Grammar Superpower | TEFL Jobs London

Grammar Superpower

by Donna Hutchinson
Newly-qualified TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara

Grammar Superpower

By bortescristian (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Before I became an EFL teacher, I was very often referred to as a grammar Nazi, spelling geek or just plain sad. I always remained defiant against these claims because I hated to see the slow destruction of the English language around me; improper use of the glorious institution that is the apostrophe is much like treason in my eyes. However, that was before, when I was dealing with my fellow native speakers but since becoming an EFL teacher, I have entered into a whole different ball game where the stakes are higher and losses are greater. My status as teacher of the English language means that while I do have an elevated knowledge of grammar, as a fairly new member of the group, it is not by any means, honed to perfection. This does not trouble me on a day-to-day basis, I know how to speak English and I know how to speak it correctly. This much is true but the inner workings, the structures, the terminology, the usage, the origins… All this, I am yet to memorise and I have no doubt that the longer I teach, the more it will stick in my memory but for now, I live by the bible of Murphy or I call my dad who is very much like a walking encyclopaedia of grammar.

The trouble is, when dealing with students, you must be prepared for any question they may throw at you about grammar. It seems common sense, I know, to be well-read on whatever it is you’re teaching but sometimes, students just come up with questions that stop me in my tracks. I do not begrudge them this of course but it does put me in a rather awkward situation; a situation which can have three different outcomes.

Firstly, after a second or two of thinking about it, I come up with the answer to the question. This is the most ideal of outcomes. I say a few things to myself, glance at the grammar in question and much like an epiphany, it comes to me and all is well.

Alternatively, I think that I’ve come up with the answer and after bumbling through it realise that I don’t really know what I’m talking about which results in me confusing my poor dear student even further, or, even worse it makes me look unknowledgeable. I know in my head, as a native speaker, how to use grammar correctly but for the life of me cannot tell the student why. This is my least favourite outcome and I often find these instances hard to shake.

There is one saving grace and that is honesty. I teach adults and adults can be full of empathy and when I admit that I do not know the answer to their question off the top of my head but I will look it up for them and come back, they understand. Furthermore, it’s true, I will make a note of it, I will look it up and I will come back. It’s a simple procedure and satisfies all parties. In the end, a student deserves to know the answer to their question and I deserve to have it stick in my mind so as not to make the same mistake again. Everybody wins.

Grammar, to me, is a little bit like a super power in EFL. It’s something we all must possess and in time, I hope to have a declining number or such anxiety-ridden situations.


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One Response to “Grammar Superpower”

  1. Militza Cunningham
    March 10, 2012 at 2:07 am #

    I enjoyed reading your comments. I work in ESL in 7th grade, presently, and I, too, believe in grammar because it is a great toolbox. Often, I feel a little taken aback when I realize something about grammar I had not noticed before….like, “do you want to buy this car used?” instead of…”do you want to buy this used car?” They work to get the point across, but the first one seems to be begging for a comma…as used comes later….Mind blowing. One describes, and the other explains the state it is in, its condition in a total sense, as if a past participle could be a gerund…..Keep up the good work…