Friday, March 02, 2007

How I learned English Grammar

One of the members of the ETJ list wrote, "I was wondering for those of you who teach did you learn grammar?" I thought I might share my journey, such as it has been.

I learned a good deal of grammar in my French immersion school in the early 70s. Of course, that was in French. When I went to Japan and began teaching English, I had a number of basic concepts, but was often at a loss to understand and explain many points. I picked up some more grammar by staying one step ahead of the students in the various textbooks like that one they (used to?) use at Nova. Still, these were not really grammar textbooks per se and what I picked up there was limited.

My first two real grammar books for teachers were Michael Lewis's The English Verb and A Teacher's Grammar: An Approach to the Central Problems of English by R. A. Close, which I just stumbled across during my regular browsing at Kinokuniya.

Later I took Temple University's M.Ed. which includes a course called New Grammars taught by Ken Schaefer. Ken took us through more traditional grammatical analysis, including sentence diagramming, and introduced us to Chomskyan transformational grammar with grammar trees and all that. The main text was The Grammar Book, which is still probably the best course in grammar for English language teachers.

Since then, I have added to my collection the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, which has lots of interesting stats, but suffers from a lack of attention to its theoretical foundation; and the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, which seems to me the current pinnacle of analysis. (This is not to be confused with the terrible Cambridge Grammar of English by Ron Carter and Michael McCarthy.) There is also a smaller textbook for undergrads, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar based on the CGEL.

Finally, whenever there is a grammar question, I do my best to track down an answer and explain it. You learn a great deal teaching others.

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