Who out­lawed teach­ing gram­mar in schools?

The Manica Post - - Education / Entertainment - Mor­ris Mtisi Ed­u­ca­tion Cor­re­spon­dent

THOSE who out­lawed the teach­ing of English gram­mar must re­think. I have been a teacher of English Lan­guage as a sec­ond lan­guage, let alone English Lit­er­a­ture and Lit­er­a­ture in English, for all my life, both in main­stream and pri­vate sec­tor ed­u­ca­tion.

Not only the pass rate has slowly and con­tin­u­ally plum­meted but the stan­dard or com­mand of lan­guage both in speech and writ­ing to­day gen­er­ally con­tin­ues to leave a lot to be de­sired.

But a ques­tion arises, ‘‘why is the level of English Lan­guage for sec­ond lan­guage learn­ers in the schools as low as it is to­day?’’

‘‘Why has the com­mand of English lan­guage gone to the dogs in speech and writ­ing gen­er­ally?’’

Some­thing must be ter­ri­bly wrong along the way.

Ob­vi­ously many things have gone wrong. But is the aban­don­ment of teach­ing our learn­ers ac­knowl­edged rules of gram­mar, syn­tac­ti­cally and se­man­ti­cally not one of them?

We should not be wor­ried when our chil­dren don’t know the in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter of ev­ery sin­gle word they use?

We should not be wor­ried when they poorly man­age their tenses in their sen­tences and eas­ily lose con­trol of the sub­ject-verb agree­ment?

If you ask them to bring a cooker, we should not be wor­ried if they bring a hu­man be­ing or a gad­get? Any of the two would be fine? They can in­ter­change­ably use the word de­ceased, killed, passed away or on be­cause all of them mean ‘the dead’?

The man who said, ‘‘all the chicks passed away’’ is cor­rect, is he, be­cause it means they died? So long as we know and un­der­stand what he means?

Our chil­dren can use all these words willy-nilly, can they? We must not pe­nalise them? Re­ally?

You hear trained and sea­soned mark­ers agree­ing on what they call sense, not ac­cu­racy or cor­rect­ness of lan­guage!

That never used to hap­pen in our schools as far back as colo­nial times?

Learn­ers then knew what a verb was, a sub­ject, pred­i­cate, a noun, ad­jec­tives, ad­verbs and were taught how to cor­rectly thread these to­gether to make sense in writ­ing or speak­ing.

To­day mark­ers agree that if a child writes, “She mur­dered a hen’’ that is fine be­cause we un­der­stand what the learner means.

They can use slaugh­tered, mur­dered, butchered, and mas­sa­cred in­ter­change­ably and it does not mat­ter? Be­cause all re­fer to killing! Is that the way we must teach English Lan­guage?

One ex­pe­ri­enced and hon­ourable marker once said, “If a child writes ‘tai­lor’ in­stead of ‘teller’ and vice versa, don’t be mean and pe­nalise him or her.

Do you not un­der­stand what he or she wanted to say? That is the rea­son­ing. Has he or she not com­mu­ni­cated well?” In­ter­est­ing or ridicu­lous? I think both.

So we can­not teach that ‘‘burst’’ does not change into ‘‘bursted’’ in the past tense, the way ‘‘cost’’ does not change into ‘‘costed’’ and that these are called neu­tral verbs which do not struc­turally change with the tense con­text, be­cause that would be teach­ing gram­mar?

We can­not tell learn­ers that there are reg­u­lar verbs that end in ‘‘. . . ed’’ when turned into past tense (and that these are 80 to 90 per­cent of the verbs in English lan­guage) but there are some that are ir­reg­u­lar . . . like ‘‘dig’’ which be­comes ‘‘dug’’ and not ‘‘digged’’, ‘‘fly’’ which be­comes ‘‘flew’’ in­stead of ‘‘flied’’, eat-ate, and not ‘‘eated’’, sit-sat, not ‘‘sit­ted’’, see-saw, and not ‘‘seed’’? We can­not teach this be­cause this is gram­mar?

When a sub­ject or agent is sin­gu­lar (only one) the verb takes an ‘‘s’’ form eg. A dog barks or a cat jumps or a cow eats.

But when the agents are more than one you omit the ‘‘s’’ form eg. Dogs bark; cats jump and cows eat.

We can­not teach this be­cause that would be teach­ing gram­mar?

Teach them the way they speak and write, they say. What does this mean?

We know our chil­dren, our learn­ers, talk about ‘‘eat­ing money’’, ‘‘buy­ing their dresses and shirts’’, ‘‘a trousers’’ in­stead of sim­ply ‘‘trousers’’ (many) be­cause in­deed they are a pair.

Do we not tell them for fear of be­ing ac­cused of teach­ing gram­mar?

So we wait un­til they make the er­ror so that we can be thanked for teach­ing English as it is used?

Do we not teach them that we can­not say “It was last year in June when we went to visit . . .” (a very pop­u­lar open­ing sen­tence in learn­ers’ com­po­si­tions) but “It was last year in June that we went to visit . . .”? How do we teach that with­out teach­ing gram­mar? How do we teach that ‘‘when’’ here is out of place but ‘‘that’’?

Let us go back to the draw­ing board, a new dis­pen­sa­tion of ped­a­gogy.

Do we need these ‘‘re­li­gious donts’’, par­tic­u­larly this English teach­ing eleventh com­mand­ment that crim­i­nalises teach­ing gram­mar?

How do you teach or learn the lan­guage ef­fec­tively, ef­fi­ciently and ef­fi­ca­ciously with­out mas­ter­ing the laws that gov­ern the par­tic­u­lar lan­guage, namely gram­mar?

Food for thought for well-mean­ing and se­ri­ous teach­ers of English Lan­guage! En­joy the week!

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