Myth of Teaching Grammar

Understanding learning through Grammar usage. Using Grammar to explore a potentially bigger, and deeper myth about learning. We use grammar as a crutch to dig into this yet unnamed myth.

Let’s explore some questions to understand what role Grammar plays

Q. Do we need to learn grammar?

Answering this question in a negative might be politically incorrect! So lets start with a slightly different question?

Q. Do we like to learn grammar?

A layman would answer “No” mostly.

When we see people around, we observe that they have quickly habituated to the word-processor doing this for them.

A safe assumption can be – if most people do not like learning something, then there is something wrong with something or the way it is learned or the reasons it is learned for!

So let us rephrase our question once again:

Q. What do most people like to do (with respect to English language)?

People use language to communicate (reading, writing and listening) and to absorb the content in various forms like –

Reading – Newspapers, magazines, novels etc. They also read all kinds of emails, Social media content and explore various information on internet.

Listening – they listen to other people, Podcasts, Audio books, radio, and TV.

With so much input of language in their life, and most of it grammatically proper, it is quite obvious that most people learn the basic grammar anyhow.

If this is not obvious to you – just watch how most toddlers are able to master sentence formation, tenses, and other idiosyncrasies of English language – with simple exposure and almost no direct instruction grammar?

Q. Does it mean we can learn grammar without learning grammar?

While we are all aware of the traditional way of learning grammar, there can be another way learning grammar – we call it my mother’s way as she used to say, “If you want to learn grammar, read good books”.

So if for some reason you do not like the grammar rule book and worksheets – here is an alternative which has worked for me – soaking oneself in articulations done by the erudite?

Let osmosis happen from the well written to the novice writer.

Our assertion is that it is possible that grammar can make sense more intuitively, relying more on exposure then examination.

Q. Does it mean we can learn PERFECT grammar just by reading, listening et al.

Perhaps a better question is –

Q. Who needs to learn perfect grammar?

This is easier to answer: The professionals in the field of language like Authors, journalists, editors and yes grammar teachers.

others, have the liberty to make mistakes. Or how I would put it – liberty to take liberties.

Obviously I am not talking about a callous or lazy attitude towards poor writing or reviewing or editing my own writing. That to us is unacceptable.

We’re talking about an unconsciously beautiful imperfection.

A writing and speech that emanates not from the desire of perfection, but from the purpose of beautiful expression. It is beautiful with its flaws, and also beautiful in its thoughts and imagery.

We are talking about an incessant preoccupation, not with correctness and appropriateness, but with exchange of experience and ideas.

As Carl Rogers says (replace the word individual with individual’s language),

“One of the most satisfying experiences I know is just fully to appreciate an individual in the same way I appreciate a sunset. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple in the cloud color” — I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch it with awe as it unfolds. It is this receptive, open attitude which is necessary to truly perceive something as it is”.

I hear you saying – “You are side tracking the discussion. Are you saying we do not need to teach grammar to every child?”

So let us side step this question by saying that a more pertinent question is –

Q. why one should learn grammar, the way it is taught?

No no, we are not saying it is the method of teaching or pedagogy that is flawed.

We are saying that it is the reason for learning grammar that requires a rethink.

One reason to learn grammar is for the purpose of learning grammar. Another purpose is for being able to express in a reasonable quality language.

To us the purpose of language learning does not necessarily require the purpose of grammar learning.

Its like, to do a lot of Indian curry cooking we use jeera seeds (cumin). But I have no reason to know why I use it, except for it makes my food taste good and that I have learned it from others whose cooked food I liked. I do not need to know the purpose of cumin seeds. I need to be clear of my purpose of cooking.

So to us a different way to look at grammar is somewhat like cumin seeds: Essential to language but not essential to be learned as grammar.

Lets us even attempt to generalize this.

That the purpose of learning is not learning. The purpose of learning is living, doing, enjoying, celebrating, being, and growing.

And interestingly above includes people, rather purists, who learn learning for its sake. For them the learning then becomes all the above – words are not mere words, they become a song and grammar is nor grammar but becomes the rhythm of the song.

Q. Does it mean the way grammar is taught – it is to teach grammar?

Maybe not, but what is important for us to always keep in mind is no matter how children learn grammar, certainly children aren’t in school to learn grammar or language. Children are in the school to learn how to communicate effectively and express freely.

So it is possible to free children from learning grammar so that they can learn grammar 🙂

John Sinclair, the author, once announced that he is going to conduct a workshop on writing. Hordes of people collected in the hall. He came to the mic and asked, “Who wants to learn how to write?”

Every single hand in the hall went up.

With a big grin he concluded his two sentence workshop, “Then go home and write”. And with that he simply walked out!