units that are similar to the GS word groups.
Frame-work for speech-production
Now we can look at everything from another
angle. Suppose you want to make up a song. Your work will
be easier if you have another song to copy. Suppose you want
to make a dress. Your work will be easier, if you have another
dress as a ‘pattern? Suppose you want to take a decision
on some issues. Your work will be easier, if you have another
decision on a similar issue as a guide.
So this is the point: It’ll be easier for
you to do anything, if you can have another thing as a reference
or pattern or guide or frame-work.
Of course, when you make anything with reference
to a pattern or guide or frame-work, you’re free to make changes
here and there. But the point is this: The pattern or guide
or frame-work will make it easy for you to make new things.
This is so about making new idea units, too. GSs are nothing
but patterns or guides or frame works. That’s why they’re
called ‘structures? Think about the structure of a tall building.
It’s just a frame-work or skeleton. You have to fill it up
with bricks and other materials to make the building. In the
same way, a GS is only a frame-work or a skeleton. You can
fill it up with words and word groups to make an idea unit.
Shape of speech units
You see, the word groups given under
GS No. 1, GS No. 2, GS No. 3, etc. are only examples
of GSs ?and not GSs themselves. GSs are the ‘shapes?of those
examples. For example, look at the examples under GS No. 1.
They all have a common shape, don’t they? That ‘shape?is
GS No. 1. It’s that ‘shape?that must get ‘imprinted?on your
Think about children. Take the case
of a boy or girl aged 10 or 12. Their vocabulary in their
mother-tongue isn’t large. They know how to use just about
2000 words or so in their mother-tongue. That’s all. But still,
aren’t they able to speak fluently in their mother-tongue?
You see, they’ve learnt to fit those few
words in different ways into the basic syntactic structures
of their language ?unconsciously. They’ve unconsciously picked
up the ‘feel?about the various structures by listening to
other people and from reading ?and through actively using
them in real life situations. They’ve also learnt how to fill
those structures with the words and word groups they know.
These structures and the limited vocabulary
they’ve mastered are the core of their language skill. These
core structures help them expand their fluency, because whenever
they learn a new word or word group, they can easily fit them
into those structures, and make newer and newer idea units.
For example, a boy or girl of 10 or 12 has been exposed only
to a very limited quantity of their mother-tongue. Yet, with
that limited quantity, they’re able to produce an unlimited
quantity of idea units. The key to this mystery is this: They
have mastery over the core structures, and these core structures
help them process, bend, twist and manipulate the limited
quantity of the language they know in a number of different
ways. They can fit the words and word groups they know into
the basic structures appropriately ?to suit their communicative
convenience. In short, the core structures help them juggle
with and manipulate the words they know. The core structures
are their fluency tools.
It’s true that children know only a
very few words. Yes, they’re exposed only to a limited quantity
of language. But there’s one thing. They come across this
limited quantity not just a few times, but a lot of
times. They come across and use the few words that they know
in a large number of contexts and situations. And they’re
exposed to the limited quantity of the language they know
quite frequently, too.
So this is the point: The more frequently
you come across the same thing, the more you will become acquainted
with it. That’s why it’s useless to spend your time trying
to learn a lot of ‘newer?and ‘newer?words. Instead, you
should be paying more and more attention to the words you
The most important point in vocabulary
Why do you speak at all? What is the
reason why you speak to someone? Because you want to be nice
and friendly to them ?or because you want to communicate
something to them. Isn’t that so? But will you be successful
in your efforts if the addressees do not understand
the words you use? If they don’t understand your words, is
there any point in your speaking to them? Of course not.
So isn’t one thing plain? Your speech must
be ‘understandable?to your addressees. And how can you make
sure that what you say would be ‘understandable?to your addressees?
The most important thing you should do is this: Use only those
words that the addressees can understand. That is, the words
you use must be known to the addressees. But this brings up
a difficulty. Is it practically possible to find out how many
words each of your addressees know?
So the only solution to this problem is this:
There are certain fundamental, everyday, words. These are
words that every speaker normally uses and every hearer normally
understands. Use only those words while you’re speaking. Then
you can be sure that your addressees would understand those
About words you should master
Now what are these fundamental, everyday,
words? You see, they’re the core-words I told you about in
Here let me tell you one thing: There’s no
use in making up a list of the core-words and learning their
meanings alone. For example, the word ‘beautiful?means ‘nice
to look at? You certainly should have a clear understanding
of this meaning in your mind. But you needn’t learn to explain
this meaning in words. What you need to learn is to ‘use?
the word ‘beautiful? That is, you need to fit this word into
the various structures that are possible. This means that
you must have a command of these structures.
You’ll come across the most essential ones
among the core words several times in this course. They’ve
been spread out throughout the several Lessons in such a way
that they stick in your mind unconsciously. Here you should
note two things:
1) I am not talking about limiting the vocabulary
range to an artificial number (say, 2000 words), because occasionally,
you’ll have to go beyond this range ?depending on the nature
of the topic you’re speaking about. And may have to use several
‘special words? too. These special words are not part of
the core words. I have already told you about these special
words in Lesson 2. Now go back to Lesson 2 and find out what
these special words are.
2) Nobody can be precise and say that
there are only 2000 core words, or 1999 core words or 2001
core words. All we can say is this: There are about 2000 words
that can meet more than 75% of everybody’s vocabulary needs
in speech. And if you have a complete mastery of about 3500
most frequently-used words, vocabulary difficulty won’t stop
you from being fluent. When you want to speak about a wide
variety of subjects, especially in educated circles, you may
have to use a higher vocabulary range. But even then, if you
have a good command of about 4700 words, you won’t have any
So the crux of all I have been saying
is this: There’s no use in hunting after ‘newer?and ‘newer?
words ?as far as fluency building is concerned. That is not
worth the effort.
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Remember this: I am speaking about production
vocabulary, that too, speech-production vocabulary, and not
about recognition vocabulary. That is, I’m speaking
about the vocabulary you need to have mastery of in order
to produce speech ?and not about the vocabulary that
you need to have acquaintance with in order you understand
written things while reading. Mind you, our aim is ‘fluency
development? For fluency development, your attention should
be on words you and others are likely to actively use
in order to produce speech. (In fact, this is true
not only of fluency in spoken English, but also of fluency
in plain written English ?plain, straight-forward, modern
I’ve already pointed out in Lesson 2 that
your ‘reading?vocabulary would always be far higher than
your ‘spoken?and ‘written?vocabulary. But even if you come
across a few words that you do not know while reading, there’s
no point in rushing to learn their meanings and usage. Normally,
the context in which those words occur will give you an idea
of the whole passage.
If you’re a college graduate or above, and
if you’ve done your studies through the medium of English
in college, and if you (with your educational background)
have not come across those words so far, the chances are that
those words are not words in general use. So even if
you spend time mastering them now, you won’t be able to use