Published: 13th September 2020
Goodbye, Mister Grammar Nazi: Why being obsessed with grammatical accuracy is not the best idea
This is what transpired when Dr Albert P'Rayan started a conversation on grammar and communication on Facebook. He made a few provocative statements and the following discussion ensued
Recently, I initiated a discussion on Facebook on grammar and communication and whether grammar teaching is really needed. I made the following provocative statements:
1. Communicative competence is more important than mere grammatical competence.
2. Fluency is more important than accuracy.
3. Obsession with grammar kills communication.
4. Imitating native speakers of English isn’t good.
5. Perfection is not possible and therefore emphasising on perfection is undesirable and it should not be the objective of English language teaching.
6. Grammar teaching is not necessary. Let learners learn grammar on their own. This is one way of enabling learners to develop their communicative competence.
7. Expose students to the English learning environment and encourage them to listen and read.
The post attracted comments from seasoned professors of English, school teachers, writers and many others. Check it out on bit.ly/35dbVnr
Most of those who commented on the post agreed with me saying that over emphasis on grammatical accuracy acts as an obstacle for students. Professor Partha Misra, Bengaluru, comments: “Our obsession with grammatical accuracy demotivates our children and consequently they hesitate to speak the target language.” Misra substantiates his comment by sharing a successful experiment done in Azim Premji University in collaboration with SCERT Telangana, conducted for primary school teachers to find how the teachers attained fluency without being obsessed with grammatical accuracy.
Some are addicted to grammar. Some love learning grammar. Some hate grammar. I know quite a lot of professionals who produce grammatically correct sentences while speaking and writing but most of them do not know the difference between adjectives and adverbs or nouns and pronouns. I also know a number of teachers of English who communicate in the language effectively but do not know the rules of grammar.
Recently, I attended a webinar in which linguist and second language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen shared his views on Grammar and Language Acquisition. Krashen said, “I’m not opposed to grammar. My position on grammar is this. It is hard. It is very hard to teach grammar. It is very hard to apply the rules. Grammar is limited. It is very hard to remember all the rules. Noam Chomsky does not know all the rules. Even grammar teachers do not know all the rules. Grammar teaching should not be at the core of language teaching.”
English language learners who want to become proficient in the language should expose themselves to the language by developing their listening and reading skills. A good listener can become a good speaker and a good reader can become a good writer. There is nothing wrong in making grammatical errors. Those who dare to make mistakes while practising the language become effective users of the language. Learners can improve by referring to good grammar handbooks occasionally but they need not be obsessed with grammatical accuracy.