Teach English in Nantongshiliangmian Yuanzhongchang - Nantong Shi

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Of all the areas one needs to study to be considered fluent in English, grammar is undoubtedly the boogey man in the closet for many. From elementary school to adult learners, I have yet to meet a student who has not been struck with fear upon hearing this word. So much so, that some teachers and schools have decided to adopt English teaching policies that are completely absent of grammar, fearing that it would discourage students in their studies. But to start with, what actually is grammar? Essentially, grammar is a set of rules that governs how sentences are made in a language. Stripped of its flesh, it is the distillation of a language, the remaining lattice structure that holds vocabularies like nouns and verbs in place in an orderly fashion. These rules are meant to anchor and help one navigate the seemingly arbitrary patterns of sentence construction. For a person that is lost in a city, grammar would be like a map, guiding you through the many curves and corners to your destination. If grammar is the established “map” to the maze like “cities” of language learning, why aren’t people longing for it, but are rather repulsed by the first utterance of its name? In fact, these “maps” are said to have been drawn by people who have dedicated their entire lives to traversing “cities” as efficiently as possible (linguists, professors, textbook writers), wouldn’t it makes the most sense to just follow the path that they have drawn up and to avoid the mistakes that they have made? First and foremost, we must remind ourselves, that grammar is a “map”, and a map is just a tool. And just like all tools, they are not useful, or even needed in an occasion of the time. Let’s say you are travelling in a new city, and you want to get to the train station. If you can see the station from where you are, even if you have to make turns to get around obstructing buildings, chances are you can walk in the general correct direction and find yourself to your destination, all without opening the map. In fact, opening the map and following it by the dot might make it even more complicated than it is. Often times, your common sense is more than enough to get you to where you want to go. All you need is to have the bravery to try and take the first step of trying to respond in English. As a teacher, you can seek to motivate your students by encouraging them to take chances and make mistakes. In fact, trial and error is such an integral part of language learning, that being too dependent on grammatical mastery would undermine a students’ natural confidence to experiment with the language. Just like how everyone explores a new city differently, the way each student experiences a new language is a uniquely personal one, which produces a personal memory. As long as one understands and remembers how it occurred, there is nothing more memorable than a mistake, acting like a flag on an alien terrain, making them all the more important and valuable. In education institutions in both Japan and China, there is a culture and emphasis on learning and following rules, which makes grammar such an attractive area to teach. It follows the school philosophy that a student should attain mastery of an area through study and rigorous drills; what can possibly go wrong if the student remembers every rule clearly and apply them perfectly in every situation? This is where the experts have been blind sighted by the rigorous effort that they have put in their crafts. The map, being an extract of the real world, has all the irrelevant and excess information stripped away, as to provide a clear and universal set of rules. However, it is also precisely that it has all these information stripped away, that it contains absolutely zero context for the brain to remember it by; it is simply too abstract for all but few to grasp. In addition, often times the rules constructed are so complicated and contains so many exceptions, that it is more efficient to apply the trial and error methodology, and allow the brain itself to naturally register the pattern. This parallel treatment of rules mastery of other subjects (math, physics) to English learning has resulted in the overextension of the role of grammar as a tool, to the point that the goal of the class is no longer “to find your way to your destination through the city, but to perfectly apply the map everywhere regardless of if its needed or not”. A more practical approach to using grammar to facilitate communication and speaking is to strengthen students’ ability to recognize sentence structures. One must start with a base sentence. If we were to teach as the base sentence, “What do you have?” and “I have (a) noun.”, it would be useful to teach them the meaning of “what”, “you”, “I” and “have”, as they are words that can be easily translated into the students’ mother language. Next, an action can be assigned to each of the words, so that students can have one more context to remember them by, and repetition would be coupled with the actions to create a dance. In the beginning, I would allow the student to say the noun in their mother tongue, as the focus is on remembering the sentences, and substitute it with its English equivalent afterwards. For the next class, if I were to teach the variant sentence of, “What do you want?” and “I want (a) noun.”, thanks to the students prior knowledge of the sentence structure, I only need to introduce the new verb “want”. As teachers, it is important to curate and create a simplified model of the language, so that students can focus on the target skill. Grammar is, quite simply, nothing but the means to the end, of effective communication.