BASIC ENGLISH: International Second Language
Section One, Part One, pp 39-46
3. Teaching and Learning
As an auxiliary language constructed to meet the needs of persons of all ages and as a first step to any form of wider English or as an educational instrument, Basic English has to offer not one but several methods of presentation.
It is obvious that a different approach must be adopted in teaching adults with a knowledge of a Western European language, and those with a knowledge only of non-European languages ; and there is a further difference between the methods applicable to children who are learning English in English schools 29 by the method of Basic, and those who are learning Basic in the first instance as an end in itself.
The three key volumes, on which all other teaching material
(1) The ABC of Basic English. A graded explanation in Basic, providing a structural outline of the system, for translation into their languages.
(2) Basic Step by Step. The 850 words in 30 illustrated lessons, graded in relation to structure and for adaptation to class requirements.
(3) The Basic Words. The senses and uses of the 850 words, with the compounds and internationals, in alphabetical order.
A general introductory course for schools was prepared in 1937 (see page 74), and a number of adaptations, in various languages, have now been published or are in preparation. Basic in a Month, 30 for adults with a knowledge of a European language, will complete this preliminary educational material.
In due time, the child of tomorrow will gradually absorb Basic by an ideal technique in four stages beginning in the cradle with phonetic exercises not directly related to the symbolic side of the vocabulary, followed by the alphabet 31 and the simpler words at the age of significant speech ; a first attempt on the vocabulary as a whole; and finally, at the school-leaving age, a few weeks of intensive study to consolidate the system.
In addition, there would be five brief courses for those who speak English as a native tongue ; for children, for adults, for typists, for translators, and for teachers.
All these approaches, however much they may differ in detail, will have one underlying principle in common : the fullest possible exploitation of the vestural (concrete), and visual factors in learning.
A series of gramophone records, giving the pronunciation of the 850 words, with an account of the sounds of Basic English, has been made by Professor Lloyd James.32 Later records will deal with the grammatical rules, and provide specimen conversations -- a complete radio series.
The value of a gramophone course to the self-taught student must be obvious to all, but less generally recognized is the value of such a course in supplementing the work of a trained teacher. A record obviates the fatigue of reiteration and may be played over and over again till its matter has been assimilated by even the dullest members of a class.
The phonetic advantages of language records are twofold. They create a standard pronunciation, and by reproducing different types of voice they make it possible to show how pronunciation is affected by variations of tone and pitch. Between male and female voices these variations are so considerable that where teacher and class are of opposite sexes, a gramophone is invaluable for the purpose of demonstrating the necessary adjustment of pronunciation when the vocal noises made by the teacher are transposed by the class.33
The visual memory is appealed to by various 'panoptic' devices : the presentation of the vocabulary as a visual unit, the diagrams of operations and directions, and above all the Panópticon. This word wheel is a contrivance for teaching sentence-formation, and consists of a series of concentric revolving disks, on each of which is printed a list of words belonging to one of the Basic categories (name, operation-word, directive, qualifier, or modifier). These classes of words are so arranged as to compare with the order of the different classes of words in typically constructed sentences, and when the disks
are revolved, sentences of different types are automatically formed.
By means of this simple mechanical device every exegetic need can be appropriately met. It is a matter only of how much is to be attempted above the minimum; the seven disks required to illustrate the primary sentence-model, viz. "(I) will give simple rule(s) to (the) boy slowly" can readily be expanded to the normal twelve of a complex sentence, even after a few days’ practice.
The invention lends itself to demonstrations of various kinds. For example, the experiment of readily discovering which directives can be combined with which operation-words may be carried out most satisfactorily (and most dramatically from the standpoint of the teacher), by rotating the second of the concentric disks (operation-words) against the fifth (directives).
Every combination which gives a reference physically possible in common experience may be used in Basic English, and is also used in ordinary English. At this point those familiar with Indo-European languages can be shown how each fresh combination of operation-word and directive exhibited by the rotation enables them to dispense with one or more of the common verbs
-- which will afford a convenient opportunity to introduce the important features of analysis and substitution which have made Basic English possible.
Any systematic method of teaching a language must grade lessons in some ordered manner, so that the simplest and
most concrete requirements are mastered first, forming in turn basis for the more difficult words and structures, On the same principle, the Panopticon first teaches the beginner how he may form sentences on the model of uniform word-order, restricting use of the operation-words to the present tense, and then leads him by gradual stages to the use of the full range of operation-word conjugates in the numerous variations of order sanctioned by the conventions of English style.
On the vocabulary side, the graded school course, with illustrations, is already available -- The Basic Way (see page 74) in which a certain number of words are introduced in each lesson, the words becoming more difficult as the lessons proceed. In grading material on this principle, it must, however, be remembered that the unique character of Basic makes it a law unto itself, and for this reason its gradations are bound to diverge very considerably from even the most competently constructed gradations in a system which neither eliminates verbs nor reduces its vocabulary to the point at which substitution technique becomes really important.
