Eliminating fear of grammar

Eliminating fear of grammar

First consider how we all learnt to walk. Yes we learnt it by trial and error as children. Franz Rasch a musical composer says “Nowhere in the world there is a pediatrician or pedagogue who would advocate special walking instructions and drills for babies and toddlers (unless they were disabled).

Likewise we all know that children learn their native language automatically just by listening and gradually communicating with people who are more advanced than they.”
Did we learn the grammar of our mother tongue?  We learnt the right way to speak our tongue because we ‘just spoke it.’ We did not become fluent speakers of it by studying its grammar. There was a time when virtually every child in the primary school was taught grammar. Wren and Martin grammar with its endless definitions of the parts of speech and drilling exercises was a part and parcel of learning English.

We do not acquire an accurate understanding of formal language structures by learning the ‘nitty-gritty’s’ of grammar. We learn it through speaking, reading and writing. A noun may be a ‘name of a person place or thing’ according to grammatical definition; but letting students know that ‘A noun is a naming word’ should suffice. Likewise a ‘verb is a part of speech that describes an action or occurrence’ maybe that’s it’s the definition; when you teach the children that a verb is a ‘doing word’ it should be perfectly okay. An adjective according to definition will be ‘a word that describes the noun or a pronoun.’ Yes. It is just a ‘describing word’. Further, none of the terminologies that appear in the grammar books need to be taught.

Knowledge of grammar does not make us better speakers. We knew how to use verbs in different tenses even before we knew what ‘verb’ was. Memorizing grammar rules does not make one an expert speaker of the language.

If we eschew learning explicit grammar with its ‘nuts and bolts’ we will expose ourselves to the real language and use it with whatever inputs we have and you will be surprised that grammar and vocabulary follow automatically. By paying too much attention to grammar, the love for a language gets lost because students are asked to memorize definitions and terms

It is absolutely unimportant to know whether a verb is in the present, past or future as long as the user knows what she intends to convey. When teachers bring in terminologies like  present participle, past participle, future participle,  present continuous, past continuous, present perfect and past perfect etc into their teaching of the usage of verbs the thinking of the students get drowned in a mire of grammar which are of no use in the using of the language.

Method

If quite a few of us are unable speak correct English it is because we are failing in the method of teaching the language properly at an elementary level. If too much of emphasis is placed on learning grammar, the foundation of speaking  goes for a toss. Many times even 12 years of learning the language in school a number of them graduate as faulty speakers and this reflects on the way the language was taught to them.

It may be necessary to acknowledge that there are valid arguments against comparing the teaching of the first and second languages. Surely they differ.  What we have to learn is that we need to observe the way children learn their mother tongue with hardly any effort.

Donovan Nagel an ESL teacher says that “Languages are acquired in prefabricated chunks - words, collocations and expressions that we hear repeatedly. This is why kids go from ‘babble’ to speaking – to the amazement of their parents – seemingly overnight.”
Learning a new language with emphasis on grammar is of no use. One has to first learn to speak the language and you need to be surrounded by people who speak the language. It is only then that language gets into you. Mother tongue is learnt fast as there is 24/7 exposure to it all around at home.

The medium of instruction in school also becomes important as students are exposed to it almost eight hours in a day. They may get exposure to the second language only for about an hour in a day. Don’t try to over cautious about the grammar of a language. Keep speaking, reading and writing. The more you speak and read, the more you will become familiar with the structure of the language.

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