Why does my teacher make me learn English grammar words?

Summary: Do learners need to know grammar terms?

When studying English, many students find learning words like "noun", "Present Perfect", "prediction" and "indirect question" difficult and wonder if these kinds of words that are not part of day to day conversation are worth learning. The answer is -sometimes. There are good and bad reasons for introducing words like these into class, and it is possible for a teacher to use them too much, too little or just the right amount. If you think one of the "good reasons" below are true for your class and your school, then you should probably trust your teacher and learn the words whenever they come up. If more of the "bad reasons" below are true, however, you might want to ask your teacher some questions or think about changing classes.

Good reasons for making students learn English grammar words

  1. To explain grammar just in English - Many teachers and students believe that doing a class just in English is a good way of increasing the amount of speaking and listening in class and of teaching students to think in English without translating. For grammar explanation, sometimes the easiest way of explaining something without using other languages is through grammar terminology like "adverb" or "passive voice"
  2. To show connections between different grammar points - The quickest way of showing the similarities and differences between the "Present Continuous tense" and the "Past continuous tense" is through using their names, which clearly show that both are Continuous forms (= end with -ing) and that one uses the present of "to be" (am/ is/ are) and the other uses the past (was/ were).
  3. To save time - Although it is possible to explain grammar without using words like "verb" and "adjective", it is usually quicker with these words.
  4. To make the explanation more accurate - Although a teacher could explain the meaning of "will" with easy words like "future changes" or "tarot cards", the more general and true explanation needs the more difficult word "prediction".
  5. So you can use English dictionaries and grammar books - If you learn words like "article" and "conjunction" in English, this will make it easier for you to understand grammar books and dictionaries that are written just in English, and to find the right word or grammar point to study. The reason for using books that don't have your own language in them include trying to stop translating in your head, using books that your teacher recommends, having a wider range of good quality books to choose from, and preparing to study in an English speaking country.
  6. To prepare you for study elsewhere - If you are going to study outside your own country it is likely that someone will want to correct your English or ask you questions about your own language. These are much easier to talk about if you know grammar words in English.
  7. To help you in tests - Although it is usually possible to answer a grammar test's questions by looking at examples, it is much quicker and easier if you can understand instructions like "fill each gap with the Present Perfect Simple or Continuous"
  8. So you can explain the grammar to your classmates - One good way of teaching grammar is to ask the students what they think first, as this gives the students more speaking and checks what they already know. If you want to join in such discussions in English you will need to know grammar words.
  9. So you can talk about grammar in English in pairs - This is another good way of students actively working out the grammar for themselves and practicing their speaking in which knowing grammar words will make using English easier.
  10. So you know what you've been studying - If you know words like "adverbs of frequency" and "prepositions of position" in English, you will easily be able to understand from the contents page and unit headings of your textbook which language point you are studying and why.
  11. So you can ask your teacher questions - It is much easier and clearer to ask "Why does that noun end with -tion?" than "Why does that word end with -tion?"
  12. So you can tell your teacher what language you need - If you can tell your teacher "I need more practice of the Past Continuous" or "I always get the phrasal verb questions wrong in the test" in English, this will help the teacher plan a class that is more useful for you.

Bad reasons for making students learn English grammar words

  1. Because the teacher doesn't know any other way to explain grammar - Using grammar words is usually the quickest and most accurate way of explaining grammar, but it is not the only one. A good teacher will explain the same grammar point in many different ways, some of which have simpler language. If you don't understand the grammar words your teacher is using and then the teacher uses more grammar words when they explain another way, you could try asking the school for a translation of all the grammar words you will hear in class or just ask your teacher "Can you explain that another way?"
  2. Because they are secretly trying to teach you the grammar of your own language - In many school systems people learn more about grammar in their foreign language classes than they do when studying their own language, but English grammar should still be explained in the best way for that class rather than to help with another language. If your teacher or school system does this, the only solution is to study English in a different way elsewhere as well.

Copyright © 2008

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

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