grammar and what can’t be taught

This post will be quite long, and probably boring to many, so fair warning.

Anybody who is an academic, particularly among those who are young and looking to make a name for themselves, is likely to feel frustrated by the pace of knowledge generation and the constant need to qualify and contextualized claims. I wouldn’t have it any other way; this is how we’ve responsibly built knowledge for centuries and it works. It is frustrating, sometimes, to constantly put a “we think” when you want to put a “we know.” It’s a temptation I have to fight myself a lot.

Well, one thing that I feel comfortable saying we just know in writing pedagogy is that teaching grammar doesn’t work. And I think grammar is a useful lens through which to examine larger issues in education.

A vast swath of empirical research demonstrates that teaching grammar is useless. A great review of the literature and appropriate citations can be found in Constance Weaver’s Teaching Grammar in Context. (As you’d imagine, that book does concern a certain kind of directed grammar pedagogy, but in a very different manner than grammar instruction is typically understood. More on that in a bit.) You can run down a laundry list of common claims about the virtues of teaching grammar that have been undermined by empirical study.

  • Grammar instruction does not lead to better reading outcomes
  • Grammar instruction does not lead to better global writing outcomes, in terms of producing better reasoned, better supported, more coherent, better organized, and more stylistically mature writing
  • Grammar instruction does not lead to better local writing outcomes, in terms of producing better mechanics and fewer surface errors
  • Contrary to long-standing assumptions, grammar instruction has not been shown to produce improvements in mental discipline, study habits, memorization or other meta-educational areas
  • Despite early optimism, the switch from teaching traditional grammar to teaching structural linguistics has not shown improved student outcomes
  • Neither has the switch to transformational grammar

Funniest/saddest of all, there’s evidence that teaching grammar in the traditional sense of sentence diagramming and parts of speech fails to improve student outcomes on tests of… sentence diagramming and parts of speech. That is to say, grammar instruction seems to fail even in the most artificial context of learning grammatical terms for their own sake.

There are, of course, dissenting voices and qualifications, but the failures of grammar instruction have been demonstrated over decades of research undertaken by dozens of researchers in a wide variety of contexts examining students from a large array of ages and backgrounds.

There’s a lot of rationales that you hear for why grammar instruction seems like such a pointless endeavor. I find most compelling the notion that learning grammar is difficult because learning functional grammar is the work of language acquisition, at once the most important and least directed or controllable aspect of human learning. No (well, very few) parents show their infants flash cards and practice sentence construction in front of them. Grammar learns you. We should remember that what can be taught and what can be learned are asymmetrical categories.

It’s important to note, though, that though functional grammar acquisition happens without teaching, that doesn’t mean there aren’t students with better or worse grasps on effective language use. And after all, some people do know parts of speech, diagramming, and other aspects of grammatical nomenclature and theory. I’m sure many of the people reading this do. Speaking purely from anecdote, my own experience is that the people who learn descriptive and prescriptive grammar are those who already have facility in functional grammar. They know how to effectively construct English texts first and then learn the nomenclature and diagramming later. Which is fine for them, but nearly useless for us as educators, as our goal is not to use functional grammar to teach descriptive and prescriptive grammar but the other way around. (It would take a truly old school sensibility to think that learning what a gerund is has value in and of itself.) It’s a common theme in education: the rich get richer, while those who are behind fall further behind.

If I could put a gloss on the whole situation, I’d say that the misery appears to be that a certain degree of syntactic maturity is necessary for effective teaching of the writing skills that are so important for success in college and the workplace, but it is very difficult to impart that syntactic maturity to those who did not acquire it from their environment early in life.

You can imagine what the difficulty of this situation is for teachers of writing like me. We have very compelling data that suggests that we shouldn’t bother trying to teach grammar. But we also sometimes have students that lack the elementary sentence and paragraph construction skills (which for ease of use we’ll refer to as grammar) necessary to move to the higher-order, global composition concerns that are the work of a collegiate writing classroom. The sources of this deficiency are varied and complex. There’s a long conversation you could have about remediation, high school writing pedagogy, TOEFL and ESL, and so on. But once these students are in our classrooms, the issue is moot; it is our responsibility to teach them. So the question becomes how to try and teach them elementary language structures when they lack the grammatical nomenclature necessary to be taught and when a mountain of evidence says there is no utility in trying to teach that nomenclature. This is an issue that I discuss constantly with my professors and my peers.

Currently, I and many others are muddling through. I do at times teach a kind of small-bore, usage specific grammar in my classes. I identify mechanical problems that are repeatedly appearing in the work my students give me, demonstrate the problem in class, and show them how to avoid the problem in the future, up to and including giving them sample constructions and models for correct usage. There’s no nomenclature beyond the bare minimum necessary to have the conversation. There’s no diagramming. There’s no attempt to tie the immediate issue to broad grammatical categories.

I have seen some middling improvement in subsequent papers. In conversation with other instructors I’ve found that this is not unique to me. But I have to be honest: I’m unaware of responsibly generated empirical data to support what I’m doing, and while the tight focus of our grammar workshops has its virtues, it also means that I’m not systematically addressing broad syntactic deficiencies.  I’m not confident that these lessons are adding that much value, but I also can’t proceed without addressing these concerns. For now, I keep muddling.

All that wind up, what’s the pitch for the broader themes in education?

  1. Students may all be made equally, but by the time they reach educators, they are not equal. I’m consistently amazed by the prevalence of thoroughly discredited blank-slatism expressed in the popular press. Educators are constrained by what students are bringing with them into their classrooms. I have a lot of faith in the ability of our educational psychiatrists, neuroscience, and linguists to eventually figure out exactly how and when functional grammar is absorbed. I have less faith that there will be an obvious policy fix that emerges from that research, given socioeconomic realities and parental rights.
  2. There are limits to what can be formally taught. My old saw: the fact that people in the media and policy apparatus really want it to be true that all students can be taught everything is not an argument that they all students can be taught everything. In the context of our education debates, statements like “grammar cannot be effectively taught to a majority of students” tend to get people riled up and talking about our “can’t do” teachers unions, etc. etc. etc. But reality is just indifferent to both anti-educator axe grinding and cheerful liberal daydream believing. We’ll keep working on functional grammar instruction, but commitment doesn’t ensure results. It never has.
  3. Disadvantage in student environment and disadvantage in schools are separate issues. This might seem a bit far afield of what I’ve been talking about, but I think it’s related and crucial. If (if) the evidence says that language acquisition in the period before formal schooling partially determines someone’s later facility with language, then it makes sense to consider the environment in which that person is growing up. In that context, I think it is very important not to make a common elision between conditions in the home and conditions in schools. Often people will talk about higher school funding as a solution to student poverty effects. Better funding for schools is important and I support it, but the average K-12 student spends less than a fifth of his or her life at school. The lack of an environment conducive to the acquisition of functional language skills is precisely the kind of problem that can’t be solved at the school level and points to larger structural social problems.

I’m not being a nihilist here. There are plenty of things we can teach. I have been accused of being overly pessimistic about educational outcomes, that I am saying that we just can’t teach some people and should stop trying. This would be a weird conviction, given that I am quite literally dedicating my life to improving our teaching of writing, and in particular for those who have traditionally been worst served. I have a considerable personal, professional, and academic commitment to improving educational outcomes in a particular slice of the pedagogical project.

Pedagogical innovation is real, and sadly under-discussed in our educational discourse. I believe strongly that I’m improving the skills of even the most marginal students that I teach. And once students have acquired the functional grammar necessary to move to higher order concerns, there’s a lot of effective pedagogical tools we can use. But saying that we are helping all students and saying that they are all reaching the level of proficiency necessary to succeed in college or the working world are very different things. People invested in these issues simply have to take the idea that there are limits to what educators can do for individual students more seriously, and we have to recognize that while education is an important lever for creating a more just and equitable society, it is not and can not be the only one. Trying to make it so will only cause more people to fall behind.

In an environment where we are constantly confronted by the fact that we can’t bring all students to the same minimal levels of competency, despite how badly we want to, we have to look to more direct measures to ensure an egalitarian society. You solve for the fact that not all people are equally equipped for success in an information economy, due almost entirely to factors beyond their control, by building a far more economically redistributive society.

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190 replies
  1. 1
    Samara Morgan says:

    you are right, this is too boring to read.

  2. 2
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    Speaking of a related matter could someone please alert Evoice, which is currently a banner ad for me at the top of this blog that “advantage” is not spelled “advatnage” or whatever the hell the mangled spelling is they have up there. KTHXBAI.

  3. 3
    tweez says:

    I see how you’re using bad grammar and poor sentence construction to supposedly argue against teaching grammar. That’s a LONG way to go for a joke.

  4. 4
    Original Lee says:

    You have just clarified a puzzle for me. Thanks!

  5. 5
    cathyx says:

    I understand that proper grammar may not have any bearing on ones cognitive abilities, but it has to have an impact on ones ability to communicate. And that affects ones personal and professional successes. No?

  6. 6
    RSA says:

    I guess I don’t get it. I was taught grammar, and I know the basics. Is the idea that I’m an outlier? Or that the instruction was superfluous? That is, if grammar instruction isn’t effective, how is it that many people know about grammar?

  7. 7
    wilfred says:

    I’ll bite. This semester I’m teaching 3 sections of Literature (2 20th century American, 1 19th century British) and 1 Rhetoric and Composition. All this for undergraduates in a Gulf Arab country where I have been on the faculty for the past 3 years; this after 11 years in Brazil – thus my credentials. Now writing is like mathematics – we know it can be learned, but can it be taught? I take it that your question is somehow related to linguistic imperialism or, put another way, an Eagletonian reappraisal (kind of) of canonical grammar as a determinant of good English. Is that correct?

    Do you know the story of the Dervish and the Grammarian?

  8. 8
    folkbum says:

    I teach high school English in a severely urban district. I should be grading papers while I scarf down my lunchable, but I’m reading BJ instead.

    Here’s what I know: Students who read a lot both write and speak more grammatically “correct” than students who don’t. Same for students from literate households, where good language is all around them in spoken and written form. It is remarkable, stunning even, the difference at 16 years old between two otherwise identical students who have different home literacies.

    Here’s what I do: I literally give students templates and patterns. With all my students, I use a set of about 50 different sentence patterns. We copy and practice these patterns, and by the end of the year, they know to include basically only those patterns in their writing.

    I also use some templates for specific kinds of writing. When we do literary analysis–an abysmal exercise with students, but it’s in the curriculum so I have to do it; when I’m king high schoolers will “analyze” no literature and stick to informational and argumentative texts in high school–they have templates to copy and fill in the blank for thesis statements, statements of theme or about literary devices, etc. Eventually they internalize them and adapt them for their own uses.

    With my AP English Language and Composition students, who specifically must learn academic argument, I use Graff and Birkenstein’s “They Say/ I Say” templates. Because, simply, in 10 prior years of schooling they have never, ever been asked to write academic arguments. Combined with the sentence patterns they must learn, by the end of the year I rarely get an ungrammatical paper from them.

    Is this an adequate substitute for a literate and loving home from birth to 5? No. But it is what works for me.

  9. 9
    Ash Can says:

    There’s something goofy going on here. You discuss in great detail that empirical studies show that teaching grammar is futile. Then you proceed to furnish your own first-hand empirical experience that shows that teaching grammar is successful.

    Maybe it’s the empirical studies that are flawed somehow. I can certainly see how functional grammar is critically important, but to me that just underscores the importance of teaching grammar in environments where functional grammar would be lacking.

  10. 10
    Samara Morgan says:

    what is the US global rank in grammer standings?
    LOL, no one cares.

  11. 11
    Guster says:

    Very interesting, actually. I make a living as a novelist. My command of grammar is only so-so, but whatever I learned, I learned from reading. I never successfully diagrammed a sentence. I wonder if teaching reading isn’t the key to teaching grammar–for some kids.

    But yeah, your conclusion is spot on. That’s the bottom line.

  12. 12
    jheartney says:

    If I read this right, you’re talking about using a kind of pedagogical triage, concentrating the teaching effort where it may actually produce benefit, not where we wish it would produce benefit. One part of this would be that we’d have a significant, identifiable (and identified) subgroup for whom we bailed on trying to educate them (at least about grammar), and so the question becomes what do we do with them, and how do they live? Do we owe them something for the fact that we gave up on them?

