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Teaching of grammar

Grammar is not a separate subject and is only a small part of the language course. The study of grammar must go hand-in-hand with the reading lessons and the composition lessons. Notice how little children pick the language spoken at home. They are not given any special grammar lessons. Before long they learn to speak it accurately and to use all the special word-endings for singular and plural, for tense, and all the other grammar ‘rules’. How can they do it if nobody taught them the ‘rules’ of grammar of their language?

Children learn early to make the object-word association. For the same object, they hear the singular word sometimes and the plural word at other times. Perhaps perplexed at first, but they soon begin to see a pattern and begin making the correct word association. Having made an intuitive rule, they go about testing it. This will of course result in mistakes, for every language has its own set of exceptions. But soon they begin making mental note of these exceptions and begin using language correctly. The important point to notice is that children first of all gain a familiarity with words and only then do they begin seeing word patterns and sentence structures. Thus
i) children deals only with a small vocabulary and a few sentence patterns, with which they have gained familiarity and confidence
ii) They form groups of similar cases (like the s for plurals in English)
iii) From these groups, they make for themselves simple grammar ‘rules’

Extending this to the language class, it is easy to see what should not be done in a grammar class. No attempt must be made to include language that has not been learnt in the talking or reading class. That is, don’t do grammar that is far in advance of children’s speaking and reading ability. What is the use of knowing a rule applicable to words that are not used in every day usage? It will only induce children to commit the rule to memory and if not practiced sufficiently, the rule will be soon forgotten. Exceptions must not be mentioned unless there is a need for it. Let children find use for words for which special rules apply. They will automatically learn the exception then.

Reference: The Teaching of English Abroad, By F. G. French, Oxford University Press, 1954.

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