When I was at school we just weren’t taught English grammar. We certainly didn’t miss it! The Latin and French teachers gave us plenty of grammar in those languages and escaping learning about English grammar seemed a very good thing to a ten year old.
It was the period when English teaching used a ‘function based’ approach – that is, you learnt the language in a context or for a particular function. This teaching ‘fashion’ was as true for native speakers growing up and learning about their own language as it was for speakers learning English as a second language.
After school I studied English Literature and Language at university where, perhaps amazingly, grammar still didn’t feature that much. I did get a brief (and I mean ‘brief‘) introduction to English grammar when I did a post-graduate teaching certificate but even then the emphasis was on teaching the English a student would use to buy a sandwich rather than on how the sentences were constructed – not all bad and certainly not worrying enough for me to stage a sit-in until we got more grammar tuition. After all, even the word ‘grammar’ seems to have an odour of dusty books, dryness and incomprehensible rules for sticking together mechanically what we all say naturally.
Some years later, in Geneva, I fronted up for a TEFL job (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) in a local language school. I was feeling pretty confident given my bundle of degrees and certificates and thought the job was in the bag. So when I was given an ‘on the spot’ test of how I would teach the Present Perfect I was left speechless with my degrees now looking no more useful than cleaning rags. I cobbled some rubbishy explanation together that didn’t fool the school’s director for one minute. Fortunately, I was given the chance to go away with a borrowed grammar book to come back again the following week for another test. So began my exploration of English grammar!
It was a little like being a cowboy and suddenly finding out just how useful a horse is! Once you get past your own preconceptions about the nature of grammar you find you’re sitting on something incredibly useful. If you need to write, speak to people, work in English, learn another language, communicate ideas, prepare reports, manage people, study … is there something I’ve left out? – that should include just about all of us – then learning about how English is put together and how you can put it together more effectively is an invaluable skill. Sure, there are parts of it, like learning anything (ever tried learning a computer programming language?) that are boring but the big picture, as it emerges is one that can’t help but enrich your life. Grammar enriching my life, get outta here! But it’s true. It’s the foundation of the language and from that foundation, if you understand it, you can build exactly the sort of structures that you want and you’ll feel far more comfortable and confident about every act of communication that you make.Tags: , communication, education, english grammar, language, learning