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I don’t know…..

These are not words we  like to hear from our doctor when we are being examined; or our airline pilot when a red light starts flashing on the control panel; or our credit card company when we ask what happened to the online payment we made; or Amazon when we try to find out where our DVDs are.

Now, of course some of these are life and death situations and some of them are not. But the point I’m making is if one chooses to be in a position where one is expected to know certain fundamental things about that position,  then it is a good idea  to be trained or to train oneself  in such a way that these fundamentals things become known and even familiar. And yes that may take a little bit of  time, and it may in fact mean spending even more time learning  and working stuff out for oneself and perhaps cross-checking and maybe even finding somone who knows a bit more and asking them.

I can safely say that my doctor knows the difference between a heart attack and a severe case of wind – and I go to him because he does know and I don’t. I’m very glad my airline pilot can triangulate and calculate where we are and how to get me home to my children, but I don’t need to know that stuff. I pay him to know. And I’m also glad that Amazon has a digital record of my all transactions and payments, because I don’t have one and I’m not expected to have one.

Why in this case are some English Language teachers prepared and sometimes quite happy to announce that they “don’t know their grammar”? (Funny that they usually claim the grammar as theirs!) I find in incomprehensible that some of the trained English Language teachers I have come across, think “I had breakfast” is a Past Perfect, have no idea what a modal auxiliary is and happily slap apostrophes on possessive pronouns and plurals. It is, in my book, unforgiveable. If we want to be considered English Language professionals, then we really ought to know more about the subject than people who aren’t English Language professionals.


6 responses »

  1. I think fear is an initial factor when it comes to learning grammar. It can seem rather academic, and we’ve all had bad experiences at school, so best to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. But in the state system, I’ve found that teachers and teaching assistants really do enjoy learning grammar when given the opportunity. Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguisitcs is more about manipulating sentences and there is a lot of EAL teacher training on this.

  2. Hi David
    I remember once when I was telling a French friend that I was going to study English at University, she looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Why? English is your language. Why do you have to learn it?”
    I guess a lot of people think that, and if it wasn’t for Latin, I would never have had the advantage I did have when I started “learning grammar”. But now, when I do teacher induction, I include a lot of grammar and find exactly what you said, that teachers, a lot of whom feel les than competent in the field, really enjoy actually getting a handle on the tenses and finding out about basic structures etc. In fact I enjoy teaching it too!!

    Thanks for stopping by, as always 🙂

  3. Candy, you are EXACTLY the sort of grammar teacher I’m looking for! My grammar is fine – I know a lot of people say that and from the run on sentence this is becoming I know you’ll have doubts, but it’s true – but I can’t explain it to others very well. I know when it’s wrong, I can give endless examples, but I can’t say “Well, this is the past pluperfect plumbline participle and that’s an auxiliarly strawberry noun and never the twain should meet”.

    Friend Kirsten and I went in search of an Advanced Grammar class. We signed up for one which advertised itself as such, with a warning that this was NOT for ESL (English as Second Language) students. Then heigh ho, the “teacher” gave us handouts with poor grammar in them, spent a long time explaining to ESL students, and talked in between about Britney Spears. My grammar in the scathing letter I wrote to his boss was impeccable!


  4. Brill Max!

    Even though I know quit a lot of “grammar” stuff, there are things that leave me floored. I mean why on EARTH do we say, “The bankers “are to blame” for the failing economy.” ? I mean what IS that? Why do we sometimes say, “Everyone must register by 9” and sometimes, “Everyone is toregister by 9.” And why doesn’t it work with “blame”? QED. Even Swan doesn’t help and that’s saying something!!


  5. Hi Candy and Max,
    I think if there really was an ‘auxiliary strawberry noun’ and a ‘past pluperfect plumbline participle’ it’d become a lot more enticing for a lot more people. I’d certainly like to see a cheesecake conditional. Slightly more seriously, Michael Lewis’s ‘The English Verb’ is still my favourite explanation of verb phrases, tenses and modalities. If the answer isn’t in there, or in Swan, or in any of Scott Thornbury’s books, then the answer does not exist!

    • Hi Tony
      I have to agree re: Lewis and the verb – totally opened my eyes. And anything Scott doesn’t know needs to be seriously questioned!
      Thanks for stopping by and for subscribing!!
      Looking forward to IATEFL.


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