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Understanding a large number of words, either spoken or written, is one thing, but producing a sentence in a target language is another.

I am not referring to understanding how to read/hear a sentence in a language being learnt, but producing a convincingly native-sounded/looking sentence in that language.

While I accept that thinking in another language and beginning with easy sentences are mechanisms toward grokking a new language ... what I'm looking for is a method to writing and speaking with a sentence structure which looks/sounds native, or simply natural in that language.

Is there a method, process or tool which can/does help learn the way a native (or simply fluent) speaker/writer of a language build sentences 'correctly', as opposed to transliterating the words from their person's first language?

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Surely the most natural technique is just to copy native speakers. Hear what they say and recreate that sentence using the same syntax

E.g. Yesterday, I ate some sushi

Which has a basic structure of: time adverb + subject + verb + article + object

Then simply replace the structure with new words

Tomorrow, John is going to drink a glass of water

After hearing thousands of sentences being constructed your brain will pick up the most common patterns and be able to naturally recreate these structures with minimal effort. It just takes a while to get used to the structures at first.

Let's use Japanese as an example. When describing something, the typical structure is:

Topic (the thing you're talking about) + wa (+subject + ga, if necessary) + adjective(+copula, depending on the adjective type)

So that would look something like

Inu wa kawaii

Dog wa cute

Dogs are cute

Simply rinse and repeat the structure for other sentences.

Watashi wa (I +topic marker) inu ga (dog+subject marker) suki desu (like + is/am/are)

Which would translate roughly as:

speaking about me, dogs are like = I like dogs

If you take the same pattern and simply replace the words with new words, you'll end up with natural sounding sentences. Only problem is exceptions or weird rules and sentence structures of course, but you should be able to pick those up through exposure.

  • Upvote for a nice, complete answer. But... doesn't this really amount to simply "experience"? I was anticipating a process or method for how to go about picking out the structure of sentences when, for example, reading or listening to the radio. Am I being too optimistic? – Matt W Jun 12 at 13:15
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    @MattW Surely the best way would simply be to repeat the process I just did for written texts and transcripts. There are only a finite number of sentences structures at the end of the day. Just make a list of really solid, useful sentences (maybe a few hundred) and put them into some kind of flashcard app like anki, and add to the deck each time you hear new sentence structures when reading and listening. Just be conscious of the context that specific structure is used in to avoid using some obscure structure when it's inappropriate (i.e. make a context field for your flashcard deck). – sambeaz6 Jun 12 at 16:14

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