How much grammar? | TEFL Jobs London

How much grammar?

by Donna Hutchinson
London based TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara

It is inevitable that when teaching, you are going to get some complaints from the students; “a test?!”, “this text is too long!”, “I’m tired!” But there’s one which takes the biscuit and that is, “grammar is boring!” …Yes. Yes it is. It’s not something I try to hide because grammar can’t be exciting, I honestly don’t know on what spiritual plane this would be possible. We don’t have to lie, grammar doesn’t want us to lie. It is what it is. No nonsense.

Of course, you can’t just throw grammar at the students willy nilly. It doesn’t, but more importantly, it can’t stand alone. Grammar needs a context, it needs a topic. As much as Murphy (and other similar titles) is a gospel on grammar, I would be a bad teacher if I just picked a page out of it and expected my students to understand straightaway. These kinds of books are perfect for self-study or as a supplement to a lesson but on their own, they’re a little dry.

The other inevitability is that there will be students who are embroiled in a love affair with grammar and then there will be those who curse the day it was born but for the most part, all students are accepting of it because at the end of the day, grammar is necessary. Learning a language formally means that you must accept grammar into your life. I’ve only taught multi-lingual classes but I assume that the same dynamics lie in a mono-lingual class yet I think I’m safe to assume that the difference is much more pronounced in a multi-lingual class. There are students who will happily beaver away at grammar tasks, memorising the rules and who rely on knowing the ins and outs of English grammar. Then there are the students who much prefer to learn by speaking and are somewhat in denial about grammar, they don’t want to acknowledge its existence like a monster under the bed.  Neither student is better or worse than the other and of course a perfect student would be a combination of the two, but just as there can be no perfect teachers, there can be no perfect learners. The problem with the first student is that even grammar has its imperfections; no rule is really that absolute so by accepting a rule, one must also be accepting of the fact that it probably doesn’t cover all bases. Something that some students don’t like. The problem with the second student is that while they might very easily function and get their meaning across, it may come off sounding, I hate to say it, stupid. This is especially a problem for students who are learning English for a professional purpose, incorrect grammar within business or any other profession is unacceptable in any language.

As a teacher who uses a coursebook, I don’t worry too much about the amount of grammar my students get on a weekly basis because I place my trust in the author’s judgment but it can sometimes be hard to negotiate a class of students with members who have particularly disparate views on grammar.

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One Response to “How much grammar?”

  1. Sholto Pridgeon
    April 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Good article, but I should point out that the title of the accompanying cartoon should read “grammar conscious”, unless it’s some sort of cunning grammarian’s in-joke.