The Nature of Basic English
Let us be
clear at the start what Basic English is. It is a highly compact and
serviceable unit of the English language, in the sense that men may express
themselves In It for a wide variety of purposes and that it already possesses
an extensive literature, it is also a self-contained unit, a language in
miniature which may well solve the problem of International communication.
Moreover, since it is simple but not distorted English, and since it selects
for attention the most essential words, uses, and grammar, it is the best
foundation for any wider study of the language.
foreigner bent on complete mastery of English, the sky's the limit; a lifetime
may be spent in studying its finer points. But the first step, whatever one's
ultimate goal may be, is to learn enough English to be able to express oneself
in it freely and with confidence. Basic achieves this limited objective with
the greatest possible economy of time and effort. The student may get a
bird's-eye view of the task before him by looking at the Word List printed on
the single sheet which forms the frontispiece of this book. With these 850
words and 50 of the growing number of terms which are more or less
International, he need never be at a loss.
selection is the outcome of a comprehensive and systematic survey of the
language, which disclosed among other important facts that the numerous complex
verbs of English could be covered with the help of sixteen simple operators
and two auxiliaries. It is not based on the statistics of word-counters, nor Is
It merely a random collection of useful and common words. Each word has its
place in the system because of the work it will do in combination with the
rest. In this way alone has it been possible to produce an effective vocabulary
of English within so small a compass.
The Purpose of the Course
satisfactory presentation of Basic as a teaching system calls for an
understanding of the nature of the material to be presented, there is no one
prescribed method which all who claim to teach Basic must follow. Provided
certain principles implied in the Basic approach are observed, the pattern of
the lessons may be varied considerably to suit different types of student and
different teaching conditions. It is therefore incumbent on author to state the
object with which a particular textbook has been written.
It is not the purpose
of this book to use Basic English as a means of teaching a smattering of the
English language to the greatest possible number of students In the shortest
possible time; nor does it aim at providing a method of instruction that can be
applied universally, for such methods necessarily cater for the needs of the
most handicapped at the expense of the rest. The present course provides for an
important section of the better-equipped students. It has been planned with the
adult, or more or less adult, European learner in mind, and is intended for
those whose object is to make a thorough study of Basic English, either for use as an international language or as an introduction to wider English. It explores the resources of Basic as fully as is practicable within the limits of a single graded course, and does so with the help of some formal grammar, presented in terms with which European students may be assumed to be familiar. In these respects it differs from Basic Step by Step i(a schematic outline for European teachers) and "The Basic Way to English" (a school series for India, Africa, and certain other non-European areas), both of which are elementary courses.
In comparison with the 'blitz' tactics which are sometimes favored in connection with experiments in mass teaching, the methods employed in The Basic Teacher may seem conservative, and even old-fashioned. The more spectacular tactics, however, though they may give a useful start in certain conditions, are no substitute for the systematic and detailed exposition that is offered in this book. Informal, direct method teaching, relying on example rather than on precept or explanation, can doubtless give hesitant pupils self-confidence In the early stages and encourage their active co-operation with the teacher; but its limitations quickly become apparent in the handling of advanced material. For this reason it seldom ventures beyond simple sentence-patterns and set phrases, which are quite inadequate unless they can be supplemented by the further knowledge of English which a foreigner picks up fairly rapidly by living in an English-speaking community. but not otherwise. Therefore, even students who have been introduced to Basic by these methods are recommended to use The Basic Teacher for revision and reference. For others, accustomed to routine study, the formal treatment will present no difficulty, and the careful analysis of usage will help them to avoid numerous pitfalls. In fact, In the process of informing the Basic learner, so many points of ordinary English usage are here usefully covered that teachers of English to foreigners, and particularly foreign teachers, may find it a helpful handbook even if they are not following the Basic system.
It is intended that the course shall be translated into the main European languages. Two translations, into German and Italian, have already been prepared and will shortly be in the press. In its English form, naturally, the course can only be studied with the assistance of a teacher familiar with the student's mother-tongue: but, as the title implies, the book is itself a teacher, and the translated versions may be used or self-teaching. Students working by themselves, however, should get a teacher or an English friend to correct their exercises and help them with pronunciation, paying special attention to the suggestions made on p. xiv.
The Scheme of the Course The course consists of 45 Steps and falls into three distinct parts, as follows: Steps 1-25, teaching structure (or grammar) and vocabulary: Steps 26-35, completing the Introduction of the vocabulary; Steps 36-45, bringing In no new words except the international teams, numbers, weights and measures, and so on, the purpose of this last section being to give practice in the words already learned and to teach further idioms and senses which will improve the learner's command of Basic. In the first part, some Steps deal entirely with structure, some are reading Steps, and others are a combination of the two. The plan has been to present the grammatical framework of the system in as clear and convenient a form as possible and to introduce each new point into the reading section which follows. In addition, the vocabulary of a structure Step is used in the next reading Step, so that every word may be seen in a proper context. The reading material is of adult interest and deals with everyday topics. From Step 26 onwards there are reading Steps only, and, though some details of grammar are explained in the notes to these, all the main grammatical features are covered in the first 25 Steps. Every Step throughout the course is accompanied by exercises.
