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Structures in CI/TPRS

In CI/TPRS structures are all those things that when acquired provide the
student with the feeling for the language so he knows what sounds right and
what kinds of words appear in conjunction with what others and in what
order. Even if then the student does not recognize some of the words in a
sentence, he already knows something about it.
Some structures are complete in themselves, e.g. common recurring phrases
and fixed expressions. The various pronouns provide much information about
what is being said, e.g. personal, demonstrative, possessive, reflexive,
indefinite. Other structures are indicators of what is to come, e. g.
conjunctions, introductory phrases, and prepositions. The question words are
important structures to be acquired early, e.g. who, what, when, where, how,
why. Distinguishing marks are also key structures that are often quite
different in different languages, e.g. inflections showing gender, case,
subject and tense of verbs. Word order is also a structure that is key to
meaning and varies from on language to another.
Many of these structures have their counterparts in a traditional grammar
instruction but in TPRS they are acquired by repeated use in varied and often
unexpected or compelling ways. If one looks at normal informal conversation
and simple texts one sees examples of all of the above, so that simply using
such material provides repetition of the basic structures. However it is more
efficien and effective to introduce new structures only a few at a time. These
2-4 per session are often called the target structures for the lesson and are
used repeatedly inn different contexts often 50 times in a class period.
Many users consider each structure alone and in itself, but I suggest that
closely related structures be introduced in close proximity to one another.
This chunking assists the student in internalize many of the more complex
structures. E. g. in a beginning lesson the basic word order and structure of
statements, vs questions vs. commands would be acquired as chunk or after
a beginning level of German has been acquired, one might introduce the
preposition mit using the definite and indefinite articles of nouns of the
three genders. Thus the student acquires the inflection changes for subject
and object of that preposition in a chunk.
Larry Selinker developed the concept of interlanguage. He explains that
someone developing an ability in L2 develops his own interlanguage as he
proceeds. This is the mental grammar that provides the feeling of what is
right, as opposed to any grammar that is consciously learned. He suggests
that only 5% of those acquiring an L2 proceed on to a mental grammar
equivalent to that of a native. In most individuals fossilization occurs often
with backsliding but that does not occur with L1. Interesting questions are

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whether appropriate CI and TPRS decrease the occurrence of fossilization

and whether some kind of CI with the occurrence of structures chunked
based on grammar rules or after some fluency has been developed direct
grammar instruction assists in the development of the interlanguage.

In TPRS vocabulary is not explicitly taught, but since structures are wrapped
in words much vocabulary is acquired along with the structures. The words
appearing explicitly in many structures are among the most frequently used
words and so the student acquires automatically the vocabulary that appears
in normal conversation. It varies a bit with language but in general the 50
most frequently used words provides over 50% coverage of conversation.
Peter Wood studied this problem for reading German and reported in his
doctoral thesis that the 100 most frequently used words provided 52%
coverage; the most 500 63% 1000 68%; 5000 82% 10000 87%.
In normal conversation the effective actual coverage would be much, much
higher than Wood quoted because he considered the reading of academic
text rather than transcribed conversation and his sample included many
names and other proper nouns.
Grammatical Structures:
Word Order
Very early: statement, question and
Soon later: inverted if subject is not first
Soon: separable verbs
Later: dependent clause order
Verb Forms
Early: Present tense, person and number
Early: imperative
Soon: Common irregular verbs
Soon: Regular form forms
Soon: Conversational past
Later: Narrative past
Later: Future
Much, much later: subjunctive
Perhaps never: Future Perfect
Definite and Indefinite Article Inflections
After Students begin to notice the inflections and need to know
Adjectival and Noun Inflections
Soon: normal, comparative, superlative and common irregular;
Late: noun endings and irregular weak nouns