The 850 words may best be memorized in groups related to the chief interests of everyday life, and put together in model sentences which may be operated with the help of the sentence-builder. It is recommended that the adult should frame such groups for himself. The complete vocabulary takes a quarter of an hour to repeat on the gramophone records. The average learner can memorize 30 words per hour (maximum 100).
Assuming that 3 hours a day for a month are to be devoted to the system, and that 28 hours in all will be necessary to memorize the entire vocabulary, two hours a day will be available for the rules and for sentence practice. This practice will, of course, be largely concerned with the form-changes of operation-words and directives on pages 169 and 170.
As a guide for teaching purposes, a companion volume to The ABC of Basic English and Basic Step by Step has been prepared -- entitled Basic by Examples.
Anyone with a knowledge of one of the Indo-European languages will naturally find the learning of the vocabulary a comparatively simple matter. More than 35 percent of the words will be recognized by a Frenchman, and a slightly lower percentage by a German.34 So that for some 300,000,000 foreign learners the time required might be reduced by approximately one quarter (apart from the advantage of familiarity with the sentence structure).
The needs of foreigners with language structures differing greatly from our own must receive special treatment, since the rate of 30 words per hour is based on the learning of word-pairs (i.e., one Basic word with its foreign equivalent), which is not possible in all languages. For children, graded picture courses will supplement the material in Basic Step by Step.
Finally, in addition to these various treatments of Basic as a system complete in itself for all classes of learners, there is the problem of providing the necessary links with Standard English for those who desire to supplement their knowledge by degrees.35 With this purpose in view, the next 150 words (making a total of 1,000), the subsequent 350, increased to 500 and thereafter to 1,000 or (incorporating the essentials of the verb-manipulation) to 2,000, as well as a series of special vocabularies, have all been selected on the same principles as the Basic words themselves. At no point will the learner have anything to unlearn ; and when the entire material is available for orthodox educational requirements it will be found that Basic itself constitutes a unique foundation for all further language study.
One special point deserves mention here. It is obvious that the majority of the 850 words in the list are capable of other uses than those which Basic, as a universal medium, permits ; and at some stage in the acquisition of Standard English these further uses, treating the words themselves as roots, will clearly find a place in the expanded system. At first, however, the nucleus must be kept intact -- until the graded additions have provided the necessary analogies for new derivatives and inflections. Confusion is otherwise inevitable ; and, in particular, the introduction of 50 characteristic (strong) verbs at an appropriate stage (preferably after a total of 1,500 has been passed) is essential to the desired transition.
The first supplement consists therefore of the 150 names of animals, plants, and foods, which have no international distribution. This extension of the list of picturables may then be followed by the 350 first-level addenda, and so on ; at the same time the special vocabularies which have been prepared for the application of Basic to trade and economics, and for The Basic Bible, are available for gradual incorporation in the general list at the 2,000 level. Meanwhile the following provisional list of 350 early candidates may be suggestive to our collaborators.
absence, accident, address, adventure, advice, age, agent, ago, along, also, always, ambition, anchor, ankle, arrangement, ash, awkward,
balcony, barrel, beard, beat, behind, belt, bet, blame, blanket, both, bottom, brave, breakfast, breast, bubble, bud, bunch, burial, busy,
calculation, call, capital, carpet, case, ceremony, chair, character, child, chimney, china, choice, civilization, clay, clever, collection, column, communication, concert, concrete, convenient, cool, corner, cost, crop, cross, cunning,
date, demand, department, dew, difficulty, dinner, disgrace, dislike, ditch, dive, divorce, doll, dreadful, dream. dull, duty,
each, easy, economy, effort, either, employer, empty, enemy, envelope, envy, evening, exact, excitement, exercise, explanation, explosion, expression, eyebrow, eyelash, failure, fair, famous, fan, fastening, fever, figure, financial, flash, flesh, flood, flour, forecast, forehead, foreign, forgiveness, fresh, frost, frozen, funny, fur, furniture,
gate, generation, germ, god, grand, grateful, grease, grief, grocery, ground, guard, guess, gum, habit, handkerchief, handle, heavy, hedge, hill, holiday, home, honest, honey, human, hunt, huffy, hurt, husband, imagination, innocent, institution, intelligent, invitation, jam, jaw, jealous, jerk, joint, jug, juice, jury, justice,
kennel, kidney, kitchen, knock, lace, lame, lamp, large, lawyer, lazy, lecture, legal, lesson, lever, licence, lid, life, lime, liver, load, local, loop, luck, lump, lunch, lung, magic, manner, many, marble, marriage, mast, mattress, mean, meaning, medicine, member, mess, message, mill, mineral, model, modern, modest, mood, moral, mud, murder, mustache,
nasty, nature, navy, neat, neglect, neighbor, nest, next, nice, nostril, nurse, obedient, officer, orchestra, organ, origin, oval, own, pad, pair, pan, paragraph, party, passage, patience, pedal, people, perfect, plaster, poetry, pool, practice, praise, prayer, prick, priest, progress, promise, proof, proud, pupil, pure,
race, real, reference, remark, remedy, repair, result, revenge, rich, rise, rival, rude, rust,
sale, satisfaction, saucer, scratch, screen, search, selfish, sentence, set, shave, sheet, shell, shoulder, show, sight, since, sleeve, social, soldier, sorry, spark, spirit, spit, .splash, spot, stable, stair, steady, storm, strain, straw, stream, string, study, subject, success, sum, supply, surface, surgeon, suspicious, sawing, sympathetic,
tailor, tame, tap, tear, tent, thief, thimble, threat, tie, too, towel, tower, traffic, tragedy, trap, travel, treatment, truck, tube, tune, tunnel, twin, typist, ugly, understanding, universe, valley, vegetable, victim, victory, vote, weak, welcome, whether, widow, wife, wild, world, wreck, wrist, yawn.
