Grammar – Who Needs It?
Some years ago, I saw a television interview with a professor of English from a British university and was appalled when he maintained that it is not necessary to teach grammar because everybody knows their own language, and knowledge of grammar does not enhance either their reading or writing skills.
Well, let's just think about this for a minute. Saying that nobody needs to learn grammar because everyone knows their own language is not dissimilar to saying that nobody needs to learn geography because everyone knows their own home town.
Of course everyone knows their own language, but grammar isn't just about your own language. It is about all language. It is, for example, virtually impossible to become fluent in a foreign language without a proper understanding of grammar. Oh, sure, you can learn all the words, but you'll never know how to put them together.
If words are the bricks and mortar of language, grammar represents the tools with which it is constructed. Knowledge is power and knowledge of grammar gives you not only an enhanced understanding of what you read, but it gives you a fast track to learning foreign languages and, perhaps most importantly, a much greater ability to communicate.
If we fail to equip our children with these basic tools, we are sending them into the world ill-prepared. And, to return to our first metaphor, if teaching geography is important for understanding the world we live in, how much more important is teaching grammar, which helps us understand language, the fundamental way human beings communicate with each other.
And what about those who later wish to write professionally? Would you employ a builder who had no qualifications, did not understand how his tools worked and did not even know the names of some of his tools? Of course not. So why would you pay good money for a book written by someone who doesn't know the difference between a verb and a noun?
Some people have an immediate and instinctive grasp of how grammar works, usually people who read a great deal. Most of us could do with a little help. We certainly cannot assume that we will just pick it up.
I have spent a lot of time in the last year or so reading and reviewing recently published authors and one thing that is quite apparent is that the majority do not understand how language works. The social networks are full these days of authors discussing the pros and cons of sticking to one point of view, stripping out unnecessary words, etc. There seems to be no discussion about the efficacy of good, grammatically correct English.
Good use of language is powerful and beautiful and all the creative writing classes in the world will not replace it.
Whenever I went off at a tangent and rather lost track of what I was supposed to be doing, my boss used to say, “Back to basics, Jen.”
Maybe that's what we all should be doing now.
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