The World in 180 Days
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Cobuild English Grammar
This senior/parent reference book on English Grammar text book is now available. ...more>>
Like most of you, I learnt virtually no grammar at school. Being an ex teacher and therefore a by-product of the Education Department, I also learnt virtually no grammar there either. How sad is that? How do they expect teachers to teach it if they don’t know it themselves? No wonder we never learnt grammar at school!
Fortunately, despite those early obstacles, I did learn grammar and learnt it well twice in my life. The first was when I had to teach it. I was literally two or three lessons ahead of my Year 7&8 students. Believe me, having to teach a subject does wonders for your motivation and understanding! The second was when I did an ESOL course. The major benefit of this was that it made me realise that grammar isn’t that scary after all.
I then discovered that most of the battle was in my own mind rather than in the pages of the textbook.
You may be asking yourself what the big deal is. After all, most of us never learnt so why should we teach it to our children?
I believe there are many, many reasons for teaching grammar but here are my top four.
1) It improves our writing and speech.
2) Helps us learn other languages. In most European cultures it is a given that students know grammar well enough to learn another language from a very young age. The average Chinese student in NZ has learnt at least 10 years of grammar by the time they arrive on our shores.
3) It gives us a handle and helps us describe our language e.g. Correct this sentence “She did really good at spelling.” That was the easy bit. Now say why it is wrong.
4) Makes them more employable. In the US at present, workers' grammar, punctuation and spelling is so bad that Fortune 500 companies spend more than $3 billion a year training employees in basic English.
As an interesting side note, did you know that grammar is very mathematical? I know that many of you would have felt a slight twinge of fear when you read that. The down side of it being like maths is that many of us hate maths and the reason that many of us hated maths was because it was taught by teachers who didn’t understand it and therefore didn’t teach it well. Ring any bells? The up side is that it follows rules and once you know the rules, you can work out the answer!
To use a culinary comparison, grammar is like cutting a cake – there are many different ways of breaking up a sentence.
Because grammar is such a wide ranging topic, we will only look at one way of slicing the cake and will cover others in a future newsletter.
The easiest thing to learn first is the ‘parts of speech’. Most people do know about nouns, verbs & adjectives. There are in fact eight parts of speech – the above three plus pronoun, adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection.
Here is a quick simplified summary of the eight parts of speech and their functions:
Noun – naming word
Verb – action word
Adjective – describing or modifying word
Adverb – modifies a verb or another adverb
Pronoun – renames a noun
Preposition – shows the relationship between two things
Conjunction – con means together and juncto means join
Interjection – exclamation
Next time we will look at when to teach grammar, some ideas on how to teach it, some resources which can help and what you can do if you are grammatically challenged.
In the meantime, this poem might help jog your memory about the parts of speech.
Parts of Speech Poem
Every name is called a noun
As field and fountain, street and town;
In place of noun the pronoun stands,
As he and she can clap their hands;
The adjective describes a thing,
As magic wand or bridal ring;
The verb means action, something done;
To read and write, to jump and run;
How things are done the adverbs tell,
As quickly, slowly, badly, well;
The preposition shows relation,
As in the street or at the station;
Conjunctions join, in many ways,
Sentences, words, or phrase and phrase;
The interjection cries out, Hark!
I need an exclamation mark.
Erena Fussell is married to Alistair and has been homeschooling their children two since 2002. When she is not running LearnEx®, her home-based business www.learnex.co.nz , she likes to listen to and arrange music.