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Very, very late: Endings: only after students a very aware and are
Common Words (rank order of frequency def article =1; und =2 ; in =4)
Prepositions: to appear as they appear, in nor predetermined order;
number only indicates that most prepositions appear very often.
in (4)
an, am (19)
vor (55)
zu (6)
bei (29)
durch (56)
von (11)
nach (38)
bis (73)
mit (13)
aus (41)
unter (85)
auf (17)
um (47)
fr (18)
ber (48)
Conjunctions: to appear as they appear in conversation/story
und (2)
aber (32)
weil (84)
oder (30)
wenn (43)
denn (86)
Other common words
Pronouns: as they occur normally, usually nominative form firsts
Question Words: very early
Common Phrases: as they occur
Examples of structures and how they might be circled or otherwise
covered in a repetitive way.
Verb word order
Ich kaufe/kaufte heute ein Buch Today I buy a book Normal SOV
Kaufe ich heute ein Buch? Inverted SO for question
Heute kaufe/kaufte ich ein Buch Today I buy a book Inverted SO after
initial non-S
da ich heute ein Buch kaufe V final in dependent clause
da ich ein Buch heute kaufe
Ich will/werde ein Buch kaufen.
Ein Buch will ich heute kaufen Today I will buy a book
Ich habe ein Buch gekauft
da ich heute ein Buch kaufen will/werde
da ich ein Buch heute kaufen will/werde
da ich ein Buch habe kaufen wollen
ich habe heute ein Buch gekauft
ich habe ein Buch heute gekauft
finite verb conjugation
er/sie/es kauft
du kaufst
ich kaufe
wir kaufen
ihr kauft
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sie/Sie kaufen
irregular verbs, sein, haben
weak verbs
strong verbs
Articles and Pronouns
Der Hund, die Hunde
Der Hund ist braun
Er ist braun
Ein Hund ist braun
Ich habe einen Hund gekauft
Er/sie/es hat ihn gekauft
Ich habe den Hund gekauft
Ich werfe dem Hund einen Ball
Wir werfen ihm den Ball
Wir werfen es ihm/
Ich werfe einem Hund einen Ball
Die Hunde sind braun
Ich habe die Hunde gekauft
Ich werfe den Hunden die Blle
Das Mdchen, die Mdchen
Das Mdchen ist schn
Ein Mdchen ist schn
Es ist schn
Ich liebe das Mdchen
Du liebst es.
Ich liebe ein Mdchen
Ich gebe dem Mdchen ein Geschenk
Ich gebe ihm das Geschenk
Ich geben einem Mdchen ein Geschenk
Die Mdchen sind schn
Ich liebe die Mdchen
Ich gebe den Mdchen die Geschenke
Die Frau, die Frauen
Die Frau ist schn
Eine Frau ist schn
Sie ist schn
Ich liebe die Frau
Er liebt sie
Ich liebe eine Frau
Ich gebe der Frau ein Geschenk
Wir geben ihr das Geschenk
Wir geben es ihr
Ich gebe der Frauen die Geschenke
Die Frauen sind schn
Ich gebe den Frauen die Geschenke
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Ich liebe die Frauen

I would like to collect the most common errors of students learning German
or trying to improve it. A list of the most common and ear grating errors
ordered roughly in order of frequency could be most useful. The errors
probably fall into various categories: word order, gender for any particular
noun, declension of articles and nouns, case control of prepositions, finite
verb conjugation, irregular verbs, subjunctives, etc, but in each case some
errors are more common than others and exactly that is what I am trying to
get a fix on. Such an ordering for adults might have a lot in common with
the order of acquisition of small German children.
In children for example, "ich bin, du bist,, wir sind" etc acquired earlier but
"ihr wart" later? Is "ich lege das Buch, legte, habe gelegt", etc still earlier and
"ich sitze, sa, habe gesessen" still later. I know some children acquire some
structures early, others later, and some only after they go to school or study
grammar. What I don't know for either children or adults is which come
before others. That ordering could have a great value on what to teach in
what order and with how much emphasis and when. I know that Krashen
teaches the i+1 principle, that a structure is acquired when the student is
ready for it, but in a classroom it could be more optimum to avoid structures
that are way above the students current level. Hence the interest in order of
Abstracted from
Natural Order of Acquisition of German Syntactic Structures vs. Order
of Presentation in Elementary German Textbooks in the U.S, Christine
Jensen, Janet Christou Constantinides and Klaus Dieter Hanson, Die
Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German Vol. 16, No. 2, Autumn, 1983
Page 199 of 199-211
with special focus of the natural order of acquisition.
Current research suggests that there is a relationship between the order in
which structures are presented and the students' difficulties.
Recent findings in second-language acquisition research tend to indicate that
people who are immersed in a second language and who receive little if any
systematic instruction in that language acquire its syntactic structures in the
same order, regardless of what their native languages are. This "universal" or
"natural" order of acquisition seems to be inherent to the untutored learner
(the learner who receives little if any systematic instruction) and, it is
hypothesized, even to the tutored learner (the foreign language student who
receives systematic instruction in either a classroom or individual learning

