Saturday, 18 September 2010

Why Were We Not Taught Grammar In School?

Okay so that is not strictly true, but why are we as native English speakers not taught formal grammar? Well I read in one article that it is because in the 1960s and 70s it was decided that it stifles creativity. So instead we are taught that something is a "doing word" or a "describing word" or a "naming word". We know that you have to say "the brown dog" and not "the dog brown".  If you listen to children learning the language it is clear that they have applied some rules through association, past tense is very often given an -ed and through hearing them say "I runned" or "I goed" it is clear that they have recognised the rule, now to teach the exceptions.

Yes most of us know that a sentence needs to begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop, we understand there is a need for commas and question marks and often a whole tirade of exclamation marks. After some thought I can come up with the correct definition for a Verb (doing word), Adjective (describing word) and Noun (naming word) but I can often have trouble associating an actual word to a group. I have no idea what an adverb is, or a split infinitive, or a pronoun, or the genitive case is.

My boyfriend who learnt English as a second language has no problem understanding grammar and through playing online games it seems a common view of the non-native English speakers that the English have no grasp of their own language. Something that often brings a violent reaction in chat is when someone uses the phrase "would of" rather than "would've", personally I forgive this error completely because it is more of an accent issue.  When speaking the "'ve" part is pronounced "uvv" which sounds a lot more like of then it does have and in English it doesn't sound completely alien to say "I would of done it" then say "I would from done it" the problem comes when translating it back to another language like German when "of" can also be translated to "from". Maybe I am more forgiving because I was 12 when I realised which the help of Richard and Judy that "this morning" was spelt that way and not actually as people with my accent say "the smorning".

I am not so forgiving about "they're", "their" & "there" and "your" & "you're". Yes they do pretty much sound the same when speaking, but this is much more common and corrected a lot more often then the "would of" situation. I was quite pleased when I managed to explain to get through to one young lad and he started using you're correctly, until someone else in chat used "your" in the correct context and he helpfully chipped in that "your is not an actual word".  After hitting my head on my desk I went back to the drawing board. But the question is if we went back to a time when we were taught formal grammar would our language skills in the age of instant text be any better?

I am sure that anyone that is familiar with grammar is probably shaking their heads at my postings, with my ignorant mistakes I undoubtedly make. It annoys me, but never before has it really stopped me until a couple of days ago when I was trying to get ahead with my U211 and I came across an exercise about changing words by adding morphemes (e.g. -er, -ed, -ing) and part of it was to say what the word had changed from and too. I couldn't do it. It frustrated me to the point of tears, yes perhaps that was a little over the top but I have a fragile disposition at the moment.

My lack of understanding Grammar in English has a knock on effect that I find it hard to understand Grammar while learning German, something which I had become increasingly frustrated with and not associated the two as being related. I relaxed a little last night when my L193 Beginners German course books arrived last night and in the Other Resources section a book called English Grammar for Students of German with the description "This is a guide written in plain English aimed at people who have no previous knowledge of grammar in any language" was recommended.  The fact that this book exists made me realise, yet again, that I am not alone in my complete lack of understanding of the subject.

I have decided to put my studies of U211 on hold, the official start date is not until 2nd October anyway, and I have ordered a grammar guide with a workbook in an attempt to teach myself in the hope that it not only helps my understanding of the course but means that my TMAs will be of a higher quality and correctly structured.


  1. YES! You are so right! The number of times I have sat in my class and thought "I haven't got a clue what the hell a past participle is in English never mind in a foreign language". I might be getting myself a grammar book for Christmas. Oh, and membership to Slimming World (I ate the kids Milka chocolate Santas last night after failing my German test yesterday). And now I've started your blog from the beginning I get all the acronyms!

  2. Haha yeah I know what you mean, simple past imperfect, genitive, accusative? Mind boggling! Even the seemingly more simple task of identifying the subject and object takes quite a lot of concentration I find. Learning the English has definitely helped with the German, although we were smart enough to do away with the genders and inflections at the beginning of the last Millennium.

    Every time I think I understand a rule in German I proudly say something to Uwe and he has to inform me that it is incorrect in that sense... arrrghh!

    PS sorry about the acronyms and some of my OU study posts are quite dull so for that I apologise lol