    In the pre-digital era, people like this could still find useful employment. It’s now less and less clear that they can. And unfortunately, we’re in an era of social darwinism where the prevailing ethos is to leave the weak to their fates.

  13. 13
    danimal says:

    @Samara Morgan:

    you are right, this is too boring to read.

    Freddie, you forgot to include an E.D. Kain quote to keep the spark alive.

  14. 14
    Samara Morgan says:

    @Ash Can: typical de Bore post.
    charter schools dont work except they might work if teachers unions operated them.
    four year lib arts degrees are a magick passport to employment and higher SES, except when they arent.
    /yawn

  15. 15
    Egypt Steve says:

    Grammar is a theory of how language works. Like any theory, it’s basically a common language used by people who want to talk about some natural phenomenon. If you want to be part of the conversation, you have to know what the words mean, and what concepts they refer to. I defy you to explain how you could talk about how language works without talking about “grammar.” And I defy you to teach language without talking about how the language works.

    Otherwise, what have you got? A list of good examples, and a list of bad examples. Give the students a cookie when they say something “good,” hit them with a ruler when they say something “bad,” and eventually, they’ll acquire “functional grammar.”

  16. 16
    Samara Morgan says:

    @Guster: what conclusion?

  17. 17
    M. Taylor says:

    I found this fascinating (maybe that makes me boring?). I didn’t know studies have found grammar impossible to teach, but my experience in the world of work has certainly shown that good grammar is not the norm. Now I know why!

  18. 18
    Ryan says:

    I wonder about your claims that there is empirical data saying that teaching grammar is relatively ineffective. I’m tempted to think that it can, but that you still have a point. The “can” part is that I do believe (but am willing to be directed to evidence to the contrary) that grammar can, in fact, be taught. The “you have point” part is that most grammar instructional methods I’ve come across don’t work in public schools very well, largely because grammar can’t be taught quickly and isn’t engaging.

    I think you’ve actually described why: grammar is dependent upon language acquisition, not the other way around, and language acquisition takes a long time. But this is why I’m tempted to think that rather than teaching subject, verb, etc., the old methods of memorization and replication have value. True, they don’t necessarily engage the higher analytical functions that keep anyone interested. Instead, what they do is simply pound good writing into kids’ heads and then encourage good sentence formation by having them reproduce others’ sentences. Again, like you say, we acquire language not by formal instruction but by monkey-see-monkey-do. Unless we sit kids down and force them to be exposed to examples of good writing, how are we to expect them to learn?

    It also takes a long view. The process is cumulative, and requires both connection between curricula across years but the willingness to hold students back until they’ve got it. Which by itself is probably the biggest problem we’ve got: we graduate students who do not deserve to graduate.

    This approach requires a considerable amount of discipline. It also tends to treat kids as somewhat less than in charge of their own educational outcomes. The former is just a problem, as classroom discipline is nothing if not an art. The latter flies int he face of a lot of current educational theory, as far as I understand it. But I do happen to think that it works.

    So again, I do think that grammar can be taught (though please, do refer me to sources suggesting that the above scheme doesn’t work), but I also think that it may be impossible to teach grammar in the current public school environment.

  19. 19
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Read, read, read, and then read some more. Or be read to. Or listen to audiobooks, or something. The more words the better. More, better words. Earlier. From nearly any source available.

    The solution to malnutrition is providing food, not recipes for food, even the very best ones.

    It’s like flying a C-5B full of copies of Child, Beck and Bertholle into Mogadishu. Great books. My copies are held together with rubber bands. Not that Julia and Simca couldn’t cook up a storm, or that they and their epigones didn’t revolutionize American kitchens.

  20. 20
    Paul in KY says:

    Personally, I think that if there is one subject your child should excel in, above all others, it is reading. Excellent reading comprehension is the bedrock of all other disciplines.

    If your child can read at the top level, they will be successful in something (IMO).

    That was a Greenwaldian length post.

  21. 21
    Samara Morgan says:

    @danimal: no need. de Bore has the Official BJ Token Glibertarian position that Kain vacated when he went to Forbes.

    just look at the length of his posts!
    he sure is glib.
    :)

  22. 22
    Guster says:

    @Samara Morgan: If you promise to never again spell ‘grammar’ with an e, I’ll tell you.

  23. 23
    Steve says:

    Like others, I learned grammar from reading. I used to read voraciously as a kid. Serious books, pulpy science fiction, whatever. One thing these books had in common is that regardless of genre, they were all professionally edited and thus presumably had excellent grammar.

    As a result, when I run across a grammatical mistake these days, I instinctively sense that something “looks wrong” about the sentence before I actually figure out what it is. It might be a subtle error in subject-verb agreement, a lack of parallel structure, a dangling participle, or whatever. I don’t know how much of this I’d spot if I had been immersed in the rules of grammar without actually reading so much. I spent lots of time diagramming sentences and all that but I’d be shocked if I retained any benefit from it.

    Something I’ve noticed about grammar is that everyone seems to remember certain “rules” from their 8th-grade English teacher, things like never do X, that aren’t actually rules of grammar and are actually just flat-out silly. Yet if you write something that doesn’t agree with their personal tenets of usage, they will staunchly insist that your grammar is horribly wrong. In a way, good writing seems to involve just as much unlearning as learning.

  24. 24
    wilfred says:

    @ Egypt Steve:

    I take the point, but in fact I’ve got some really bright kids who are syntactally challenged, at the same time I’ve got some dullards who are practically fluent – a bit like this fucking pathetic blog: form versus content – is that too reductionist?

    Linguistic, stylistically coherent narration is no subsitute for content. Or is it?

  25. 25
    HyperIon says:

    @cathyx wrote:

    it has to have an impact on ones ability to communicate. And that affects ones personal and professional successes.

    I’ll go further. In this very complicated world, an instruction manual is needed for nuclear reactors, the electric grid, etc, etc. And that instruction manual MUST be written clearly and completely unambiguously.

    So to the extent that “bad grammar” affects meaning, it is not only about “personal and professional successes” but also the future of the human race.

  26. 26
    Short Bus Bully says:

    Knowing formal grammar is only important when you come on places like BJ and you can flex your nerd muscles and call someone out for putting the apostrophe in the wrong place. Grammar is just a way for educated smarties to give swirlies to each other and any wayward football jocks who have the temerity to wander onto their intellectual playground.

    “You don’t know the difference between ‘effect’ and ‘affect’? Have a wedgie for your trouble you dummy! Wheeee, I rule (for once)!”

    And yes, this extends to the insecure teachers and professors out there who get their jollies by beating up on students to make themselves feel superior. Go grammar.

    That being said, I sucked at grammar. Read a shitload though and absorbed patterns like a crackhead absorbs the superheated smoke. My grammar is good, my understanding of its real relevance in the greater scheme of things is also realized.

  27. 27
    terraformer says:

    I think that at least to some extent people are judged by others by how they speak and how they write. Which matters of course only in those professions in which speaking and writing represent a non-trivial aspect of their work. While grammar may not be taught very well, I think that a penchant for reading, particularly for pleasure, helps one to grow grammatically, and to learn what does and what does not work. Reading what others write, especially published works that have been edited, helped me to learn correct grammar. And people who don’t speak or write very well probably don’t read too much, I’d wager.

  28. 28
    Jason says:

    You can imagine what the difficulty of this situation is for teachers of writing like me.

    I dunno; it never actually bothered me. I’m not a grammarian or a linguist, and we have two or three in the department. I don’t, for instance, kick myself because my pedagogy doesn’t explicitly incorporate the content knowledge of our film guy, for instance, so I’m free to teach writing as I see fit.

    What I find is that the students who don’t come to class looking to entertain the notion of English as a content area – which I do explicitly incorporate – see English as a form of trauma, because of all the grammar instruction and knuckle-rapping. So it’s an issue, in the sense that I tend to avow and disavow subjects of inquiry within the larger discipline as I see fit. And I don’t have a lot of connections with the high school instructors I’m replacing.

    But that’s my thing; on the other hand, we have instructors of color whose teaching of grammar is a product of their background, reading back into the types and problems of speech and writing that power assumptions about minorities. So there’s that.

  29. 29
    Calouste says:

    I can’t be arsed to read posts on education and grammar by someone who can’t even capitalize their post titles.

  30. 30
    Egypt Steve says:

    @wilfred: well, I approach this more as a language teacher and learner, not as a teacher of writing. Particularly with a dead language, like Ancient Egyptian, teaching grammar is absolutely crucial. But I remember my own attempts to learn German. I have to say, I found that brute memorization of adjective-ending paradigms AND day-to-day, face-to-face conversation with Germans complemented each other. I don’t see how you could learn a language as an adult without approaching it from both directions: intuitively and playfully when you’re hanging out at a bar with your friends, but systematically and rigorously, too, when you have time to yourself to think seriously about the language as a system.

  31. 31
    Julia Grey says:

    You solve for the fact that not all people are equally equipped for success in an information economy, due almost entirely to factors beyond their control, by building a far more economically redistributive society.

    Dirty commie.

    Read, read, read, and then read some more. Or be read to. Or listen to audiobooks

    Mr. Machina, I do believe you’ve struck something here. The way children acquire functional language in the first place is via HEARING it. So maybe one of the best things we can do is subject kids to the (properly) written word via the aural route?

    Of course that would do nothing for their spelling…

  32. 32
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    As an anecdote, grammar is one of my weeknesses. In my otherwise stellar academic career, grammar nearly killed me, and I still don’t know it. I have tried learning it on my own, and yet, at the end of the day, I cannot parse a sentence I have not seen. I can write computer code, solve math and physics problems, and come up with solutions to all sorts of problems, but I cannot figure out what all of the positions are for words. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the rules for grammar are not that set, and that it really keeps changing.

  33. 33
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    There are limits to what can be formally taught. My old saw: the fact that people in the media and policy apparatus really want it to be true that all students can be taught everything is not an argument that they all students can be taught everything.

    True. I was a math major until junior year when I hit the wall. I could not understand the logic and reasoning to solve a proof in Real Analysis. Everything the prof and my fellow students did looked like magic: some kind of logic pulled out of thin air. I gave up and became an engineer.

  34. 34
    Loneoak says:

    @HyperIon:

    That’s a bit hyperbolic. FdB’s point isn’t that there is no one capable of technical writing, but rather there are limits to training every person to be capable of something specialized like technical writing. Indeed, I would bet the vast majority of English majors could not write a technical manual even if they can put together a beautiful piece of prose. Philosophers are likely better technical writers in any case.

    @Short Bus Bully:

    So you sucked at something and now think it is the pointless domain of jerks? Fucking psychology, how do they work?

  35. 35
    greennotGreen says:

    The lack of an environment conducive to the acquisition of functional language skills is precisely the kind of problem that can’t be solved at the school level and points to larger structural social problems.

    Best bang for the buck might be in whatever class in high school teaches real-life skills. (There isn’t one? First, change that.) Teach students how to talk to babies and toddlers. I’ve read (and have observed when I worked in a welfare office) that poor women as a group don’t talk to their babies as much as mothers with more social and economic advantages. They don’t answer their kids’ babbles, they don’t have a running conversation about their surroundings with the kids. So maybe the part of the brain responsible for language just doesn’t develop as well as it should.

  36. 36
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Julia Grey: I have been reading since I was four, and I have read more than about 95% of the people I know. There’s more to it than just reading.

  37. 37
    Ash Can says:

    @Short Bus Bully: Baloney. Grammar is the reason I’m able to understand your comment. And HyperIon explained it perfectly immediately above your comment.

    Grammatical mistakes blur your meaning when you communicate in written form. The extent to which they do so depends on the nature and/or number of the errors, of course, but they can seriously undermine your efforts to get your ideas across.

  38. 38
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @Samara Morgan: Look, if you don’t care about it, just walk away. Just fucking walk away.

  39. 39
    Svensker says:

    Voracious reader here and old enough to have gone to school when diagramming sentences was routinely taught. I was VERY good at diagramming sentences, but it didn’t mean anything to me in terms of really understanding grammar. I finally “got” grammar when I took foreign language.

