Here is another post in the series prompted by media comment about Grammar Nazis.
If correctness matters, how do we work towards making our English correct? There are many schools of thought on this. Some people believe that grammar cannot be taught, or that it is so complicated that it has to be left until we are old enough to take it in. Research at Newcastle University has found that babies use speech and grammar patterns in their “babble”. Children aged between 23 and 37 months seem to use sounds and puffs of air in the appropriate places to shape their communications grammatically. This suggests that grammar can be taught from a very early age. It makes sense to start young to minimise the trauma of having to unlearn bad habits.
I think it helps to have a grounding in the basic rules, but it is also important to have plenty of examples to follow. This is one reason why reading is an important leisure activity: you can have fun & gain information while absorbing grammar & spelling.
Analysing the mechanics of language only goes part of the way to help you learn about a language. Knowledge of the parts of speech is useful when getting by in another language with the help of a phrase book. On the other hand, my school decided to use an exam when we were 11 to find the best linguists. That exam tested knowledge of irregular verbs. I got a very good mark, because I could recite the things, but I never got the knack of using that knowledge to make sentences. On the plus side, success in that exam put me in the Latin class, which has given me some very useful background knowledge.
For those of us who continue to strive for improvement it is also important to bear in mind the source of our support. Advice for improvement needs to be selected to suit our needs, for example it can be confusing to read a book published to assist those in another part of the world.
So how can we make our English correct? Constant practice & vigilance.
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