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situation). Further supporting this hypothesis is the work of Felix which

suggests that tutored learners do not necessarily acquire structures in the
order in which they are presented in the instructional situation.' In fact, the
developing systems of tutored learners have a lot in common with those of
untutored learners. This evidence for the similarity of tutored and untutored
developing language systems lends support to the idea that syntactic
structures might best be presented in the order found in "natural"
acquisition. As an initial step in exploring that idea, this project was designed
to determine whether the "natural" order of acquisition of German syntactic
structures differs substantially from the order in which these structures are
presented in elementary German textbooks used at universities in the U.S.
The "natural" orderof acquisition postulated by the Heidelberger
Forschungsprojekt "Pidgin-Deutsch" (HPD) on the basis of their empirical
findings. The Heidelberger project studied a total of forty-eight Gastarbeiter
(thirty- two men and sixteen women, half native speakers of Spanish and half
of Italian) from a variety of age groups and social and educational
backgrounds who had been in Germany for differing lengths of time.
Heidelberger Forschungsprojekt "Pidgin-Deutsch," "The Acquisition of
Ger- man Syntax by Foreign Migrant Workers," in Linguistic VariationModels and Methods, ed. David Sankoff (New York:Academic Press,
1978), pp. 1-22;
HPD, "Aspekte der ungesteuerten Erlernung des Deutschen durch
auslndische Arbeiter," in Deutsch im Kontakt mit anderen Sprachen,
ed. Carol Molony, Helmut Zobl, and Wilfred Stolting (Kronberg, Taunus:
Scriptor, 1977), pp. 147-83;
HPD, "Zur Sprache auslandischer Arbeiter: Syntaktische Analysen und
Aspekte des kommunikativen Verhaltens," Zeitschrift fur
Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik, 5, No. 18 (1975), pp. 78-121.
The syntactic structures were divided into five major categoriesthe
proposition, the verbal complex, the nominal complex, the adverbial
complex, and subordinate clausesand the stages of acquisition within each
category were described. It is important to note that these categories are not
acquired successively but rather simultaneously and at varying speeds.
Thus, a learner may be at stage one in a given category and at stage five in
The Proposition
The proposition consists of the grammatical subject and the gram- matical
predicate called the topic and comment, respectively.5 As Table 1 shows, in
the natural order of acquisition propositions appear first without a subject
(nominal complex) and without a verb or copula (verbal complex).6 The

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verbal complex (VC) appears first, and finally the nominal complex (NC) is
As Table 1 shows, in the natural order of acquisition propositions appear first
without a subject (nominal complex) and without a verb or copula (verbal
complex) The verbal complex (VC) appears first, and finally the nominal
complex (NC) is supplied.
Although the term copula can include all verbs which link a subject with its
predicate (e.g., be, become, feel, and seem) it will be used here only for the
German verb "sein" (to be). Clarifications for grammatical terms which were
unclear in HPD usage (i.e., copula, modifier, and determiner) were taken
from William F. Irmscher, The Holt Guide to English, 3rd ed. (New York:Holt,
Rine- hart and Winston, 1981).