    As to your greater point, I had that argument with a number of parents when I worked at a rich urban school that had a fair number of scholarship kids from the projects. The project kids were just so far behind, even in kindergarten, that the teachers’ task seemed impossible and mostly were. Despite getting a good education with intense one-on-one work with teachers, 98% of those kids did not make it. Some of the rich, liberal parents blamed the teachers for those kids’ bad outcomes, but how is it possible for a child to know anything about reading, sophisticated language, history, etc., when those things are not present at all in his or her environment for the first 5 years?

    ETA: Ignore all horrible grammar here, please. KTXHBAI

  40. 40
    Ash Can says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Actually, you demonstrate in your comment right here that you do indeed know grammar. It’s easy to understand, and it’s technically flawless.

    Then again, my own definition of “grammar” includes vastly more than sentence parsing and knowing all the names of the parts of speech. In my opinion, if you can put the words in the right order, use enough of the right ones, and avoid the wrong ones, you know grammar.

  41. 41
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @Paul in KY:

    If your child can read at the top level, they will be successful in something (IMO).

    Good luck with that if your child is dyslexic. Reading at any level is an enormous challenge that the school system cannot deal with. Like the man says above, there has to be a way that people without academic skills can make a living.

  42. 42
    Gilles de Rais says:

    Students who read a lot both write and speak more grammatically “correct” than students who don’t. Same for students from literate households, where good language is all around them in spoken and written form. It is remarkable, stunning even, the difference at 16 years old between two otherwise identical students who have different home literacies.

    @folkbum: What you said. My wife’s an English teacher and I tutored English to pay my way through college.

    Kids who read write well. Kids who don’t read don’t write well.

    Today’s problem? Kids don’t read at all. Not a one of them, unless it’s required for an assignment or for reasons of employment. I’m long out of college, working as an engineer, and I’m getting people in here with doctorates who cannot write one coherent sentence. And that is a seriously scary thing.

  43. 43
    Alex says:

    Samara Morgan is merely the latest reincarnation of the illiterate mongrel matoko chan. Everyone will remember Samara/matoko’s last appearance on this blog, when he/she mocked the victims of Anders Brevik’s rampage in Norway and attributed responsibility for their deaths to ED Kain. Samara/matoko was then banned/suspended, only to appear once again to troll whomever he/she can plausibly associate with ED Kain or libertarianism. Samara/matoko is a half breed who should have been stomped out a long time ago so as to put him/her out of their misery. Best to be disregarded, or, if addressed at all, to be treated condescendingly as one would with a retarded cousin.

  44. 44
    prof says:

    I teach college level writing. I’ve worked in a writing center. I agree with all the research that shows that focusing on grammar doesn’t produce better writing.

    Yet, what always surprises me, is that the people who disagree the most (i.e. think students should be diagramming sentences all day long) are usually other faculty. They don’t know the literature, but feel completely comfortable claiming that entire writing programs should be based on their “hunch” and handful of personal anecdotes.

  45. 45
    MaximusNYC says:

    So are we supposed to hate FDB and pour opprobrium on his posts for some reason? I didn’t get the memo.

    I thought this was an interesting post. I too learned grammar intuitively, by reading a lot, not by memorizing the names and functions of parts of speech.

  46. 46
    elmo says:

    My high school AP English teacher in 1982-83 and 1983-84 was Jane Schaffer, of “Schaffer Paragraph” fame. Her method has detractors, but goddammit, it worked. She was the best writing instructor imaginable, at least for me. She was incredible.

    Her methods didn’t include diagramming or breaking apart sentence structure other than the basics: no fragments, subject-verb agreement, that sort of thing. What Jane taught was the structure and discipline of an entire paragraph, not sentence-by-sentence. I’m a lawyer now, and I made my living as a professional writer for eight years, but I couldn’t diagram a sentence if you offered to pay me a million dollars.

  47. 47
    Paul in KY says:

    @Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: Then I guess the dyslexic ones won’t be ‘reading at the top level’. I’m sorry about that, not their fault, but it doesn’t change the validity of my statement.

  48. 48
    Paul in KY says:

    @Alex: I assume you meant that screed figuratively?

  49. 49
    Roger Moore says:

    @RSA:
    I think the idea is that it’s possible to go from functional grammar to descriptive grammar but not the reverse. IOW, you could learn the names of parts of speech and how to diagram sentences, etc. because you already knew how to speak and write reasonably well. But you can’t do the reverse and take somebody who is bad at speaking and writing grammatically and make them better by teaching them the parts of speech and how to diagram a sentence.

    I’m getting a somewhat painful lesson in this by helping a friend whose native language doesn’t use articles with her English. She can learn all the rules by rote, but the functional knowledge of how to use articles just doesn’t stick. The distinction between definite and indefinite articles just doesn’t make sense to her at some deep level, so she just can’t seem to get it consistently correct in her speech and writing.

  50. 50
    dnfree says:

    When people argue that schools should teach abstinence, I have in the past made a similar argument. Think of the number of times a student is taught through years of school to say “He doesn’t do that”, and yet, if the student comes from an environment where people are more likely to say “He don’t do that”, that’s what he is most likely going to say and write. If we can’t even teach grammar (and get students to use it correctly), what are the odds we can teach sexual mores?

  51. 51
    28 Percent says:

    Your second sentence has a subject/verb disagreement.

    Just sayin’

  52. 52
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Guster:
    How dare you question m_c’s right to spell wurdz any way she damn well pleases! You are trampling all over her unique specialness!!eleben!

    On the subject at hand: learning grammar has been on my mind in recent years, since I took up learning languages as a hobby. I never learned to diagram a sentence, and I learned to speak and write English just fine. I would agree that one learns a language by example and practice, rather than by listening to a teacher dissect its grammar.

    Identifying parts of speech, learning and applying formal rules of grammar, these are valuable in themselves, and they help you organize and communicate your thoughts. But they are not the road to proficiency. I think of George Harrison: an acclaimed rock musician and songwriter who never learned to read Western musical notation. (He did learn to read Indian music from Norah Jones’ dad, but that was after he got famous.)

  53. 53
    gnomedad says:

    @Samara Morgan:

    you are right, this is too boring to read.

    Sound byte, please. We’re real ‘Murkins here.

  54. 54
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @dnfree: Michael Berube, I think it was, said — or cited — something similar about the idea of the college clasroom as a hotbed of liberal indoctrination: something along the lines of “I can’t even get them to do the reading. How exactly am I going to train them to be leftist agitators?”

  55. 55
    Paul in KY says:

    @dnfree: If the kid can’t understand that in the school environment & writing some non-fictional paper they should always say ‘he does not do that’, instead of ‘he do not do that’ (which they can say to their heart’s content outside of school), then I think the kid in question is a little dense.

  56. 56
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @Paul in KY: Agreed. Not the fault of people who are dyslexic. Reading isn’t their strength. If you read up, you find they have talents that the general population does not have. That’s why I thought the end of deBoer’s post was critical:

    You solve for the fact that not all people are equally equipped for success in an information economy, due almost entirely to factors beyond their control, by building a far more economically redistributive society.

  57. 57
    catclub says:

    First I wanted to say that grammar must be the Tao, since both it and the Way cannot be taught.

    Then I decided that Hitler was probably a grammar nazi.

  58. 58
    Persia says:

    @Egypt Steve: This is one of the reasons people seem to learn grammar better when they’re forced/choose to learn another language — they have to learn the components.

  59. 59
    catclub says:

    @dnfree: “If we can’t even teach grammar (and get students to use it correctly), what are the odds we can teach sexual mores?”

    This reminds me a of a post I read about which parts of big government are worth trusting. For Rick Perry, science, evolution and abstinence evidence are all too hazy, so governmnet cannot be trusted on those. But even though he will accuse the government of being wasteful, error prone and over trusting of experts: THE GOVERNMENT IS NEVER WRONG WHEN IT COMES TO EXECUTIONS.

    Calculating odds is well beyond the yes/no of belief.

  60. 60
    Paul in KY says:

    @Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: Must confess I did not read the entire post. Started skimming after awhile. Missed those lines. Thanks.

  61. 61
    Elliecat says:

    @greennotGreen:

    poor women as a group don’t talk to their babies as much as mothers with more social and economic advantages. They don’t answer their kids’ babbles, they don’t have a running conversation about their surroundings with the kids. So maybe the part of the brain responsible for language just doesn’t develop as well as it should.

    Having spent more than a decade with kids in schools where the majority of students came from low-income families, I have observed this firsthand. It’s not uncommon to see a young (often teenaged) mother walking along talking on her cellphone while her toddler follows six feet behind. I have heard parents telling their kids to shut up with the questions. With some parents this is clearly because they can’t answer the question and are embarrassed or angry about revealing their lack of knowledge. (There are parents who don’t read to their children for similar reasons—low or uncertain literacy.) Or they’re tired or they were raised with “children should be seen and not heard” or they’re just not interested.

    When my children were smaller, classmates of the older ones sometimes even asked me “Why are you talking to your baby?” They thought it was the weirdest thing they’d ever seen.

    My understanding is that one reason reading to children is so valuable is not simply exposing them to the written word but that children will hear a larger number of words because books will contain a lot of words that might not come up in daily conversation. It makes sense to me that this would also be what develops knowledge of grammar.

    I just spent the morning helping with “language arts” in a kindergarten classroom. One thing I did was check whether individual children knew the names and sounds of letters of the alphabet. I saw an enormous range of skills—from kids who not only know their letters but can read a hundred words to kids who almost know the letters in their own names but that’s all—and they can’t even reliably say what sound a letter in their name makes. How on earth is one teacher supposed to get all of these children to the same level in one year—or even two, or three?

    One thing I want to add, re: “blaming” this on parents: most of these kids have grown up in daycare. For poor moms, that means relatives, neighbors, or whatever cheap daycare they can manage. So their kids are warehoused, perhaps stuck in front of the TV all day by someone just making sure they survive until mom gets home. Whereas the middle class kids’ working parents can usually afford “quality” daycare, which includes preschool or is structured to be “educational.” So the middle class parents don’t necessarily deserve all the credit they get—I know middle class moms who, if pressed, will admit they don’t read to their kids (they’re worn out by work) but they can afford to have their kid looked after by someone who does read to them.

  62. 62
    Paul in KY says:

    @catclub: I would think that ‘sexual mores’ oughta be a more fun class than ‘grammar’.

    Better homework too.

  63. 63
    Neddie Jingo says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    As an anecdote, grammar is one of my weeknesses.

    Leave it… Leeeeeave it… Fuckin’ leeeeeeave it alone…! ;-)

    The reason I’m giggling is that it took me many years — during which I worked as a recording tech at a Talking Books shop where a great part of my job responsibility was correcting readers’ pronunciation and line readings, and later as a copy editor — to learn not to correct people’s grammar in informal speech and writing. People get annoyed. They don’t learn from it. And it makes you look like a miserable pedant. Also, too, I’ve learned that oh, so many things that schoolmarms taught us in “formal” grammar instruction were — how to put it politely? — arrant bullshit. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it was teaching up with which I should not have put.

    That also goes, I’m sorry to say, even for revered writing instruction manuals like Strunk and White. Not that the book contains falsehoods — it doesn’t — but no one ever became an interesting caster of sentences from following it to the letter.

    I agree with everybody who’s been saying that voracious reading at a young age will instill principles of grammar as if by osmosis. It’s rather similar to the way learning a musical instrument will make learning theory that much easier later in life. In my formal grammar schooling I met so much of what I learned with a “Well, duh!

  64. 64
    Shinobi says:

    I actually think the only time learning grammar and sentence diagramming helped me was when I was learning another language. Understanding the future perfect in English, and subject verb agreement helped me understand it in french and latin.

    Honestly reading is really the best ever way to learn English. People I know who read a lot and at high levels are universally more conversant than people who do not. The hard part is making reading fun. Teachers forcing us to read never really worked. (Though I was always happy to read as long as there was no book report!)

    I remember in 5th grade our teacher played an audio recording of “The Hobbit” for us for 15 minutes every day in class. That was the best, and it was a really good recording. That might be a great option. Another option might even be movies that are on the wordy side.

