The Secrets of Learning Proper Grammar in an ESL Class
Learning grammar is, suffice it to say, one of the most important points to focus on. Equally, for foreign students, they need to know not just about vocabulary but how and why vocabulary “hangs” in a certain way within a sentence. In my teaching experience, grammar has been difficult from the standpoint of getting the student to agree with the fact that it is important. I’ve found that many clients have been indoctrinated into believing that grammar is “hard”, “boring” “dull” and worst of all, “unnecessary”. This has been a challenge, to say the least. As a foreign language teacher, I’ve had to not mention grammar at all and introduce it as “how to use English correctly”. This new perspective for a person who has experienced a bad time with English grammar suddenly sees it as a necessary and important part of their English study. Once I show them how to apply grammar properly and within their English speaking situation, only then will they understand the importance of the subject.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Ben M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
As a good example, one of the most interesting concepts of teaching grammar to a non-native speaker is their lack of Subjunctive mode understanding. I find that non-native speakers tend to only speak in two modes/moods (indicative & imperative), which gives the speaker a rather robotic sounding English. They must learn how to express their thoughts or hypothetical situations, and in most cases, is one of the main requests I get asked as a teacher; “how can I express my thoughts properly?”. Normally, I find that a non-native speaker translates automatically (in their head) into two basic modes. To develop a more humanistic grammatical expression the Subjunctive mode is essential. This, I find, develops a notable fluency improvement in the student and gives them the ability to give & receive hypothetical communication within a native environment.
Other such non-native grammar problems include active & passive voice, using the verb “do” (especially for Spanish speakers) in an inappropriate place in the sentence and using the preposition “TO” after the modal verbs could, would, must, should. These, I find, are usually the first points of correction.
Setting up Learning Goals
The goal of any grammar learning should be to show the non-native student how to construct their expression properly. In my experience, this has been one of the most desired goals for a foreign English speaker in that the accurate expression for something may not only be needed for a person’s social life but they may also need it for a job promotion or to live and work in another English speaking country. So, the motivation to learn good English grammar is mostly self-evident to them. Furthermore, the only way that any student will ever be able to give and receive good English communication is through the application of grammar. Training a student on how to think about the construction of the English language and also how to place the correct vocabulary within the correct English structure is both a rewarding and worthwhile effort. Grammar learning will finally bring the student to a point of realization that he/she can communicate properly and will feel comfortable knowing that he/she is understood as intended.
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To conclude, teaching grammar gives great rewards, especially for the teacher, when helping another person structure their expression. For the student, it gives a good insight into how to use the language properly.
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