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Table 1. Natural Order of Acquisition of Proposition7

Stage Number and
Prop |
1. -NC VC
No verbal language;
2. -NC +VC
3. +NC+VC
Mann geht
NC=nominal complex VC=verbal complex
The Verbal Complex
The verbal complex in the "natural" order of acquisition is divided into two
categories in the HPD description: the verbal elements and the
complementary elements. Only the verbal elements will be compared in this
section since the complementary elements are treated in greater detail in
the Nominal and Adverbial Complex sections. However, it should be
mentioned that in the early stages only one nominal complex (a direct or
indirect object) or one adverbial complex appears in the "natural" order.
There is no verb present in the initial stages of German second language
acquisition (Table 3). When the first verbs appear, they are single element
verbs, either simple verbs or copulas. Gradually these forms are supplanted
by modal plus verb phrase combinations, com- pound tenses, and modal plus
compound tense combinations. Notably, the simple past does not appear as
a discrete structure in this acquisition scheme. That is because the HPD
study examined the spoken, not the written idiom. Since the simple past is
for the most part a written tense, it did not warrant consideration in the HPD
Table 3. Natural Order of Acquisition of Verbal Elements
Stage Number
and Description
1. VC
Der Mann (accompanied by gestures)
2. +PVL
Der Mann geht
3. + Cop
Der Mann ist.
4. +MV+VP
Der Mann mu gehen.
5. +Aux +VP
Der Mann ist gegangen.
6. +Aux +MV
Der Mann hat gehen mssen
+Aux + MV +
Der Mann hat sein mssen.
PLV=predicate without verb phrase Cop=copula
MV=modal verb
VP=verb phrase Aux=auxiliary
PRC=predicate copula construcion

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The Nominal Complex

The nominal complex rules constitute a large part of the reference grammar
and a complex portion of the order of acquisition. This is easy to understand
in light of the frequency of nominal structures in language production. To
describe this complex adequately, it is necessary to examine all structures
functioning as nouns and pronouns and, in addition, the entire system of
modifiers and determiners.
In the initial stages of natural acquisition the nominal complex (NC) consists
of nouns without modifiers or determiners (Table 5). Pronouns are acquired
next. Nouns gradually become noun phrases with the addition of determiners
(numbers, quantifiers, and articles) and modifiers (adjectivals). Finally,
sentences start to function as nouns in the form of noun clauses (i.e., Er
wei, ich gehe.). These appear as "S" in Table 5.
Table 5.
NC |



Natural Order of Acquisition of Nominal Elements

Stage Number and
1. -ATV -ATN 1 +N
Mann geht
2. Pro
Er geht.
3. (+ATV) (+ATN) +N (Ein) (groer) Mann
4. +S
Sie wei, ein
groerMann geht.
1. Num -Quan Article Mann geht.
2. (+ Num) (+ Quan) (Zwei)/(Viele)
Mnner gehen
3. (+ Article) (+
(Die) (Zwei)/
Num) (+ Quan)
(Viele[n]) Mnner
4. -------------------------Adj
Mann geht.
2. + Adj
Groer Mann geht
3. + Prep (+ N)
Der Mann mit (Bart)/
(+ Pro) (+ NP)
(langem Bart) geht.
4. +S
Der Mann, der den
Bart hat, geht

The stages for the various structures do not appear at the same time, i.e.,
Stage 2 of NC is not concurrent with Stage 2 of ATV or Stage 2 of ATN.
Adjectives are defined as declined adjectives rather than predicate

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ATV=determiners ATN=modifiers
Pro=pronoun N=noun S=sentence
Quan=quantifier Adj=adjectivePrep=prepositon
In the category of determiners (ATV) the first to appear are numerals and
Articles appear quite late. The first adjectivals or modifiers (ATN) are
adjectives. These are followed by prepositional phrases functioning
adjectivally, and, much later, by sentences (S) in the form of relative clauses.
In "natural" acquisition, articles occur mainly in the later stages, with
numerals and quantifiers predominating earlier
The Adverbial Complex
The first adverbials in the "natural" order of acquisition are noun phrases
without prepositions. As Table 7 shows, these are supplanted by simple
adverbs and in the later stages by prepositional phrases and sentences (S)
functioning as adverbs. Prepositional phrases first have nouns, then
pronouns, and finally numerals as objects.
Table 7. Natural Order of Acquisition of Adverbial Complex
Structur Stage Number Example
AC |
1. -Prep +NP
Der Mann
geht__das Haus
2. +Adv
Der Mann geht
3. +Prep +NP Der Mann geht in
das Haus
4. +Prep +Pro Der Mann geht* in
5. +Prep
Der Mann geht in
6. + S
Die Frau wartet,
whrend der Mann
in das Haus geht.
*not used by native speakers
The numerals are the last structures to be acquired as the objects of
prepositions in the "natural" order of acquisition (Stage 5).
Subordinate Clauses
The natural order of acquisition of subordinate clauses seems to stress
function and complexity. The clause types are acquired as they are needed
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for communication: 1) adverbials; 2) nominals; and 3) relatives (Table 9).