    I learned a lot of my big vocabulary at a young age from reading books that my grandmother had read as a young girl. Books for girls in the early 20th century were written at a higher level than the baby sitter’s club for sure. Old Nancy drew, The Meadow Brook Girls series was great, and another one called Jane Allen Sub Team and I think some of that is on project Gutenberg and maybe even libravox.

  65. 65
    Djur says:

    @Samara Morgan: The conclusion is that we need economic redistribution to supplement our inability to achieve education equality. In what universe is that glibertarian?

  66. 66
    catclub says:

    @Neddie Jingo: “but no one ever became an interesting caster of sentences from following it to the letter.”

    But at least one learned not to bollix the whole works.

    (veiled Gemini ref.)

  67. 67
    ericblair says:

    @Roger Moore:

    IOW, you could learn the names of parts of speech and how to diagram sentences, etc. because you already knew how to speak and write reasonably well. But you can’t do the reverse and take somebody who is bad at speaking and writing grammatically and make them better by teaching them the parts of speech and how to diagram a sentence.

    From my experience with more complicated languages like Russian, specific grammar will help you organize what you’re hearing and reading and help with oddball constructions you need to make from time to time. However, you just cannot and do not consciously work through grammar fast enough to construct sentences on the fly like that, and you’re 99% relying on repeating and modifying sentences you already have read or heard. We’re all using precanned or fill-in-the blank phrases the vast majority of the time, and the more you read and hear the more you accumulate.

  68. 68
    Sentient Puddle says:

    Technical writer by trade here. Most of what I know about grammar can be summed up as “look it up in the style guide.” Same goes for about 90% of the other writers I know. All I really need is a basic ability to compose sentences and the sense to be able to look at a sentence and tell that it’s somehow wrong.

    That said, there is one significant area where you gotta be a hard-ass about grammar: text-based programming. Computers can’t pick up semantic cues that humans can, much to my utter dismay back in college.

  69. 69
    Neddie Jingo says:

    @catclub:

    (veiled Gemini ref.)

    Over my head, I’m sorry. Must have missed that class.

    But I note ruefully that my post should have said “by [not from] following it to the letter.” And, of course, my Edit window has long since closed.

  70. 70
    Adrienne says:

    @Paul in KY:

    If the kid can’t understand that in the school environment & writing some non-fictional paper they should always say ‘he does not do that’, instead of ‘he do not do that’ (which they can say to their heart’s content outside of school), then I think the kid in question is a little dense.

    This is absolutely not true, at ALL. It’s not a matter of understanding formal vs. informal speech patterns and what’s acceptable to say and and where. It’s a matter of that being literally how their mind forms the sentence bc that is how the connection was first formed. It’s a struggle to overcome however many years of conditioning. They’re almost learning a completely different language, despite having spoken some variation of that language from birth. Think about a child who grew up speaking solely Haitian Creole who is then tasked with learning proper French — Same. Exact. Thing.

  71. 71
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Neddie Jingo:

    …Strunk and White. Not that the book contains falsehoods—it doesn’t—

    Does too. Sorry, but The Elements of Style is not a reliable guide to grammar. It does pass on some of that arrant bullshit which you speak of. (One commonly cited example is the distinction that Strunk and White imagined exists between “I shall drown; no one will save me” and “I will drown; no one shall save me”.)

  72. 72
    Downpuppy says:

    I was one of those few parents who used a set of flash cards (homemade on the back of old business cards) to make sentences. Not planned – learning to read had hit a roadblock. By her 4th birthday, Tiny One had known all the letters and sounds for ages but was unwilling to try putting them together. Dealing out 5 cards at a time,(keyed to cutouts of the Sailor Squad, arranged in order from the Sun out) challenging her to make them into sentences (usually very silly) got things rolling from zero to Henry & Mudge to Lemony Snicket in about 3 blinks.

    Which I took as evidence that most of language structure is wired into a kid’s head, just wating for a million or so words to match it to a specific language or 2.

    Also, too, Baby Steps, Okolona. You can’t teach grammar, but the pre-school environment can be improved.

  73. 73
    folkbum says:

    @Gilles de Rais:

    Today’s problem? Kids don’t read at all. Not a one of them.

    That’s not actually true. I’d wager that between texting, facebook, twitter, and whatever else my students are doing social-network style, they are probably reading as much as I did with my Asimov and Herbert at their age, and they are certainly writing more.

    The difference, of course, is that one form celebrates style and grammar, and the other form finds style and grammar to be obstacles.

  74. 74
    AA+ Bonds says:

    It was useful for me and I taught myself. The more I advanced in foreign languages, which explicitly teach grammar unless you’re immersed early, the better I was at copy editing in English. But I like thinking about things in terms of systems and interconnections.

  75. 75
    Paul in KY says:

    @Adrienne: I said ‘ain’t” and “this here”, etc. when I was talking with my friends & visiting relatives in E. KY & I knew not to write that stuff in an essay answer.

    I was also thinking about 9th graders & on up (should have caveated that).

    I think you are making excuses for a person age 14 and up. To reiterate, I spoke lots of terrible grammar around the neighborhood, but I knew that I couldn’t/shouldn’t try & write like that.

    Are you saying the young person thinks the slang they are saying is correct, grammatical English? if so, then that’s a harder nut to crack. I knew I was speaking slang English.

  76. 76
    Egypt Steve says:

    @Adrienne: Right — which implies that if you can teach reasonable French to a juvenile speaker of English, you ought to be able to teach standard English to a juvenile speaker of non-standard English. I remain unclear as to how to do that without being able to explain what the differences are, and I am unclear on how one could possibly explain what the differences are without reference to grammar.

  77. 77
    Neddie Jingo says:

    @Adrienne:

    It’s not a matter of understanding formal vs. informal speech patterns and what’s acceptable to say and and where.It’s a matter of that being literally how their mind forms the sentence bc that is how the connection was first formed.

    And this is where a voracious curiosity about the world and its ways comes in handy. The curiosity doesn’t really even
    have to satiate itself through reading — Glub knows I can’t get my son to read anything, let alone with the bottomless avidity that I had at his age — but in his own way he’s as bright as I could hope for. He knows the difference between formal and informal settings, but he acquired them from video instead of print.

  78. 78
    A Mom Anon says:

    RE: Not everyone being geared towards an info based economy,tech jobs and the like,I’m reading a book about this that I’m liking alot. It’s called Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. He argues that we’ve kind of lost a connection to how things work and in turn understanding how to fix things when they break. Those skills lead to some stability in employment for people who are not so acedemically inclined,or simply find working with their hands AND minds is more satisfying.

    One reason our little family hasn’t been as clobbered by the recession is that my husband has a skill set that is still in demand. He can fix anything from a plugged toilet to running electrical lines in a house. His salary has gone down,but he still has a job.

    My son is autistic and I read to him every day from the day he was born til he was 12 and he told me he was too big to be read to(sniff,sob). Against every doctor’s predictions,he began reading at age 3. Once he caught on there was no stopping him. His verbal skills took off right about the same time(they were non existant before). Today(age 17) he has trouble writing things out,but his writing has improved dramatically because he had teachers in nearly every class(even phys ed)who made him write about something related to class or personal experience.

    I guess my point is that these things aren’t mutually exclusive. Why can’t we teach shop class and life skills AND acedemics together? When I was a kid it didn’t seem to be a problem. Why is it now? Maybe we’re making this harder than it needs to be?

  79. 79
    RSA says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I think the idea is that it’s possible to go from functional grammar to descriptive grammar but not the reverse. IOW, you could learn the names of parts of speech and how to diagram sentences, etc. because you already knew how to speak and write reasonably well.

    Thanks, that makes sense. I was also thinking about this in a “learning a foreign language” context, in which knowing something about your native language’s grammar can help a lot.

  80. 80
    Paul in KY says:

    @Amir Khalid: This quote: ‘“I shall drown; no one will save me” and “I will drown; no one shall save me”, does have a distinction.

    In the first, you are saying: I am going to drown, because no one will save me.

    In the 2nd, you are saying: I will drown myself & will not allow anyone to save me.

    English, ta da!

  81. 81
    catclub says:

    @A Mom Anon: I also read Shop Class as Soulcraft. I was disappointed by it, but it was worth reading.

    I am not sure he made clear that plumbers and motorcycle repair shops will remain around because those jobs are hard to export.

    On the other hand, I remember reading about ‘checklist based medicine’, which seems like a really great idea for rationalizing, and improving, medical care. I suspect that the Author of SCASC could easily be instantly against it,
    on the principle that it takes thought away from the practitioner and puts in in the checklist. So, in that case, not a complete view.

  82. 82
    Raven (formerly stuckinred) says:

    @A Mom Anon: I agree, The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture
    Frank R. Wilson

    is a fascinating look at the notion that the hand is a extension of the brain.

    The hand is, among other things, a complex symbol, representing both the creative and the prosaic. This blending of the spiritual and the mundane is what makes the hand unique, as it in turn makes us unique among animals. Neurologist Frank R. Wilson has taken on a heroic task: to explain the hand on both of these levels and to show us how we use these marvelous instruments to find and create meaning in our lives.

    Anthropology, neuroscience, music, and puppetry all figure prominently in The Hand, which effortlessly guides the reader through its million-year biography. Brains and thumbs growing and changing to accommodate each other, discovering tools and language together, kicked us out of the monkey house for good. While there is still controversy over whether we are the brainiest animals on the planet, it is abundantly clear that we are the handiest.

    This manipulative ability is our greatest strength and our most terrible flaw. Without hands we would have no Louvre but also no nerve gas. But, Wilson says, our situation is more complex. Our access to far greater means to achieve our ends gives us a greater hunger for meaning. We long to use our hands to satisfy our needs–whether spiritual or down-to-earth. This creation of meaning from nothing may be our greatest achievement. In the end, The Hand is brightly optimistic, showing that our reach truly does exceed our grasp.The hand is, among other things, a complex symbol, representing both the creative and the prosaic. This blending of the spiritual and the mundane is what makes the hand unique, as it in turn makes us unique among animals. Neurologist Frank R. Wilson has taken on a heroic task: to explain the hand on both of these levels and to show us how we use these marvelous instruments to find and create meaning in our lives.

    Anthropology, neuroscience, music, and puppetry all figure prominently in The Hand, which effortlessly guides the reader through its million-year biography. Brains and thumbs growing and changing to accommodate each other, discovering tools and language together, kicked us out of the monkey house for good. While there is still controversy over whether we are the brainiest animals on the planet, it is abundantly clear that we are the handiest.

    This manipulative ability is our greatest strength and our most terrible flaw. Without hands we would have no Louvre but also no nerve gas. But, Wilson says, our situation is more complex. Our access to far greater means to achieve our ends gives us a greater hunger for meaning. We long to use our hands to satisfy our needs–whether spiritual or down-to-earth. This creation of meaning from nothing may be our greatest achievement. In the end, The Hand is brightly optimistic, showing that our reach truly does exceed our grasp.”

  83. 83
    Ash Can says:

    @MaximusNYC: I agree that it’s an interesting post. And it goes without saying that, as with everything else, instruction can’t be improved without examining and questioning it. In my own case, I have a feeling that I’m not quite on the same page as FDB concerning the definition of grammar, and I can’t help wondering if there’s anything missing from the empirical studies he cites (not of his doing, but theirs).

  84. 84
    Neddie Jingo says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Does too. Sorry, but The Elements of Style is not a reliable guide to grammar. It does pass on some of that arrant bullshit which you speak of.

    “Of which you speak” (smacks own face)

    What I meant was that everything in Struck & White isn’t a baldfaced lie. I’m aware of the problems it presents, particularly in a world where grammar evolves with language itself.

    (One commonly cited example is the distinction that Strunk and White imagined exists between “I shall drown; no one will save me” and “I will drown; no one shall save me”.)

    See, this is where grammar gets so fascinating for me — there’s a historical element to it as well. Two hundred years ago, there was a semantic difference in the meaning of “shall” and “will.” Now the lines have become blurred — we don’t need the distinction any more. S&W remains firmly in the conservative New Yorker world that “coöperates” rather than “cooperates” like the rest of the damned universe. One day, that will go the way of the dodo, but S&W remains today.

  85. 85
    catclub says:

    @Neddie Jingo: Castor and Pollux.

