SPECIAL REPORT #4
When Good Information is Not Enough
The Cure Could Be Worse than the Disease
In our previous report, we saw that the 3nd KEY REASON why the subjunctive is so difficult for most learners is because the information they get is incomplete. It usually focuses on just one angle of the subjunctive and presents it as the-end-all-be-all solution. When put under fire, those solutions do not hold water and the student is left with more confusion and frustration than when they had started. Surprisingly enough, a huge number of learners _ AND teachers alike_ are trying to find that magic bullet on the Internet, which will enable them to understand it or even teach it effortlessly in no time. That rarely happens and despite all the effort and energy they put into it, they always get back to square one. That is the high price they pay for cheap information.
KEY REASON #4
WHY THE SUBJUNCTIVE IS MAKING YOUR LIFE MISERABLE
Good Information is Not Always Enough
The subjunctive is a complex topic, but, as we saw in our previous report part of its complexity stems from the fact that most people turn to the Internet in search of quick fixes. Unfortunately, quick fixes rarely work long term. They could offer some great tips, but never depict the whole picture, which is what anyone trying to make sense of the Spanish subjunctive really needs.
Even lots of great language instructors also help spread this type information when they inadvertently teach it in their classes and present some variables from the subjunctive as the panacea to all evils. It may all work great in class, in which the examples are suited to fit the explanation and the same happens with the exercises. The teacher is happy, the students are happy; there is a happy ending. Or is there?
But when real life shows up, well, we can see how flimsy that information is. And for those learners more interested in real life, than in just written exercises with smiley faces on them, it is back to square one. Consciously or not, that is the price that you pay for cheap information from low quality sources.
A huge number of Spanish learners continue in that vicious cycle of low quality info, false hopes, disappointment, back to square one forever. A lot, however, sooner or later realize that if they want to eat a very good nutritious meal, they need to stop going to junk-food restaurants and find a 5-start eating establishment instead.
You would think that for those learners willing to go the extra mile, a common first step would be to find a good book on the subject. Good luck with that! I went through the same process trying to suggest quality books for my students to read and work on the Spanish subjunctive. It was impossible for me to find ANY good source for that. And mind you, I did purchase a lot of grammar books trying to find that one book that would answer all of their questions in a simple and clear manner. It never happened.
For starters, every grammar book “mentions” The Spanish Subjunctive. The problem is that in grammar books the subjunctive is treated like one out of many other topics. So let’s say that in a 200 page grammar book there are 20 topics (there are usually more!), the Spanish would get roughly 10 pages of the book. Let’s be generous and assume the book devotes 20 pages to the subjunctive. Honestly, that is a joke! Such a complex topic could never be fully explained in such a limited amount of space. In order for the author to describe the subjunctive in just 20 pages, he would have to take for granted that you know a lot of grammar already, and that concepts such as “noun clauses”, “adjective clauses”, “adverbial clauses”, “antecedents”, “conjunctions”, “conditionals”, “tenses”, “imperfect”, “pluperfect” and many other colorful expressions are part of your everyday language.
I don’t know about you, but where I live, I can never hear anyone mentioning this on the street on a day to day basis. Being a second language teacher I am very aware of this terminology, but if you are not into the language teaching field, it is perfectly natural that you may not have a clue about what these words / phrases mean, and that is fine! It is subject-specific jargon irrelevant in any other area of life than this one! But when book writers have such limited space to develop such a complex topic, they have no other option than take for granted that you are a pro at this and they make use all the jargon they can get their hands on with no regrets for making your life miserable. So even if the explanations are in English, they will sound Greek to you!
I have seen lots of books like this. And even if the explanations are good, in many cases even teachers have to read them twice to make sure they can understand the ideas that the author is trying to convey. And we are talking about Spanish teachers, professionals who make a living around grammar _among other things! What hope is left for those adult students who finished school many years ago and haven’t heard any of those expressions since those days!
GOOD INFORMATION IS NEVER ENOUGH, unless the addressee of that information can fully understand it. Grammar Books offer some sort of telegraphic Cliff-notes versions of the Spanish subjunctive.
The way I see general grammar books which include the subjunctive among many other topics are a sort of great cliff-notes version of the whole topic. They could be very valuable for someone who has already studied the topic at length and is fully aware of the terminology and the conventions used for that topic and needs to be able to review everything quickly.
However, for the rest of students who need to learn from scratch how the subjunctive works, they present a double challenge. First of all, it is hard to make sense of the English explanations unless you already know a LOT of grammar. If you don’t, get ready to do tons of additional research to decipher what the author is trying to say in the first place. The second challenge for learners using these materials is that there are hardly any examples showing all of the theory in action. It is not uncommon to see a long list of phrases that trigger the use of the subjunctive in a certain context, say forty expressions, yet, there are only two to four examples and all of those examples using only one or two of those forty expressions.
It goes without saying that explanations are essential to fully grasp a concept, but even the best explanations, without room for tons of examples _and I mean TONS of them_ will just not work. It is like trying to grow a garden in the Sahara desert without any water. You may have the best intentions in the world, but if the right conditions are not present, nothing will come out of them. No wonder why so many students can pass lots of exams on the Subjunctive, yet they fail to use it in even very basic everyday situations.
KEY REASON #4 WHY THE SUBJUNCTIVE IS MAKING YOUR LIFE MISERABLE:
GOOD INFORMATION IS NEVER ENOUGH, unless the addressee of that information can fully understand it. Due to the space constraints found in most books today, this is rarely the case.
As we just mentioned, two crucial elements for second language learners are clear and concise explanations and descriptive examples to understand the workings of the language. No matter how good the books you have are, if they do not provide clear explanations and plenty of examples, your may be able to get a limited idea of how the subjunctive works, which does not guarantee in the least that you would be able to use it properly if the need arises.
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This article is part of our FREE SPECIAL VIDEO REPORT SERIES: “THE 5 KEY REASONS WHY THE SUBJUNCTIVE IS MAKING YOUR LIFE MISERABLE AND HOW TO TURN THE TABLES IN JUST 30 DAYS!”
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