Each new learning-item is impressed on the student in two ways-by explanation and by Illustration. Thus, each statement of a grammatical rule or point is followed by one example or more demonstrating how it is applied and similarly, each new sense, idiom, or construction exhibited in the reading matter is made the subject of an explanatory note. In Steps 36-45, these notes (and likewise the instructions for the exercises at the end of the Steps) are written in Basic, to encourage students to think in Basic and to put their new knowledge to some practical use.
Many of the phrases and details of usage that are explained in notes will doubtless be understood in context by the learner, but unless his attention is specifically drawn to them, and guidance given where necessary, his knowledge of them will, for the most part, remain passive. That is to say, he will understand them when they are used by others, but will either fail to use them himself or will use them wrongly. This course aims at giving the Basic student an active grasp of all the material that is put before him.
In this English edition, both the grammatical explanations and the reading notes are fuller than they are likely to be in a translation of the course, because every detail that might be a source of difficulty for students of some nationality has had to be covered. In a translated version, references to points of usage that are paralleled in the learner's language can be omitted.
The combined use of exposition and examples (accompanied, of course, by adequate practice) is, in our view, the method of language-teaching best suited to the needs of older students. We have heard a great deal recently about the so-called 'natural' methods, which substitute pantomime and pictorial aids for the learner's language as a medium of Instruction, and rely on constant drill and repetition. This is advocated as the child's way of learning. it is true, certainly, that children first learn to prattle in some such fashion, but the process is a slow one, and it is also a full-time job. Children hear their mother-tongue spoken around them all day long, and their conversational efforts are continuous, as their mothers and nurses know to their cost, It is obviously impossible to reproduce these conditions in the classroom, where exigencies of time dictate that a language must be learned, and not simply 'picked up.' Moreover, as we advance beyond the nursery, we develop new and, on the whole, more efficient learning powers, based on
a capacity to reason and generalize, while at the same time losing our childish gifts of mimicry and easy memorization.
It is therefore not unreasonable to infer that students of mature years will assimilate a language more readily if it is presented to them as a connected whole and not as a set of unrelated facts. They prefer their facts classified, tabulated, and logically connected. To teach Basic outside the nursery without taking full advantage of the scrupulous grading and logical development to which the system lends itself is to abuse a well-made tool. Is the student to learn parrot-fashion which operators are used with which action-nouns, or will he profit by the clue offered in the note on having your bath in Step 12 ? Shall we teach the omission of the article in phrases like go to school, in bed, at church as three distinct idioms, or link them by the explanation given in the note on to school in Step 20 ? Must the sense connection between each -ing form and its root noun be learned separately. or shall we classify the main senses as is done in Step 24 ?
Our view is that it is an insult to the intelligence of older students to deny them a reasoned account of what they are asked to learn - the sort of account for which gestures and other explanatory devices can hardly ever be a substitute, however usefully they may occasionally supplement it. At the same time, the sequence of exposition -- illustration -- use in a context -- exercise, which has normally been followed in the book, ensures that the student will use what he is taught. A language cannot be learned merely by talking about it. Like carpentry or, for that matter, reading and writing, it is a practical skill which we must exercise in order to become proficient.
The material of the course has been carefully organized for teaching purposes. but it is not proposed to lay down a set routine which every teacher should adopt. Within the framework provided by the Steps, various teaching procedures may be followed. The teacher is advised to take advantage of this flexibility and to handle the lessons in whatever way best serves his particular purpose or suits his own individual style of teaching. He should take into account the size of his class (bearing in mind that in individual teaching a more thorough treatment is possible), the aptitude of his pupils, the time at his disposal. and so on He should also consider whether an all-round knowledge of English is desired or whether special emphasis is to be placed on writing, speaking, or reading.
It is assumed that an average class will be able to work through an average Step in an hour. It should be understood, however, that the Steps are convenient groupings of material rather than carefully proportioned lessons. Some Steps (for example, 17 and 24) are a great deal more heavily loaded than others, and at the teacher's discretion these should be spread over two lesson periods.
If ability to write the language is the main object, the teacher should give frequent dictation from the reading text and the examples. Many of the exercises should be written, and the teacher may set simple composition
themes connected with the reading text or ask the student to re-tell the story in his own words. With students whose chief aim is to speak English, a feature should be made of reading aloud, different members of the class being allotted different parts in the dialogues. They should work through most of the exercises orally, and where questions are in Basic, these should be asked by the teacher. Students who will have little opportunity to use English except for reading should be allowed to practice silent reading. Comprehension may be tested by asking them to translate passages into their own language. In this case, the teacher may think it unnecessary to refer to the reading notes except on major points or for phrases they have failed to understand. He should bear in mind, however, that this is likely to affect their performance in the exercises.
In conclusion, a few general suggestions may be offered.