    Caster and bollix.

  86. 86
    Roger Moore says:

    @Paul in KY:

    I would think that ‘sexual mores’ oughta be a more fun class than ‘grammar’.

    Not the way the abstinence only people want to teach it.

  87. 87
    Roger Moore says:

    @Paul in KY:

    I would think that ‘sexual mores’ oughta be a more fun class than ‘grammar’.

    Not the way the abstinence only people want to teach it.

  88. 88
    normal liberal says:

    As another early reader who was read to (I treasure the recollection of my mother reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to me when I was about five – what’s especially vivid is how much she loved the story), and continued reading, I endorse all the comments regarding reading as a foundation for learning language properly. I had a semester of English grammar in high school, which may as well have been taught in Klingon for the all sense it made to me.

    Yes, this is a barrier to learning other languages – I’ve managed to not be fluent in fairly uncomplicated Spanish and Italian. But I’ve been told for decades that I write very well, and I seem to have muddled through without diagramming anything.

    So, early childhood education with a massive bias towards reading proficiency, with an alternate path designed for those with learning disabilities? Has this been tried anywhere on a systematic basis for any length of time in a statistically significant population?

  89. 89
    cathyx says:

    I agree with the comment up top somewhere that grammar is very useful to understand when you learn a foreign language. If you don’t know grammar in your own language, you won’t be able to make the connection in the second language.

  90. 90
    Raven (formerly stuckinred) says:

    I have a young (40) friend with a 3 year old boy. He calls me “flat black” because of my hot rod truck. They walk by and he insists that we pop the hood. He’s gotten to where he points out the battery, air cleaner, radiator and we’re working on the valve covers! I want to buy him a Visible V-8 so we can put an engine together and he can see how it works. Not many kids like that around our granola hood these days.

  91. 91
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    The thing about grammar is that it’s really about logic. Proper grammar is logically consistent; improper grammar isn’t. The kids who grok logic will do significantly better than the ones that don’t. Of course, how does one end up getting logic? One of the ways (and probably the primary way) is to have them read read read, as was said above.

    This is related to the example given above about the person who doesn’t have articles in their mother tongue. Since they don’t have them the distinction between definite and indefinite articles as a modifier escapes them. To get them to learn it they need to look at their own language to see how it handles that particular problem (a singular thing vs a class of things) and then apply it to English.

  92. 92
    Neddie Jingo says:

    @Paul in KY:

    English, ta da!

    Eighteenth-century English, ta da!

  93. 93
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Paul in KY:
    As S&W (not Smith and Wesson) had it, the distinction is that “shall” is a future-tense auxiliary, whereas “will” is an auxiliary verb indicating the subject’s intention. Where this is wrong is that, even in Strunk’s day, both words were already being used interchangeably in the former sense, while “will” in the latter sense had long since become an archaism. Quensecontly, few if any English listeners/readers would catch the difference.

    Twentieth Century Fox fanfare back at you, with Cinemascope extension!

  94. 94
    Roger Moore says:

    @Gilles de Rais:

    Today’s problem? Kids don’t read at all. Not a one of them, unless it’s required for an assignment or for reasons of employment.

    I guess that’s why JK Rowling is still on welfare.

  95. 95
    Raven (formerly stuckinred) says:

    @Gilles de Rais: How are they at doing an oil change or fixing a flat. Pretty weak I bet.

  96. 96
    Bob says:

    Well, I started by thinking “this couldn’t be just a post about grammar” and that I would read far enough to find out what it “really” was, but by the time I realized that it really was just a post about grammar (with some wider implications) I was kind of hooked and read until the end. Nice post, learned some new things, there were good ideas, and (not coincidentally) it was much more relaxing than the usual BJ rile-em-up posts. Very agreeable indeed.
    I teach math for a living (or I should say people pay me to teach math) and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and efforts people have shown toward ways of teaching grammar. As in my field, there’s just too much out there of the attitude “Why the heck can’t they just teach them what they need to know!”. It’s just not that easy. But I freely admit incompetence and laziness myself – I think because I know the stuff and really like it and understand it better than anyone else (an occupational hazard), that I can teach it. Um, no. As in grammar, the “good students” pick up stuff right away and those that have struggled will continue to do so. Only in math there is not quite the “go read” curative. I would say as well that our difficulties are exacerbated by “reform”: students need to learn certain things for the tests, and for assessments, and they are taught exactly those things and no more. In the end they understand little and further, expect to be taught that way when they get to college.
    By the way, that was a mighty big leap in the last sentence, not that I disagree.

  97. 97
    schrodinger's cat says:

    So are you telling me that all those repetitive exercises I did in my in childhood from the red tome, Wren and Martin were a colossal waste of time?
    I no can haz gramma?

  98. 98
    samson says:

    Three words: SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK

    – a noun’s a person place or thing
    – conjunction junction, what’s your function
    – lolly lolly lolly get your adverbs here
    – So I unpacked my adjectives …
    – so if your happy – YeaH! or sad – Awww or Frightened – EEk or mad – Grrr an interjection starts a sentence right!
    – verb is action!

    etc. That sh*t taught me more than most of my English teachers about the parts of speech.

  99. 99

    What a lot of people don’t understand is that everybody speaks with what we would call “good grammar”; we just don’t all speak in the same dialect.

    To use examples that some grammar assholes throw around a lot, some kid from Southwest Washington who says, “I be … ” or “I’ don’t see nothing,” or “She be … ” or some hillbilly from Galax, Virginia who says “We was … ” or “He don’t … ” or I’m fixin’ to…” are not speaking “wrong” or using “bad grammar”. They are following the rules of their dialects, and following them faithfully, well, fluently and without having to think what they’re doing or how they’re doing it. They just aren’t speaking what we would call “standard American English”, and they aren’t following the “rules” of standard American English.

    The real problem with “grammar” is that what most people think about grammar (no double negatives, don’t say “ain’t”, and the like) aren’t grammar at all; they’re more like usage, or maybe it would be better to call them the symptoms or manifestations of grammar. Grammar is much more elemental than “no double negatives”. Grammar is stuff more like what order you put words in when you speak, or what words work as “verbs” and which don’t, and how these “verbs” behave, what you can do with one and what you can’t. Grammar is stuff like how you can’t say, “I’d like to yellowly kumquat some quicklies this morning.” That sentence is not grammatical, since “kumquat” does not behave like a verb in English; you can’t kumquat something. “Yellow” cannot really work as an adverb, even if you tack the -ly onto it. And there is no such thing as a quickly, even though quickly is a word; it just isn’t a thing you can do something to.

    What I think is interesting is that the sentence above, “I’d like to yellowly kumquat some quicklies this morning,” is grammatical in the narrow, over-formal way of thinking about grammar that most people have. The words are in the right order: what looks like a noun is where it should be; what looks like a verb is where it should be; the “adverb” has the right ending, and so on. So a traditional grammarian really couldn’t complain that a speaker who said this isn’t speaking “grammatically”. The sentence clearly makes no sense, means nothing, and fluent English speakers (who weren’t psychotic or hadn’t had a stroke or some kind of brain injury) would never say something like this and eexpect anybody to understand it. And yet it’s still “grammatical”. That should tell you all you need to know about whether it’s worth teaching what most people think of as “grammar”.

    I’m not a teacher, or even–despite my interest–a linguist. All the same, I do have beliefs and opinions about language (don’t get me going on how bad the English spelling system is, or what we should do to overhaul it). I think that it is worthwhile for all Americans to have a competent grasp of standard American English, but we need to not teach children who didn’t grow up speaking it that they’re speaking “wrong”. They aren’t; they just aren’t speaking standard American English. I think we should try to teach them how to speak and write standard American English more as a second language, while encouraging them to write in their own dialects. Children should be, and have every right to feel, proud of their language and dialect of birth. We shouldn’t try to drum it out of them. People can be amazingly creative in their own natural idioms; we should encourage that.

  100. 100
    Amir Khalid says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    Yep. I guess formal grammar doesn’t really work as a tool for acquiring language proficiency, is what Freddie de Boer’s saying. It is best learned after one has acquired, through practice, basic proficiency in reading, writing and conversation. One is then better able to use formal grammar to extend one’s ability to organize and communicate thought.

  101. 101
    catclub says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.): “And there is no such thing as a quickly”

    What about Mistress Quickly? I think there were some other good names in that tavern. John Falstaffe was an adulterer.

  102. 102

    @polyorchnid octopunch:

    I’m sorry, but this is just wrong. Grammar and logic are nothing alike. To give a few examples:

    There’s no logic behind the way we deal with verbs in the present. Why do we have an ending only for he/she/it? it would be more logical either to have distinct endings for all the 3 persons in both the plural or singular, or to have none at all. It isn’t logical to have “irregular” verbs, like go, be and things like that. To give an example from German, is it logical that a word like “maiden” is neuter? And mind you, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with illogic in language. Language doesn’t have to be logical to work. Language isn’t an exercise in logic, but in communication. For language to work, all that need happen is that all the speakers agree on what words mean and how to put them together to tell each other things so that both the speaker and hearer understand what they’re talking about. If that happens, then language works, however “illogical” it might seem. We need to get away from the whole language as logic way of teaching, and into a language as language way of teaching.

  103. 103
    Hungry Joe says:

    I enjoyed grammar instruction and flat-out LOVED diagramming sentences (Look! They come apart!), but I doubt that any of it helped my writing … and I’ve made my living as a writer for 25 years. Take it from Davis X. Machina, et al: Kids need to read, read, read; they’ll absorb grammar through the ink on the page. If they haven’t read, if they won’t read, if it’s too late for that, just try to spot some of their most common grammatical mistakes and drill The Right Way into them so that at least they’ll be able to summon a better command of Standard English when they need it.

  104. 104

    @catclub:

    Ahh, but “Mistress Quickly” is a name. I wasn’t using it as a name, but as a thing. There is no such thing as a “quickly”, so I stand by what I worte.

  105. 105
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    You solve for the fact that not all people are equally equipped for success in an information economy, due almost entirely to factors beyond their control, by building a far more economically redistributive society.

    The bolded part is the part our elites cannot, under any circumstances, publically acknowledge in the slightest way.

    Better to make morality judgements than to admit to their own blindness on this. See the shitstains BoBo and Chunky BoBo for examples.

  106. 106
    folkbum says:

    @Neddie Jingo:

    And this is where a voracious curiosity about the world and its ways comes in handy.

    This is the thing that bugs me most about my students, especially my AP students. There is no intellectual curiosity at all.

    No doubt much of that is the fault of a system of schooling that teachers to the damned tests. But much of it is also, as Nicholas Carr would postulate, because google makes curiosity unnecessary. You never need to learn anything for the sake of learning it, because anything you might ever need to know in the future is already in your pocket.

    The students I have who do read are more likely to be intellectually curious–fiction opens the mind to the possibility that other things exist and that they might be cool–but as a whole, my students don’t have the drive to learn that I and my cohort of classmates did 20 years ago. They will do something because it’s expected (we’re good at teaching compliance) but not because they think it might be fun.

  107. 107
    Felinious Wench says:

    @Hungry Joe:

    I enjoyed grammar instruction and flat-out LOVED diagramming sentences (Look! They come apart!),

    My love of grammar has helped me in three key areas: learning other languages, mapping language history, and coding software. It’s all about the patterns inherent in any language…diagramming sentences taught me how to deconstruct code. Go figure.

  108. 108
    Thymezone says:

    Forty years of teaching mostly technical subjects, like flying airplanes, troubleshooting electronic circuits, and software development … convinced me that there are no subjects or subsets of subjects for which there is not a segment of the population that cannot learn whatever it is we are trying to teach them. That much is for sure. Why it is so, I have no idea because the teaching theater doesn’t provide time or space to figure that out. Teaching is sort of an all or nothing activity. We are too busy teaching the ones who can learn to really understand why the ones who don’t learn, don’t learn.

    So here’s a flight instructor anecdote. After several frustrating hours, over several days, of trying to help an already licensed pilot figure out how to gracefully land a type of airplane that was new to him, and enduring ass pounding failures over and over again, and trying all my hard-acquired skills of instruction, over a coke at the airport coffee shop this exchange happened:

    A: Well, let’s talk about what we are looking at down there in the last 20 feet or so of the descent. What visual cues are you focussing on there?

