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GRAMMAR v a grammar


I’m taking a TSL class this semester and we started discussing something in class the other day that I think is applicable to technology in the classroom.  Basically, there are different types of grammar.  GRAMMAR refers to that stuff you learned in elementary school that you would sooner spend a day with ancient aunt Betty than have to recount.  “a grammar” is that stuff you actually use.  If I told you your new hair-doo looked cool, you’d know what I mean.  You may not know what I mean when I say wut it do homie? chillin out maxin droppin it like it’s hot? But that’s ok, you don’t know my friend Malissa from the Bronx.  a grammar is like a secret handshake that isn’t so secret: most people, native language users at least, know what a grammar is and know how to use it in everyday communication.  You don’t say “I will but-ter my toast.” you say “I will bud-der my toast.”  Obviously this has implications in teaching English as a second language.  But what are its implications in technology use?

The first thing you are probably thinking of is texting.  LOL, HAHA, and LMAO are all things that you’d probably understand if you get a text and you’re under the age of 30. But what about in the classroom when someone writes a paper on the computer?  My grandparents bemoan the death of culture and society because the new generation does not conform to their standards of what is acceptable communication.  Are these errors really grammar errors or the student expressing what they know?  It’s a great question: where do we draw the line between self-expression and the lingua-franca (if there is one)?  Clearly we need to teach kids proper English, without it you lose a tool that is necessary to function affectively.  But how much reprimanding is appropriate for self expression in their language.  I’m not going so far as to suggest that proper English is becoming the new Latin: dead and standard.  Rather it is evolving, rapidly.  So when kids are in the computer lab, writing a paper, it’s really up to you what you will accept and reject as acceptable.  But my suggestion is that you have to consider where the kids are coming from: their context, their exposure, and the communication they use every day.


3 responses to “GRAMMAR v a grammar

  1. Stephen Ransom ⋅

    Interesting… Here’s a book that might interest you.

    We must most certainly take into account our students’ backgrounds, culture, experiences, strengths, deficits… Start from where they are and bring them to where we want them to be.

  2. adunn7

    Mike, I totally identify with what you are talking about! Differentiating between grammar and A grammar is very hard for second language learners and even some native speakers whose idiolect (basically, your own personal speech style) is a dialect such as ebonics.

    Last year I gave the NYSESLAT exam to ELLs at a High School in the City School District and was surprised by some of the errors the students were making. For some questions they had to decide which word would fit in the blank to make a sentence grammatically correct. Instead of writing “There he went” many chose to write “There he go.” Their answer is incorrect in standard English, but completely correct in the dialect which they heard spoken all around them at school! For the speaking portion of the test, I kept reminding students to speak in proper English because grammatical correctness was one of the main things I needed to score them on. Many of these students knew English, they just didn’t really know STANDARD English.

    “Are these errors really grammar errors or the student expressing what they know?”

    This dilemma has been discussed in many of my TESOL classes. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve heard on how to deal with it is to talk with students about when it is appropriate to use various forms of language. You might use dialect, L1 or a grammar when you are talking with friends or family in an informal setting, but when doing academic work or interviewing for a job, we use standard English. Also, providing times in class when it’s okay to do assignments in dialect, L1 or A grammar and then other times when standard English is necessary helps in both honoring students’ individual backgrounds and knowledge but also helps students learn which contexts various forms of language are appropriate.

  3. Your blog gave me a lot to think about. I have definitely come across a paper or two which used the letter u in place of you.

    While I understand why students make mistakes like this, I feel like accepting this sort of writing would not be helping students in the long run. Most careers expect you to use proper grammar, and students need to get in the habit of using it. If we let our students use a grammar too often in class, it will be even more difficult for them to transition out of after graduation.

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