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...

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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...

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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...

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Karaoke at home

Posted by on Apr 10, 2013 in Listening, Reading, Speaking, Videos |

Doing grammar exercises is not the only way to improve your English!  Sometimes you just want to have a little fun and sing a song.  Karaoke Party is a clever website where you can sing a bunch of different songs for free.  You can search by genre, year or keyword and you will see a flash video with or without the words and a representation of the melody (kind of like SingStar for the PS3).  You can already sing a few songs without registering, if you register you will get more.  There is a paid membership if you want access to all the songs but they have a nice selection for registered users already. Have...

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Free audiobooks–Librivox

Posted by on Mar 20, 2013 in Listening, Vocabulary |

We all need to practice our listening skills, but it can be difficult.  Listening to the news can be boring.  Watching films or TV shows can be fun, but do we really understand what they said?  Can we remember it?  Sometimes we want to check if we really heard everything. Librivox is a community of people who are trying to record all of the books in the public domain.  This means that all of their resources are 100% free and legal!  It also means that you won’t find Harry Potter there, but for a free resource it is really excellent. How does it work?  Go to Librivox and do a search or just browse their collection.  I enjoy short stories, and I got a lot of results for “short” and “stories” when I searched for those terms.  You can also try terms like “poetry,” “ghost,” or “mystery.”  Click on one of the titles and on the next page you will be able to find links to the text and the recording.  Some readers are better than others (they are all volunteers), so try a different title if you don’t have a good reader.  Read along in the text as you listen, you’ll learn lots of new vocabulary as you improve your listening...

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