    B: The altimeter.

    A: What?

    B: I’m looking at the altimeter.

    A: (regains composure). You aren’t looking out the window at the runway?

    B: No. I can’t see much out there without my glasses.

    —//

    I swear to you, this is as verbatim as I can make it after 30 years, just as it happened. I’ll spare you the part about why he wasn’t wearing his glasses and how crazy I thought it was then, and still think it was. I told him to wear his glasses the next time we flew. He did, and there was no problem. I told him that if I ever caught him flying out of our shop without his glasses again I would report him to the FAA. So, there you are. People are …. unfathomable.

  109. 109
    kwAwk says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.):

    What a lot of people don’t understand is that everybody speaks with what we would call “good grammar”; we just don’t all speak in the same dialect.

    This is a very interesting take on the whole issue of grammar vs dialects. We actually do live in a country without any recognized dialects.

    My take on this subject is that when a writer becomes successful or interesting they are said to have found their voice. Writing in it’s most natural state is taking that internal voice in your head and putting it on paper, thus perhaps the best way to change grammatical habits or dialects would be through verbal repetition of grammar or targeted dialect as opposed to sentence diagrams or rules.

  110. 110
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.):

    The programmers of your computer would be surprised to learn that grammar and logic are nothing alike.

  111. 111
    Elie says:

    Learning grammar helps in learning any foreign language. It is very difficult to speak another language grammatically correctly without learning how they handle the components of speech and speech structure.

  112. 112
    catclub says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.): The entire Quickly family, all the little quicklies up to the hulking ones, are disappointed that they just don’t count. Since I have already invoked grammar nazis, I guess I will have to refer to you as nounist. Which is worserer.

  113. 113
    MTiffany says:

    Teaching grammar is important, if only to learn to not split infinitives.

  114. 114
    max hats says:

    If you want to seriously learn foreign languages (and most Americans don’t need to, it is true) then at some point you have to teach yourself grammer. And that sucks.

  115. 115
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.):
    The logic in having “das Mädchen” (neuter) instead of “die Mädchen” (feminine) is the rule that any German noun ending with the diminutive “-chen” or “-lein” must be neuter. It’s not the only neuter German noun referring to a female person: there’s also “das Fräulein” and “das Weib” in High (i.e. standard) German and the dialect word “das Mädel”

    Grammar and logic are nothing alike.

    This is an overstatement. Grammar is ultimately decided by usage, and thus it’s not entirely consistent. But it does need to have logic to it, otherwise communicating and understanding meaning in language become very difficult. And for the most part, grammar is indeed logical.

  116. 116
    Thymezone says:

    There is no topic so captivating as semantic abstraction. Lots more threads like this, please.

  117. 117
    priscianus jr says:

    @Guster:

    whatever I learned, I learned from reading. I never successfully diagrammed a sentence. I wonder if teaching reading isn’t the key to teaching grammar—for some kids.

    In my day (1950s-1960s) you were taught reading and writing concurrently. So like you, I learned grammar intuitively, from good writing. Today I think the style is to teach writing by itself. You just write the way you speak. So naturally you don’t learn standard grammar. And that’s not all you don’t learn.
    But that’s what Freddie means by “functional grammar”: You learn what “sounds” right and what “sounds” wrong. You wouldn’t be able to explain why, though. For a talented writer that could be good enough, like a talented musician that doesn’t know any theory.
    I remember in 7th grade, when we first were taught formal English grammar, I was absolutely hopeless. Hadn’t a clue. I couldn’t tell a noun from a verb from a preposition.
    It was through Spanish class that I learned formal grammar. Slowly but surely. Do kids study foreign languages these days? Some do, some don’t I suppose.
    Later on I studied Latin — the old-fashioned way. We had to parse sentences, explain the function of any and every word in the damn sentence. Number, person, gender, case for nouns and pronouns. Tense, mood, voice, aspect for verbs. I learned me some serious grammar.
    Still later I worked as a copy editor. I not only could correct any sentence with the minimal changes, I could explain exactly why the sentence didn’t work as it was. Maybe the author did not understand my explanation, but at least it was on the record.
    I understand what you’re saying, Freddie. The best thing would be to get them to read. In my school days, everyone in an academic program in New York City had to read Scott’s Ivanhoe in the ninth grade. Christ, my mother had to read Scott’s Ivanhoe in the ninth grade. That might be too difficult now, but the Hardy Boys would do. I mean the original Hardy Boys as actually written by Leslie McFarlane (the original “Franklin W. Dixon”), not the later dumbed-down editions. Anything well written, on any level.

  118. 118
    Amir Khalid says:

    @MTiffany:
    The taboo against splitting infinitives is one of those old wives’ tales of grammar that get passed on in the classroom. Some pedant decided that you mustn’t do it in English because it is never done in Latin. But, as you may have noticed, English is not Latin; it is not even a modern Romance language.

    Split infinitives can look awkward, so use them carefully. But if some grammar fussbudget objects to you using one, you just tell’em what I said, okay?

  119. 119
    Julia Grey says:

    I write and edit stuff for real money and I still don’t understand perfect and future perfect and future pluperfect and all that jazz.

    I did read a lot as a kid. I used to be SO mad that the library would only let me take out 10 books at a time. I’d have them all read in 2 days. From Bobbsey Twins to Beezus and Ramona. Half Magic. The Gammage Cup.

  120. 120
    priscianus jr says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.):

    I think we should try to teach them how to speak and write standard American English more as a second language, while encouraging them to write in their own dialects. Children should be, and have every right to feel, proud of their language and dialect of birth. We shouldn’t try to drum it out of them. People can be amazingly creative in their own natural idioms; we should encourage that.

    We shouldn’t drum it out of them, true, but they are better off if they learn to write something resembling standard English. They can write in their own dialect, if they want to — just not in school. The way you suggest, they never will learn standard English. And they will be at a disadvantage.
    This is not a new debate. Read Shaw’s Pygmalion.

  121. 121
    Jeff Fecke says:

    @polyorchnid octopunch:

    This ain’t necessarily so. “Improper” grammar usually works just fine, at least insofar as it doesn’t present a barrier to communication. “Throw the cow over the fence some hay” makes sense if you’re speaking to another person who uses the same grammatical construction. It’s only because it deviates from “proper” grammar that it’s mocked.

    And therein lies the rub. We use “proper” grammar as a screening tool in society, to separate “intelligent” from “unintelligent.” But there’s no reason to think a child who grew up with Appalachian grammar is dumber than one who grew up with Midwestern Standard. But the child who grew up on the latter has an automatic leg up on the child who grew up on the former; they do not need to unlearn rules of grammar that they’ve known from birth.

    And this is the problem. Sure, some of the kids from Appalachia or the rural South or the inner city can take the time to re-learn grammar, to translate their internal dialog into the “proper” form of wealthy White America. But it’s just that — translation. It isn’t fluent.

    This then becomes a barrier to economic success, which in turn begins to create a feedback loop. We need to find ways to break the loop; probably, that involves intensive pre-school and educational assistance to the poor. And that is, of course, soshulizm.

  122. 122
    priscianus jr says:

    @max hats:

    If you want to seriously learn foreign languages (and most Americans don’t need to …

    I would say they need to. They just don’t have to. And that’s too bad.

  123. 123
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Julia Grey:
    Perfect: “He has done it.”
    Pluperfect/past perfect: “He had done it.”
    Future perfect: “He will have done it.”
    Ain’t no such thing as “future pluperfect”.

    Damn, I just love being pedantic.

  124. 124
    priscianus jr says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.):

    Grammar and logic are nothing alike.

    I wouldn’t say grammar and logic are nothing alike. That’s part of the trouble, they are somewhat alike. Grammar is more or less logic applied to the analysis of language structure — but what we discover when we study it is that the structure of natural languages is logical only to a point. The rest is usage and stylistics. (Before ending this I noticed that Amir Khalid said something similar.)

  125. 125
    4jkb4ia says:

    I decided I have to support Freddie here. When I was in 7th grade, I had a wonderful teacher who taught English and Latin as one unit, and Latin grammar was one of the first things I had really had to chew on for some time. It was a puzzle–being able to figure out what form meant what or what meaning of the ablative(of which there are legion) actually worked. I would call this experience life-changing. But that didn’t mean when I was promoted to eighth-grade Latin that I could turn Pliny, I think it was the Younger, into colloquial English or know where a Ciceronian sentence was going the first time I saw one. And it doesn’t mean that I can explain to anyone why they should know these things. So form vs. content–or left brain vs. right brain/holistic–actually is not too reductive. You need the form to have any understanding of the content unless you are willing to rely on a translator. But it isn’t sufficient. Content speaks to content which is made by people who have more or less mastered the written language that you tried so hard to learn–who think more or less consciously about how they are using it. Form interferes with content when educators and parents insist on teaching in the ways that worked for them.
    I thought about the huge front-page NYT story about the young man with autism. This young man needs to learn social grammar to get out in the world. He also has parents and a teacher who disagree about how to get him there. He is able to learn things, step by step, in large part because of the trust that he has in the teacher and her ways of doing things. The teacher-student relationship is a way of introducing the right brain and the holistic even when people have a social kind of autism.

    This was an outstanding distraction from the Red Sox, but they will be back soon.

  126. 126
    HyperIon says:

    @Paul in KY wrote:

    In the first, you are saying: I am going to drown, because no one will save me.

    I object to the comma after “drown” and I don’t think Strunk and White would sanction it either. ;=)

  127. 127
    Mark H says:

    @cathyx: Absolutely, as anyone who has taken part in an online dating site like Match knows. A profile that is a grammatical mess can make the most attractive member seem less than appealing.

  128. 128
    4jkb4ia says:

    FYWP, you cannot have eaten my comment, and it wasn’t good enough to write all over again.

  129. 129
    folkbum says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    if some grammar fussbudget objects to you using one

    A grammar fussbudget may also point out that you should use a possessive pronoun before a gerund …

  130. 130
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Julia Grey:

    Oh how I loved Half Magic!

    Did you ever read Elizabeth Enright’s books about the Melendy family? I still go back to them every couple of years, and I’m nearly 70.

  131. 131
    HyperIon says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.) wrote:

    we just don’t all speak in the same dialect

    Yeah, OK.
    So explain to my why just about everybody says “Aren’t I?”
    (As in “I’m ahead of you, aren’t I?”)

    This drives me nuts. It grates horribly on my ears.
    Everybody looks at me strangely whenever I say “Am I not?”.

    Later: not sure about the punctuation at the end of the last sentence. ;=)

  132. 132
    Amir Khalid says:

    @folkbum:
    That was, um, a typo. And besides, that there’s another one of them non-rules!

  133. 133
    Julia Grey says:

    Perfect: “He has done it.”
    Pluperfect/past perfect: “He had done it.”
    Future perfect: “He will have done it.”
    Ain’t no such thing as “future pluperfect”.

    Damn, I just love being pedantic.

    Hey, me too! (Whenever I can.)

    Thanks for the info, but maybe this is another point in this discussion: having those facts now does me no good at all, so I’ll just forget them as soon as I close this page. (It’s true that I might have to research an article on these matters some day, but then I’d just go look them up again.)

  134. 134
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @HyperIon:

    I say “Am I not?” occasionally, and I don’t think anyone looks at me strangely when I do. But I’m damned sure they would if I were to say “Amn’t I?”

  135. 135
    Fax Paladin says:

    @Steve: Yes, THIS. I’m a copy editor, and it’s absolutely astounding how much of our house style is made up of these silly eighth-grade-teacher “rules,” like never ever EVER splitting a verb phrase, no matter how stilted that makes the sentence sound (“also will be” rather than “will also be.” The fact that most people use the latter is actually held up as evidence that the former is correct — because, you know, people are so ignorant).

    It’s a lost cause — my bosses and the rest of the desk favor the silly rules, which makes me even happier that I’m soon moving sideways into another job where I won’t have to deal with this so much.

  136. 136
    Robert Waldmann says:

    Fascinating. I have never tried to teach grammar. In fact I have never been much interested in learning it.

