Monthly Archives: January 2011

Jan 9th 2011

English Grammar

After teaching English grammar for a while, you come to the realization (along with your students) that English is a strange, hybrid language!
Some languages are phonetic – spelling and pronunciation are fairly obvious and consistent, following logical patterns and rules. English is not one of them.
The English language has so many influences from so many foreign languages that at times it can be very difficult to figure out how to correctly spell and pronounce some words. For example, why do the words “should” and “wood” rhyme?  Why don’t “weight” and “height” rhyme? There are many such examples.
In addition, the English noun often has been imported from other languages. Examples include accoutrement, zeitgeist, chutzpah, coup d’état, détente, and the list goes on. These words cause many problems for students of English, and even native speakers sometimes spell and pronounce them incorrectly.
These nouns, along with irregular verbs and grammar exceptions, make English a challenging language to master. However, once a student acknowledges and accepts the eccentricities of the English language, they often realize the wisdom of memorizing the rules, and then remembering to tackle the myriad exceptions as they encounter them. This approach can make language learning much less daunting.
Another difficult point for students in an English school to master is idioms. The reason that many students find idioms too difficult to learn and master is because, most of the time, there is no logical way to explain their origins (for example, “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “she blew her top”). Instead, students must rely on memory and practice to learn them.
There are so many idioms in English that they can be confusing for the average learner, especially as teachers sometimes tend to overemphasize them in their lesson plans. However, if idioms are taught intermittently, as they arise in written or spoken material (such as newspaper articles, reading passages or TV news items), then students will be much more likely to remember them – especially if they are instructed to practice them in their writing and speaking.
Using this more haphazard method, students will generally retain idioms better, and the odds that they will recall them the next time they hear them somewhere are higher. Generally, this is more or less adequate for students of English, as they need to recognize and know how to interpret idioms that they hear in conversation, but do not necessarily need to be able to use them when speaking themselves.