In Basic, only one sense of a word is introduced at a time. Therefore, in giving the foreign equivalents of the new vocabulary introduced in each Step, be careful to translate only the sense in which the word is first used, which will be its root use in the Basic system. All expansions of sense will be dealt with in the notes as they are encountered.
Teachers may hold different opinions about the wisdom of teaching all the new words at the beginning of a Step, but they are strongly advised not to attempt to make the students word-perfect at the start. Learning lists is apt to be a tedious business.
Much of the exposition in the sections dealing with structure is very detailed. It should be adapted where necessary to the understanding of the students. In some cases the teacher may prefer to let the examples tell their awn story. Explanations of grammatical features with which the learner is familiar in his own language may, of course, be omitted, but do not omit any of the examples, because these give practice with the vocabulary as well as Illustrating the grammar. Do not translate examples unnecessarily. The student's comprehension can be tested by asking him to translate examples which he is suspected not to have understood.
In the reading Steps, the learner should first be encouraged to try to make sense of what he is reading. Do not supply the explanations given in the notes until it is clear that he is at a loss. After the Step has been worked through in this way, attention should be given to the other points dealt with in the notes, with reference back to the text. In Steps 36-45, the learner should be expected to study the Basic English notes by himself, though he may naturally need occasional help.
Where practicable, students should be asked to revise each Step for homework, and to make notes on any points they have failed to understand, which should then be discussed with the teacher at the next lesson.
As the English edition can only be used with an English-speaking teacher, it is assumed that he will instruct students in the correct pronunciation of the words, and for this reason no phonetic transcription is given. A few
reminders are given in the text about small pronunciation points to which attention should be directed. For the teacher's own reference, if necessary. the pronunciation of all the words may be found in either The Basic Words or The General Basic English Dictionary, both of which are key books for any serious student of the Basic system. The translations of the course will contain a complete guide to pronunciation.
It should be borne in mind that, from the learner's point of view, the way words are said when they are put together in sentences is no less important than their individual pronunciation. This is a subject with which phoneticians have dealt at great length, but their treatment of it is so complex that it is of little use, and is indeed only confusing, to those whose problem is to teach foreigners to speak clear and intelligible English without worrying about unnecessary subtleties.
Basic has evolved a very simple prescription which gives the required approximation to natural spoken English. It is contained in three golden rules:
1 . In any group of 10 words, or in any sentence of less than 50 words, at least one word should be stressed. The sense will determine on which word the stress should fail, since a word that is stressed is thereby thrown into contrast with some other word, either expressed or implied.
2 . There are 12 small words that are never fully pronounced (i.e., as dictionary items) except when they come at the end of a sentence or are given contrastive sense-stress. These are : a, the, and, of, for, from, to, than, is, some (as adjective), have (as auxiliary), and that (as conjunction). These words are normally slurred and glide into the word which follows them. They are therefore referred to as gliders.
3 . Learn to speak English at the right speed. English is normally. spoken fast, and speeding up produces a more natural effect.
If attention is paid to these three rules, and to these only, the learner will find that he is speaking English in a way that does not give offense to English ears and is understood by all. A fuller account of the technique here briefly outlined will be found in a pamphlet on Word Stress and Sentence Stress, published as a Supplement to the "Basic News."
Geographical Names The two maps inside the front and back covers give the English names of most of the European countries, of a few countries outside Europe, and of the main geographical areas. Names which are habitually used by English people have been chosen in preference to those which have been Introduced more recently and so may be assumed to be international, even though these English names no longer accurately represent the national units. No political attitude whatsoever is implied in, for example, the designation of Eire and Ulster as Ireland, of India and Pakistan as India, and of the U.S.S.R. as Russia, or by the omission of the new state of Israel.
See this web site in your language. has a translation service for web pages. To read these pages in your
Enter after http://ogden.basic-english.org/bt00.html
Select, from English to your language Push Translate
Notes : The Google translator translates about the first 2,000 words on each page.
For this reason we have divided some of the large pages into smaller, separate pages. For example, the long introduction to the learning text, The Basic Teacher,
has been divided into several smaller pages.
Once you have entered the website, it will stay in translation mode and you can go from page to page in your language. However, not all pages have been separated into smaller pages.
If you leave the translation, you can get back by repeating the above procedures.
A few key pages will be made into smaller pages, but not all -- we expect Google or other software to handle more words in the future.
Note : Translation software is not perfect and can be both misleading and amusing. For example, as this is written, the Basic 850 words are translated as 50 languages. This provides reason for you, and the people from round the earth, to learn Basic.
Translation is best for pages of description ..
Learner -- Translation software will convert all the words on the page. Thus the self-teaching learner of Basic will need two copies of the page open. One to see the discussion in your language ; and a second to see the Basic words that you are learning.
You can open two browser pages with most browsers. However, a
"tabbed browser" such as Mozilla Firefox is specially good for this. It is free, excellent (this website uses it), and is available in 32 languages. Tabbed browsing lets you open a second page with "control-enter" and then to go between pages with a click. Netscape is going to use the Mozilla engine.
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