    As you note, this post addresses two issues. While it is very important that there are limits to what teachers can teach, I think the much less well known point is that teaching grammar doesn’t have the beneficial effects which it is routinely claimed to have.

    I have a sense that there is an uncomfortable effort at dialogue between groups which have fundamentally different approaches to learning about reality. I have no doubt that your bullet pointed claims against alleged benefits of teaching grammar are supported by empirical evidence. I also don’t doubt that the evidence has no influence on the thought of many people — that the claims are things that serious people must accept, because the conclusion that something which students find difficult and boring must be taught is above criticism.

    Just four sentences of comfort. It could be worse. I live in Italy where Latin is still taught to all high school students on the grounds that it helps them learn grammar which has all of the alleged benefits. I have met people who argue that this is sensible (the opposing view is considered very radical and extreme). I have never had any impression that any of them considers collecting evidence on the alleged benefits to be useful, let alone necessary.

    Finally, especially given the topic of the post, I think you want to delete either “they” or “all students” from “argument that they all students can be taught everything”
    The incompatibility of completely correct grammar, digital word processing, and point and click publishing may be a topic for another post.

  137. 137
    Sly says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Read, read, read, and then read some more. Or be read to. Or listen to audiobooks, or something. The more words the better. More, better words. Earlier. From nearly any source available.
    __
    The solution to malnutrition is providing food, not recipes for food, even the very best ones.

    It’s not a simple matter of providing a kind of linguistic sustenance. Reading a lot makes it easier to familiarize yourself with written language because you’re learning by example. Which is learning, but you don’t know your learning or how you’re learning, and often you can’t use what you’re learning in a more analytical sense. Pointy headed academics who work in educational theory call this metacognition.

    In a practical setting (i.e. a classroom), actual educators often don’t care about metacognition so long as students are getting the cognition part down. The problem with that approach is that a lot of the time, and for a lot of different reasons, students aren’t getting the cognition part either. One of the most basic and neglected reasons is that too many educators view their chosen subject as a collection of details and not a procedural method of understanding those details.

    In this respect, drilling grammar rules is like telling a kid in history class that Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, and that he better memorize that fact because “it’s important.” But it isn’t important. What’s important is that the kid can make connections between that invention and the broader theme of industrialization, and the impact of industrialization on human behavior and social orders. If they can’t do that, who gives a shit if they know when the cotton gin was invented because they’re not going to use that information toward more intellectually productive (and not to mention stimulating) ends.

    When people talk about “critical thinking skills,” the procedural aspect of education is what they’re talking about. And it usually isn’t a matter of kids not being able to do it, but more a matter of kids never learning how and then being expected to do it later.

  138. 138
    MTiffany says:

    I’m paraphrasing my 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Roe, here: “The greater the contextual distance between the writer and the reader, the more proper grammar matters.”

  139. 139
    Julia Grey says:

    Oh how I loved Half Magic!

    Edward Eager. He wrote a couple of other good books, but that one was the best.

    Did you ever read Elizabeth Enright’s books about the Melendy family? I still go back to them every couple of years, and I’m nearly 70.

    No, never did. I’ll have to look for those.

  140. 140
    kerFuFFler says:

    @folkbum: Bonus points for you!

  141. 141
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Julia Grey:

    Read them in order:

    The Saturdays
    The Four-Story Mistake
    Then There Were Five
    Spiderweb for Two

  142. 142
    debbie says:

    It’s not just the kids. I’ve edited more than a hundred academic articles by obviously very smart PhDs (in childhood literacy!) who don’t seem to realize that written English and spoken English are not the same thing. Their brilliant lectures read like crap on the page. Perhaps they should sit through a class or two?

  143. 143
    trixie larue says:

    Reading this article prompted me to consider all the states that are trying to make English the official language. I always think it’s stupid when I read about this fight and I always wonder about the fools who are behind it – or is it whom are behind it, or which are behind it, or where are behind it. Let’s make it official. It’s too late, baby.

  144. 144
    Amir Khalid says:

    @trixie larue:
    As I’ve said before, I suspect that it’s not so much about establishing English, which is hardly necessary; it’s more about disestablishing Spanish, particularly in your Southwestern states which used to be part of Mexico. As for who’s behind it … let’s see, which American political party is not so keen on Latinos?

  145. 145
    Samara Morgan says:

    /yawn

    140+ comments on a useless post about useless english grammer.
    so simple machines can do it.

    do you juicers know what freddie “teaches”?
    rhetoric.

    QED.

  146. 146
    Freddie deBoer says:

    A few things here.

    1. I’m not much of a grammarian myself. I’m okay, when I really take the time, which generally means when I’m writing something for a class or for submission for publication. I don’t use the same level of rigor when I’m writing something online, as I take it that most people assume the blogosphere is a more casual arena. If people feel that my various mechanical errors are too distracting to read, or disqualify me from being taken seriously, they can just not read me.

    2. If you want to dispute the findings of the research, you should either provide citation for other research that contradicts the consensus, or undertake your own. I thought citing a comprehensive lit review would be enough, but let me quote some choice reviews of the literature from over the decades:

    The NCTE in 1936 advocated that “all teaching of grammar separate from the manipulation of sentences be discontinued… since every scientific attempt to prove that knowledge of grammar is useful has failed.”

    The Encyclopedia of Educational Research in 1950, as reported by Weaver: “The disciplinary value which may be attributed to grammar is negligible…. No more relation exists between knowledge of grammar and the application of knowledge in a functional language situation than exists between any two totally different and unrelated school subjects.”

    John James deBoer in 1959: “Surely there is no justification in the available evidence for the great expenditure of time and effort still being devoted to formal grammar in American schools.”

    An NCTE report in 1963: “the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or… even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing”

    Hillocks in 1986: “None of the studies reviewed for the present report provides any support for teaching grammar as a means of improving composition skills.”

    Rei R. Noguchi in 1991: “In general, less formal instruction in grammar will mean more time to develop in students a healthy awareness and appreciation of language and its uses….”

    You’ll note that these aren’t just peer reviewed studies but ones that specifically undertake reviews of the extant scholarship.

    3. To the people saying “I was formally taught grammar and I know it, therefore this is wrong”– as I thought I made clear, my belief, based on the literature, is that most who succeed in acquiring grammatical terminology and analytical skills in grammar already possess the essential skills in functional grammar needed to make meaning. They learn to name the parts of speech when they already possess the intrinsic skill to use them.

    4. I was not contradicting the available evidence in discussing my own grammar workshops. What I attempt in grammar workshops is far less comprehensive than formal grammar instruction; it doesn’t correct for my students who have broad deficiencies in the syntax of standard English vernacular; I do it more out of a lack of clear alternatives than out of a conviction that it works; and I’m not sure that it is working beyond the very particular and specific contexts which I am teaching.

  147. 147
    Vince CA says:

    I have an odd mind for grammar, and I almost went into linguistics. I have little trouble learning foreign language grammar (though that doesn’t mean that Japanese makes any sense at all to me;), and have a fetish for Latin and Ancient Greek BECAUSE of their strict scholarly grammar.

    I also learned to not impose my own weird wiring on others. I do not advocate for unsplit English infinitives or even go anywhere near well vs. good as functional adverbs. I like the sound of unhindered English and am glad that grammar can’t be taught. like. that. (When only the nose-picking geeky kid got it–me–the teacher should have quit).

    That’s for the read!

  148. 148
    Scuffletuffle says:

    @Samara Morgan: @Samara Morgan: Take a nap if you’re tired, dear. We’ll talk quietly so as not to disturb you.

  149. 149
    smintheus says:

    “Teaching grammar doesn’t work” yet you do teach grammar sometimes because it does work. Is that about the sum of it?

    One thing I can attest is that neglecting to teach grammar doesn’t work. I’ve had plenty of lousy writers in my college classes who are desperate to have some formal instruction in grammar for once.

    Since I also teach ancient languages, I’ve found that students usually make huge advances in their command of English from learning another language – especially when, as almost always is necessary these days, those classes involve “reviews” of English grammar…of the kind they should have been getting in schools.

    Maybe what you really mean is that grammar taught badly doesn’t help. There’s no reason why classes in grammar have to be tedious or bewildering or seemingly irrelevant.

  150. 150
    Fred Fnord says:

    None of this is exactly surprising. People who read a lot learn good grammar. People who do not read a lot, do not learn good grammar. And efforts to teach good grammar are sufficiently far divorced from the actual use of it that I am not at all surprised that there is an unbridgeable gulf between theory and practice.

    Now, the fact that teaching sentence diagramming does not, in fact, lead to any gains in sentence diagramming? That surprises me.

  151. 151
    psycholinguist says:

    Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.) – September 19, 2011 | 4:40 pm · Link

    What a lot of people don’t understand is that everybody speaks with what we would call “good grammar”; we just don’t all speak in the same dialect

    Bravo.

  152. 152
    cholla45 says:

    @Davis X. Machina: Amen. That’s it.

    To folks who are misreading the post as saying “grammar can’t be taught”: of course it can be taught. What he’s saying is, there’s no evidence that shows that teaching grammar has any use as a way of improving student writing. Grammar is a fascinating subject and essential, as one responder noted, for teaching foreign languages in a classroom. But that’s after the acquisition of one’s first language, the language you learn from your parents and the people around you in your first few years. But formal instruction in grammar does not carry over to skill with using and creating language in written (or verbal) forms. That comes from what you learn at home, and how much exposure you have to varied, complex, vocabulary- and structure-rich language.

    “Read, read, read and then read some more” – that’s the secret.

  153. 153
    John M. Burt says:

    @Shinobi: Wow. I just searched “Jane Allen of the Sub Team”, and was greatly impressed. I must pass this along to some girls’ books lovers I know (including one who writes them).

  154. 154
    Freddie deBoer says:

    “Teaching grammar doesn’t work” yet you do teach grammar sometimes because it does work. Is that about the sum of it?

    That is most assuredly not the sum of it, and is directly contradicted by both my post and my comment above.

  155. 155
    priscianus jr says:

    @Sly:

    If they can’t do that, who gives a shit if they know when the cotton gin was invented because they’re not going to use that information toward more intellectually productive (and not to mention stimulating) ends.

    True, but if you don’t know when things happened, or even that they happened at all, you don’t have that information to use toward more intellectually productive ends. By the way, it helps to know what things were done before, after, and at the same time as, what other things. So both are important, really.

  156. 156
    Tehanu says:

    @Julia Grey:

    I love Half Magic too, but Knight’s Castle is my favorite, especially the part where the knights all start riding around on motorcycles. Not to mention the baseball game.

  157. 157
    West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.) says:

    I teach junior college English and often feel like I’m ultimately spinning my wheels when I quiz students on subordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs, or have them memorize the helping verbs. (Were any of you taught “The Helping Verb Poem”? It begins: is, are, am, was, were, can could….)

    I know that unless they become English majors at the university level (or must assist their own children in school), they will not likely remember or ever even be asked to define these semi-esoteric terms. I tell them that it will be important that they express themselves in a clear, concise, engaging fashion. I really stress the importance of avoiding the big errors: the comma splice, the run-on sentence, and the fragment.

    Sometimes I wish I’d become a marine biologist instead! Trying to teach dolphins to speak has got to be more rewarding! (“Fa loves Bea!”)

  158. 158
    priscianus jr says:

    @Freddie deBoer: The Encyclopedia of Educational Research in 1950, as reported by Weaver: “The disciplinary value which may be attributed to grammar is negligible…. No more relation exists between knowledge of grammar and the application of knowledge in a functional language situation than exists between any two totally different and unrelated school subjects.”

    They may have said it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. I categorically deny that statement. When I am dealing with any language but my own native language (English), reading, writing, translating, I am constantly referring in my mind to grammatical rules for the purpose of testing whether something is correct or not, or simply what it means.

    As far as English, as I mentioned above, in correcting my own or other people’s writing, the process is like this: Something doesn’t “sound” right. Very often this can be corrected almost automatically, but if there is any sort of problem involved, I refer to grammar in order to understand exactly what the problem is, then I solve it in the most efficient manner. Some of these problems are more prosodic than strictly grammatical, but in English, a largely non-inflected language, word order is extremely important for clarity. (Other problems are lexical or stylistic rather than grammatical, e.g. when do you say “advocate for” and when do you say “advocate”?)

