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Every year, Americans around the nation get together to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th through October 15th. The contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the United States are endless and inspiring, and they have had a profound and positive impact on our county.

Confessions of a Grammar Nerd

By jreyes 1641 Views Leave a comment Go to comments
Sep 15

Anne Smieszny Silva

I have a confession to make. I am a grammar nerd. I love grammar. I always have, and always will.

Now, before you get all aflutter or vote me off the island or anything, let me explain. It’s somewhat unpopular to be fond of participles nowadays. Even the word “grammar” is passé; we prefer to speak in euphemisms like “forms” or “structures.” The grammar movement seems to have passed out of fashion around the turn of the century, or at least when Latin was the “world language” in vogue. Those teachers who are passionate about “Communication” (as though it could happen without grammar) seem to scorn the affinity for grammar like the head cheerleader scorns the chess club in a bad teen movie. And like that chess club, some of us grammar geeks have felt the peer pressure to fit in, leave grammatical explanations aside, embrace the catch phrases of language pedagogy as though we truly ascribed to them and only them. “Cool! Rad! Spiffy!” we say. But we don’t really mean it.

I admit, I’ve dabbled in TPR. I’ve experimented in immersion. But no matter what, the way I learn new languages—namely, by analyzing patterns, applying rules to new terms, reasoning out new expressions—has affected the way I tend to teach them. Even as I write this, I feel the need to defend the approach, as though it were somehow devious or subversive.

But “word on the street” has it that elementary students can’t or shouldn’t learn grammar rules, that middle school students will be bored out of their minds, and that high school students will stage an outright revolt if you try. I guess the fear is that your students will be so focused on the rules that they forget to “absorb” any of the language. “That’s not how you learned your first language,” they say. (“Perhaps not, but it is how I learned my second and third languages…” I say, sticking out my tongue defiantly.)

But I made a startling discovery when I decided to loosen up, give rein to my love for affixes and gerunds within my lesson plans. My students loved them, too. I ventured to explain pluralization to 2nd graders, and subject pronouns to 5th graders. The excitement I felt upon learning that, just by applying a rule, I could use hundreds of previously unknown words…I saw it in my students’ eyes as well. I daresay that my enthusiasm was contagious, and that the benefit I saw for that kind of analysis was made clear to them, too. Like the chess club captain who, at the end of the movie, takes pride in her nerdiness, I’ve come to embrace this tendency and use it to my advantage in teaching.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we all become grammar nerds. My particular students were ready for that kind of approach, and I certainly didn’t use a grammar approach exclusively! Everything in moderation, as they say.

The important thing is that, whatever your passion, whatever makes the language speak to you, SHARE that with your students, even if it isn’t in fashion right now. Music, film, poetry, current events, realia, task-based assessment, differentiated instruction, TPR, interpretive dance, whatever…incorporate it into your teaching as you incorporate it into your own learning. Our students learn what we present to them, but they FEEL what we present to them, too.

We need to show them that there is more than one way to explore this intricate—and sometimes tortuous—path called language.

So be wild and crazy…use a grammar chart every now and then. I won’t tell!

Share and Enjoy
Pam Llorens September 14, 2011 at 10:07 PM Reply
Boy are you right! I teach at a college and I teach grammar
Nancy September 16, 2011 at 11:55 AM Reply
I was just having this conversation with my English colleagues and principal. I am beginning to realize that the students are not the foundations of basic grammar in the lower schools like they used to. I've heard several peers tell me that it is boring to teach it. I love teaching grammar. I am a grammar nerd too!
Nancy September 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM Reply
Correction: I am beginning to realize that the students are not being taught the foundations of basic grammar in the lower schools like they used to.
Frank September 16, 2011 at 2:02 PM Reply
No offense to all the grammar nerds out there, but in my experience, students are bored by a “drill and kill” grammar approach to learning. Although very important, isn’t it more important, initially at least, that students express themselves, learn about the Hispanic cultures, and learn to appreciate and love the language. If we’re trying to entice them to learn a new language, shouldn’t we use an approach that is more interesting? I know all of you out there feel very strongly about grammar, but motivation is key to learning a new language and grammar is just not too motivating to most students.
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Every year, Americans around the nation get together to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th through October 15th. The contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the United States are endless and inspiring, and they have had a profound and positive impact on our county.

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