The psychological value of synthetic language experiments has been emphasized, and their interest in regard to statistics of learning is also considerable. Hitherto, of course, advocates of these experiments have been able to contrast the regularity of their own constructions with the complexity and eccentricity of English. Thus the experience of foreigners is said to be "well illustrated by the remarks of a German bank official sent over here to polish up his English. "English - seven years hard study.
I would have committed suicide rather than learn it, had I known what it meant. Esperanto - seven months and at the end a knowledge of the language such as I can never hope to have of English."36 Foreign businessmen, the writer continues, are not slow to appreciate the time and money which this means, "and the rapidly increasing use of Esperanto for business is the result. If enthusiasts will spend seven months in order to get in touch with a handful of fellow-enthusiasts, the rapidity with which Basic might conquer the world of commerce will be obvious to all who have followed us so far.
Basic has the initial advantage of being able to avoid all appeal to authority.
It is already so simple that it can be mastered theoretically in a day, practically in a week, orientally (with a suitable intensive course) in a month.
It has both the wind and tide of simplification in its favor. Every conscious effort at simplification, every advance in phonetics, every fresh achievement of radio, of gramophone, and of talkie make its progress more assured ; and the whole of the analytic tendency of the newer English-speaking communities will work to render its idiomatic irregularities less numerous, its word-order more elastic, and its resources more extensive.
When the founder of Esperanto looked into the future, he could only say in the preface of the Fundamento : "If any authoritative central institution finds this or the other word or rule in our language is too inconvenient, it must not remove or change the said form, but may propose a new form which it will recommend to be used parallel with the old form (until usage decides) . "But for the advocate of Basic the formula might run as follows : "As soon as analogical contamination shall have rendered any irregularity unnecessary (for purposes of idiomatic communication), that form or phrase can be abandoned ; and as soon as any term or symbol becomes internationalized in any of the rapidly developing international sciences, that term is then automatically added to the vocabulary of Basic qua scientific medium."
Nor must it be forgotten that when once Basic is established as a universal linguistic foundation, its technique of expansion is chiefly the acquisition of further invariable names ; and since such names can be added at an average rate of one every two minutes, a few hundred addenda could at any time be acquired over the week-end. In other words, the time may not be far distant when governments will initiate special Language Weeks to focus attention on the benefits accruing to a community through any extension of its power of communicating with other communities ; when the public prints will feature the year’s most plausible guess at the next most useful word ; and when philanthropists will solace their retiring years by watching Basic Institutes rise around them for the diffusion of defter definitions and dumpier dictionaries.
29. As an antidote to the prevailing word magic encouraged by the echo ("correct usage") method ; as a substitute for the older forms of grammatical
training ; as a nucleus in terms of which the vocabulary may be extended ; as a
medium for the simplification of scientific knowledge ; as a technique the study of poetry and literature ; and as an apparatus for the development of clarity in thought and expression. See Basic in Teaching, by I. A. Richards, and Statement and Suggestion, by A. P. Rossiter.
30. This book, which it was hoped to get out in 1944, was never completed its original form. The same ground was covered, in greater detail, in The Basic Teacher (1950). ED.
31. See From Pictures to Letters (1937), by Ellen Walpale.
32. Since replaced by others made by Professor J. C. Catford. ED.
33. It needs to be kept in mind, here and elsewhere, that Ogden was writing before the days of language laboratories and tape-recorders. ED.
34. Cf. Eddy, M. H., 'The French Element in English,' Modern Language Journal.
35. One such linking course, From Basic to Wider English, has now been on
the market since 1944. A completely revised edition is just being published.  ED.
36. International Language, April 1930, p. 81.
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