  159. 159
    West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.) says:

    Samara, if you’re so bloody bored, why not focus your energy on a thread you do find engaging? I’m not trying to pick a fight, but it does seem curious that you keep dropping in to express your disdain.

  160. 160

    @Jeff Fecke:

    This is right on the mark. It isn’t so much that I don’t want to teach everybody standard American English; it’s rather than I object to the fact that you can’t get ahead in life in this country without knowing standard American English. I think this is just morally wrong. I grew up speaking SAE. My mother and father both spoke it, the children I went to school with all spoke it, so that’s what I learned. But SAE isn’t in any way any better than any other dialect of American English. It isn’t fair that I should have had this leg up from birth just because of what my mother and father spoke, while some child in east Tennessee or Southwest Washington starts out behind, having to learn a new, unfamiliar dialect just to break even.

    I’d like to see a country in which the Tennessee kid, the Washington kid and I can all make it in life, each of us speaking our own dialect. They aren’t so unlike that there’s much trouble understanding what we’re saying; the big hurdle is that so much of American society sees SAE as “right” and everything else as varying degrees of “wrong”. And with that judgement of “wrong” come other, sometimes subtle judgements of “stupid”, “lazy”, “ignorant” and “inferior”, and these judgements, while they first settle on the speech itself, are highly migratory, and it isn’t long before they land on the speakers. Recall how upset so many Americans were when some schools in Oakland (if I recall rightly) wanted to teach students in what I would call standard African-American English? “That isn’t right! That ins’t English! It isn’t even a real language! I don’t want my tax money going to teach some ghetto kid how to talk like gangsters! They need to learn real English!”

    People said all kinds of crap like that. Witers wrote about it. Pundits punditified about it; spouters off spouted off about it; bloviators bloviated about it. And what they all had in common was that they were obnoxious tools who didn’t have the first damned clue what the hell they were talking about. They were ignorant, far more ignorant than the supposed sub-humans they were screeching about. Anybody who speaks fluent standard African-American English is a highly skilled speaker of a subtle and expressive language, easily ass skilled as I am, and the language is easily as subtle and expressive as the one I speak. We need to recognize this and celebrate it and encourage it. I really hope we can live to see a day when somebody who talks like what so many Americans would write off as a “hillbilly” or a “ghetto thug” can go to the same schools I went to, and have a decent shot at the best jobs in this country, without having to learn a foreign dialect.

  161. 161
    magurakurin says:

    @Samara Morgan: here is some fucking English grammar for you…you sick and twisted fuckwad. If the fucking goddamn topic is of no motherfucking interest to your sorry shit stained ass, then don’t fucking read the goddamn thing. For christ’s fucking sake nobody is forcing you to read it, but somehow you got to 140 comments and then complained about it? It is absofuckinglutely mind blowing the bullshit that you come up with day after motherfuckin day.

    And that’s the fuckin King’s English for ya right there.

  162. 162
    MikeZ says:

    Every once in a while a post just fires up some of the old juices that I thought had long ago dried up from reading too many meeting minutes and too much time spent deciphering e-mail babble both of which absolutely destroyed the English language in general and correct grammatical construction in particular.
    50 years ago, sitting in Mr Baker’s English class for hours of instruction in the correct way to structure a sentence was probably the first inkling I had that hours actually could seem like days if the correct anti-stimulus was applied. Making matters worse, I then would troop off to Latin class and do it in a language that lost favor about when the dinosaurs decided to call it quits.
    And yet to this day I find myself occasionally doing some quick and dirty sentence analysis; it’s a great mental exercise (I also dabble in the occasional long division sans calculator just to prove I still have it).
    Interestingly though, as life went on it turned out that the act of breaking concepts and ideas down into logical components of the whole was an application that made physics, chemistry and mathematics not all that different from what I had spent 8th grade doing with words.
    No student is ever a blank slate, not at birth and certainly not at an age when they head off to school. But every kid has certain learning preferences and certain methods to take what they’re exposed to in the early years and use that in ever more complex ways to continue to learn as life goes on. I really don’t know what may have worked for me had I not sat grown up in a time when grammar was as big a part of English class but I really believe that it defined a big part of what was to come.

  163. 163
    dead existentialist says:

    What everyone here seems to be referring to as “grammar” is actually the meta-language of a base language (in this case English).

    Before you could read, you had already internalized the grammar of your respective language; it’s what humans do. What seems to be the general consensus here is that the meta-language confuses/annoys/seems pointless when one already inherently knows and understands the grammar of the language that one speaks because to not know it renders one incapable of language.

    Grammar is the set of rules that makes a language work. Period. They are there when we show up, kinda like the gods, and while we can tinker with them at the edges, the foundation of these rules will outlast us and be there for the next generation to acquire.

    I’m not at all so sure that Freddie’s empirical evidence is in fact “empirical.” The American general population was considerably more literate before formal grammar got the heave-ho from the elementary-secondary curriculum (circa mid-1970s); you could do a correlative study to prove this, I’m pretty sure.

    Just remember: first they came for the Ten Commandments; then they came for teh grammar . . . at about the same time as they began floridating our waters! Precious bodily fluids, Manfred . . . .

    Green ideas sleep furiously, and all that.

  164. 164
    Samara Morgan says:

    @West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.): because…this is supposed to be a liberal blog, i thought.
    i just object to Coles glibertarian rent boi du jour taking up space that could be used to discuss something productive.
    its a ritual protest, purely formulaic…..you cudlips will continue to slurp up the drench.

  165. 165
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @Elliecat: Late to the thread, but maybe you’ll see this. Sometimes it’s not the parents, the daycare, the relatives, the books, reading aloud, the family income, or anything else. Sometimes it’s the kid.

    A kindergarten teacher told us our son wasn’t picking up his letters, and thanks to her, we found out about the dyslexia, got a tutor, and eventually private school, and over the years he learned to read and graduated from high school.

  166. 166
    Samara Morgan says:

    @magurakurin: i complained about it in the first comment, dolt.
    why does this blog need a 1500 word post on fucking grammer?
    grammer is a solved problem, see speech recognition 101.

    just fucking teach kids to READ…that is what they need, not fucking sentence diagrams.
    de Bore thinks grammer deserves 1500 words on the front page of balloonjuice….because he teaches rhetoric I guess.

  167. 167
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @Too Many Jimpersons (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.): If you read Albion’s Seed, you’ll find out that the dialects of American English go back over 400 years to different districts of Britain. One of the more astounding things I found in the book.

  168. 168
    suzanne says:

    @Alex:

    or, if addressed at all, to be treated condescendingly as one would with a retarded cousin.

    That’s my MO in a nutshell.

    Though I’m not big on the use of “retarded”, there’s a reason I think of her as FourLoko_chan; she’s hyper-repetitive, irritating, and occasionally amusing.

  169. 169
    Samara Morgan says:

    @Alex:

    when he/she mocked the victims of Anders Brevik’s rampage in Norway and attributed responsibility for their deaths to ED Kain.

    that is pure unadulterated bulshytt. i didnt mock the victims, i just pointed out that Brevik was a white christian nativist like the teabaggers and the EDL, and that Kain had a post up that was essentially the same as Jennifer Rubin’s post.
    if i mocked anyone it was the juicers for falling for Erik “Beyond Unions” Kain’s obviouso farming of BJ pageclicks to get a paid gig at Forbes.
    simpletons.

  170. 170
    West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.) says:

    Samara (@162)– How long have you been reading this blog? Considering how many discussions there are about football, animals, gardening, etc., do you find a discussion about language education really so very out of place? If the headline doesn’t grab your attention, don’t read the story. It’s just like when reading a newspaper or watching TV. Don’t like the subject? Flip the page or click the remote. Methinks you really just want to see if you can annoy a random group of strangers.

  171. 171
    suzanne says:

    @Samara Morgan:

    why does this blog need a 1500 word post on fucking grammer?

    Because you still can’t use it.
    Figure it out, cudlip.

  172. 172
    Paul in KY says:

    @Neddie Jingo: I sometimes think I’m a 19th Century guy who’s living out of his time.

    I guess that’s a little closer to the 18th century ;-)

  173. 173
    Paul in KY says:

    @Amir Khalid: To me, ‘shall’ indicates more personal control over the situation. ‘Will’ indicates it will happen with or without your help/input.

  174. 174
    Paul in KY says:

    @Amir Khalid: I can see you are in your element ;-)

  175. 175
    Samara Morgan says:

    @West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.): apprx 2 years. i came here because Cole was a convert to liberalism…i thought. Sillie me, i was looking for liberal blog.

    But then Team Glibertarian started building a beachhead on shores of liberalism.

    look, i hated EDK being here because he was a fraud.
    i hate freddie because he WAS a liberal that turned for pageclicks.
    i have know both these glibertarians since culture 11, the elegant conservative decarian math that burned down the same day Big Hollywood sprang to evil putrescent life.
    They are symptomatic of the plague that is destroying our country.
    Say anything for pageclicks.
    Kain has done actual damage to the union movement in this country, just ask Kay.

    They are part of the problem…they are part of the FOXnews effect and freed market fuckery, they are apologists for Distributed Jesusland.
    And you dumb cattle fall for that “we are the same” kumbayah bulshytt alla time.

  176. 176
    Samara Morgan says:

    @Paul in KY: pedantry?
    but why isnt he pedantic about the message of the Noble Quran?

  177. 177
    Samara Morgan says:

    @suzanne: amg….grammer is a solved problem.
    machines can dooo eeet.
    Se the History of AI, speech recognition.

    the rest of us dont need it. :)
    grammer, what is it good for?
    kids need to learn to read, not diagram sentences.

  178. 178
    Samara Morgan says:

    srsly, the world is about to change….and freddie has a 1500 word post on grammer.
    WTF?

  179. 179

    Diagramming sentences is laughably perverse. It substitutes an arcane formalism for the useful ability to identify the grammatical function of words and phrases and their relationships with each other. It makes grammar harder, not easier, which is a weird thing even to try to do to a student who’s having a hard time standardizing a naturally acquired ability.

  180. 180
    Paul in KY says:

    @Samara Morgan: If we were ever to meet in person, I hope you wouldn’t blather on about the Noble Quran. I would likewise not blather on about the Good Book (or Tolkein, whom I can blather on about for a good long time) ;-)

  181. 181
    Samara Morgan says:

    @Paul in KY: we would talk about the Songs of Fire and Ice sillie.

  182. 182
    Samara Morgan says:

    you dumb cattle.
    1500 words about fucking “grammer” when troy davis is going to be executed tomorrow.
    /spit.

  183. 183
    Samara Morgan says:

    @lovable liberal: i love you.

  184. 184
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    Judging by the number of people I come across who have adopted all of the mistakes and bad style decisions that are in Strunk and White, someone out there is learning grammar.

  185. 185
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    We also know a huge amount of grammar that we are unaware of (and that no native speaker ever gets wrong), and find hard to explain when asked by non-native speakers. For example, no native speaker of English would say, “the blue big car.” Everyone says “the big blue car,” but try explaining it.

    Further examples are “I have gone to school when I was a child,” or “I went to Europe three times, but now I am going again.”

  186. 186
    Paul in KY says:

    @Samara Morgan: Don’t know what I was thinking ;-)

  187. 187
    KS in MA says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: And then, of course, there’s “Ain’t I?”

  188. 188
    SteveR says:

    There’s “grammar” (which in my day was a little red book), and then there’s grammar. The one without quotes is the term linguists use when describing the structure of a language; the one in quotes is a tiny selection of descriptive linguistics that partly describes the dialect called “Standard Written English,” i.e. white collar English. If you live in a family that is either part of the “white collar” class or has aspirations to it, chances are you’ll learn the white collar dialect. If you don’t, chances are you won’t, and you’ll probably actually resent people who speak it. How is this so hard to understand? If anyone’s going to teach “grammar,” at least be honest about it with your students: this is the dialect some of you grew up with, so it’ll be easy. For the rest of you, if you can get over your resentment and learn it, it’ll help you wear another mask that might help you get ahead in the world.

  189. 189
    Srihari says:

    A bad worker used to blame his tools (if I said tool, now that would be the short joke). Nowadays he blames the tool and the toolmaker!

  190. 190

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