Grammar--who needs it?

Most people associate English lessons with grammar: verb tenses, prepositions, articles, and so on. I know that it's completely necessary to learn grammar, if you want to speak, read and write a language. But it's so tedious and boring to memorize grammer rules, and it's not the most effective way to learn grammar.

You can memorize rules and pass a test, but that's not at all the same thing as understanding why a rule exists and how it functions. I once taught 8th-grade English in Florida, and was surprised that my students did not know the parts of speech (there are 8 of them: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, pronoun, interjection and conjunction). So I told them that no one could pass my class without passing a simple test on parts of speech.

I found  that most students could list the 8 parts, and provide a simple definition (example: a verb describes an action or state of being), but almost none of them could identify the part of speech of a word used in a sentence (example: "I love cats." What part of speech is "cats"?).

From this experience I became convinced that memorizing grammar rules is not a useful exercise. So, then, how can students become masters of English grammar? By speaking, reading and writing in English, with somone who can correct your mistakes.

The real value of tutoring is the interaction between the student and the teacher, not the number of rules memorized. This means developing a relationship, understanding and trusting each other, and being willing to move out of your comfort zone as teacher and as student. Only by trying to do something at which you might fail can you gain confidence when you succeed.

Good tutoring relationships involve putting aside your ego and your need to be perfect, and letting yourself try to do something difficult. Think of children--when they start to speak, they make many mistakes, but it's expected. Their family will correct them with patience, encouraging them when they do well. This is how people learn.


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