Grammar Awareness and You: Part 1

Posted August 1, 2012 by Amanda Shofner in Writing / 0 Comments

Grammar Awareness and You: Part 1 seeks to explain the necessity of having grammar awareness in addition to learning grammar rules. 

If your goal is to better your grammar skills, memorizing grammar rules is not going to be enough. Is it a start? Yes, definitely. Grammar rules are essential. One cannot use language without grammar rules. But knowing the rules and using the rules correctly are two very different things.

The best way that I can illustrate this disconnect between knowing rules and using them is by using my English as a second language students as an example. I have taught both grammar and writing classes—often in the same semester to the same students—and it very quickly becomes apparent that students don’t take what they learn in grammar class and apply it in writing.

It’s as though the students believe that each class exists in its own bubble where information in one class cannot cross into another. But grammar is an all-pervasive component in language. In other words, you cannot escape it. (Neither should you try.)

This past summer, one of our grammar units consisted of subject-verb agreement. When eliciting grammar information from the students, all of them could easily remember that singular subjects (e.g., it) take singular verbs (e.g., goes) and plural subjects take plural verbs. There was no doubt in my mind that my students knew what subject-verb agreement was.

When it came time for them to demonstrate their knowledge, however, everything fell apart. They struggled with identifying subjects of content they read, and they struggled with their own writing. I struggled to answer the question: why is this happening?

My answer was relatively simple: grammar awareness. Or rather, my students lacked awareness of grammar. They could recite the rules, but their understanding of how grammar works together to inspire those rules was severely lacking. Think of grammar rules as a hand-woven rug. There are many strands of material woven together to create one full, complete rug. Most people simply see the rug as a rug. But each strand of material needs to be properly woven together with other strands to complete the rug. If there’s a flaw in how the strands are woven together, we may be able to point out this flaw. However, even if we can point out the flaw, we may not understand how to unravel the rug to get to it, nor may we understand how to fix it.

Grammar is similar. Objectively, we know we need grammar rules in order to write. We can recite grammar rules. We can even write decently. But our knowledge of how grammar rules work together to create the whole is missing.

What is wrong here, then, isn’t a lack of knowledge of grammar rules. The problem is that people have not been given the tools to think consciously and deliberately about grammar. The good news is that people can train themselves to think consciously about grammar. The news that people will hate, however, is that it does take time and effort. In two weeks, we’ll return to help you with tips and tricks to make the entire process easier.

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