Bad grammar: to how people boring angry make!

Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Grammar |

There really is nothing quite so tedious and boring as a prescriptive grammarian.  And I’m a native speaker, and an English teacher with a section about grammar on his blog!  I really have a lot of sympathy for people who are learning English.  Let me explain what I mean by “prescriptive grammar.” To paraphrase the linguist David Brazil, a grammarian must begin from one of the following assumptions: We can discover the rules of grammar by assuming that when people speak or write, their motivation is the production of what we call “sentences.” We can discover the rules of grammar by assuming that when people speak or write, they do so with some communicative purpose.  By analysing their purpose and the structures they use, we can find patterns. So if you want to make correct sentences, the prescriptive grammarian can tell you the rules of sentence-making.  The second position is called descriptive grammar: we assume that communication is generally successful and we look at how that communication was achieved.  Unfortunately, a great number of people still assume that what we all want to do when we open our mouths or sit down at the keyboard is make a bunch of correct sentences.  And oh, how they complain when we don’t! I found an example of this in yesterday’s Guardian: Grammar rules everyone should follow.  By the time I read the article, about 16 hours after it had been posted, there were more than 600 comments by people who were mostly complaining about grammar mistakes in the newspaper or other comments.  People have a special sort of passion for some of the rules in the list (especially the two items in the list–numbers 3 and 5–which the writer explains aren’t actually rules of grammar!), regardless of whether they are accurate or not.  If your friend is enjoying some music, would you ask them, “Hey!  To what are you listening?” The Guardian’s article was written as a result of the Bad Grammar Award which was ironically given to a group of educators who wrote a letter to a politician.  The “critique” of the letter is a perfect example of assuming that everyone sets out primarily to write correct sentences.  The authors seem to have never heard the expression “too much too young” and to deliberately have difficulty understanding other straightforward sentences based on the perceived parts of speech of the words.  All of this prescriptive grammar is not just boring, it’s harmful.  In another article criticising the writer of the Bad Grammar Award: “I suspect [he] will have immense amounts of fun and satisfaction telling people what is “right”. People attending his classes will feel immensely pleased that they have been...

Read More

Something new to read, every day

Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Reading |

Every weekday morning, I get an email from Delancey Place.  It’s a non-profit organisation that sends short excerpts from non-fiction books and if you buy the book through the link they provide to Amazon, they make a donation to children’s literacy programmes.  For me, it’s a short piece of good writing I can enjoy when I have a 5 minute break in my day.  For you, it could be a nice way to have a broad choice of things to read in English. In the email from 1 May, you can read a very negative reaction to the introduction of technology into the classroom… from Plato!  He says that writing “is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”  Write that in your speaking exam and let me know what score you get! You can subscribe to the Delancey Place emails on either of the links above or directly on this page.  Happy...

Read More

This I Believe–Essays from ordinary Americans

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Listening, Reading, Writing |

It’s difficult to become a good writer without spending a lot of time reading good writing.  And I think we all know the quality of most of the writing on Facebook and Instagram.  So where do you find good writing that’s not 350 pages long? One place where you can read (and listen to!) short essays about hundreds of different topics is at This I Believe.  The website is a revived version of a radio programme in the 1950s where people could listen to essays from famous people talking about their beliefs and motivations.  The new version of the show is similar except the essays are by people from all walks of life.  The goal of the programme–as the Executive Producer says on the about page,–is “not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, the hope is to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.” Start reading and listening to essays at This I Believe now! Check the other posts I’ve written about places to read good writing: blogs daily news sites weekly or monthly news sites...

Read More

Free spelling and grammar checking software

Posted by on Mar 15, 2013 in Grammar, Writing |

We all use a spell-checker when we write, but most of them don’t notice when we write the wrong word.  If I wrote, “I had a bear at the pub last night,” all of the words are spelled correctly but I should have typed “beer.”  Ginger is a new kind of spelling and grammar checker that checks the context of your words, not just the words in isolation.  Ginger notices “pub” in the sentence and offers to correct it for me.  Try it here: World’s Leading Grammar and Spell Checker Learn More Ginger doesn’t catch everything (it accepted some present perfect/past simple errors in my tests), but it will catch a lot of mistakes.  Use it to quickly check your English emails and letters before you send them out.  It will keep a record of your errors and suggest activities for you to do, too.  Or it will just help you write better for...

Read More

Documentaries from Australia

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Listening, Reading, Videos |

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has some fantastic resources online:  Catalyst is a 10 minute documentary programme with transcripts, and Foreign Correspondent is a 30 minute news documentary programme with transcripts.  Both shows have a short introduction before the transcript begins.

Read More