“Why don’t Americans correct me when I’m wrong?” my French teacher suddenly asked in her accented voice. She looked critically around our tiny class, searching for an answer.
All of us sat in our seats for a moment, contemplating, before swiveling to look at the person next to us. No one seemed to have any ideas.
“I just would like it if people would help me see when I make mistakes,” she clarified.
We nodded in understand. “I think it’s not considered very polite,” I said.
“You look like a grammar nazi,” another girl said with a laugh.
“Besides we don’t know all the rules,” admitted another. “I have a friend from Virginia who says ‘ain’t’ all the time.”
Our teacher nodded somewhat as though beginning to get an understanding. “Still, I would like it if people pointed out when I say something wrong.”
I had to agree with all of the points made. The problems in America is that people who actually understand the basics of grammar get labeled as “nazis” while those who don’t understand are left uncorrected.
How does one go about teaching or (in my French teacher’s case) correcting grammar? I am certainly no expert in the field of language rules. I make mistakes all the time. I’m sure some of you “grammar nazis” could point out multiple errors throughout each of my blog posts.
From the perspective of learning a foreign language I have learned that there is some necessity to learn the basics of grammar. However, I have appreciated when my teacher has taught us a subject and then told us that it is not necessarily used everyday and is therefore not necessary to memorize. Some grammar rules are obscure and if we teach all of them to our students they will simply become overwhelmed.
I have also appreciated that the rules are more of a structure. From learning them we move on to practicing and then just absorbing them in our daily listening and reading. Seeing rules in context makes much more sense. My teacher is also not afraid to point out the mistakes we are making throughout essays and reflections. And when we make those mistakes she asks us to look up the reason for our mistake and therefore better understand for the future.
So how do you teach grammar? From my perspective you teach some basic foundations and applications. After that you let the student absorb from other sources: books, movies, essays, music, etc. And when they have absorbed you let them write and see what errors are still present. When errors are pointed out the student should have some responsibility to look up the reason why they messed up so that they can avoid it in the future.
While my system is far from perfect, I do think it is more balanced than just throwing a student into the world without grammar, or sitting a student down to study only grammar for years.
It’s difficult to learn a language (even your first). There are so many rules and standards to be upheld. There is no easy way to memorize them all. And so I believe students learn what they can and from then on go into the world to explore and learn all the more. This prevents the world from becoming unconcerned with grammar, but it also keeps the grammar “nazis” from having trouble leaving in our grammatically challenged world.