Table 9. Natural Order of Acquisition of Subordinate Clauses
Stage Number and
Subordinat 1. Adverbial Clause
Die Frau wartet, whrend der
e Clause |
Mann in das Haus geht.
2. Nominal Clause
Sie wei, ein groer Mann geht
3. Relative Clause
Der Mann, der den langen Bart
hat, geht.
Preliminary evidence suggests that syntactic structures presented in a
tutored situation at a point in the acquisition process significantly earlier
than they would appear in the "natural" order of acquisition are not mastered
by students.
It seems reasonable to suggest to German teachers that they might consider
rearranging their course sequences in the following ways if their students
have difficulty with the structures involved:
1) Present the copula "sein" after the other present tense verbs.
2) Present modals before present perfect and delay the presentation of them
until at least the second third of the first year.
3) Postpone the presentation of the modal plus compound tense construction
until near the end of the first year or avoid presenting it at all.
4) Present numerals very early and before articles. 5) Require the use of
adverbial clauses before the introduction of nominal clauses.

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Excerpt from Thomas Studer Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German

Vol. 35, No. 2, Fall, 2002 Page 119-122full article not yet scanned and

terworfen sei, doch lassen sie sich nicht als ber individuelle Sequenzen
beschreiben. Beispielsweise zeigt sich in den Texten eine deutliche Tendenz,
auf -e endende Substantive als Feminina zu behandeln (vgl. etwa die
Wortkreation die Schneide fr das Messer), eine Tendenz, die ja durchaus der
sprachlichen Realitt entspricht. Ebenso scheinen die Lernenden intuitive zu
erfassen, dass die hufigste Pluralendung im Deutschen -(e)n ist;
entsprechend zahlreich sind die Substantive mit dieser Endung (wobei
wiederum die abweichenden Formen wirklich aufschlussreich sind, z.B.
Fischen, Fruchten "Frchte", Kilogrammen, Freunden, Vgeln; alle im selben
Text). Was den Erwerb der Kasus in Prpositionalphrasen anbelangt, so
erweist es sich, dass dieser nur teilweise parallel zum Kasuserwerb in
Nominalphrasen verlauft und dass im brigen der Kasus im Vergleich zu den
zahlreichen andern Schwierigkeiten, mit denen sich die Lernenden im
Zusammenhang mit den Prpositionen auseinanderzusetzen haben, ein

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verhaltnismig unbedeutendes Problem darstellt; viel wichtiger sind hier

beispielsweise Oppositionen wie in Genf- nach Genf oder auch die hohe
Bedeutung, die der Verwendung von Chunks zukommt. Horizontal gelesen
zeigt die Tabelle die zeitlichen Parallelen zwischen den Erwerbsverlaufen in
den drei Bereichen, die fr eine groe Mehrheit der Testpersonen beobachtet
wurden. Die gepunktete Linie soll andeuten, dass die Phasen bei einer
gewissen Anzahl von Schlerinnen und Schlern nach oben oder nach unten
verschoben sind. Interessanterweise entsprechen solche Verschiebungen
stets einer Diagonalen von unten links nach oben rechts, d.h. es gibt
Lernende, die beim Erwerb der Konjugation einen Vorsprung gegenber den
See also SLA.docx,,
Acquisiton_Sequence_German.docx, Natural_Order_German_Jensen.pdf

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