This post is in response to Laurie’s post ‘The devil is in the details,’ where she rues the lack of sufficient instruction in English grammar nowadays.

The picture she’s put up for her post reminds me of a sticker that my dad had on his bookshelf showing a desperate boy, probably a foreign student, who had three sentences written down and struck out:
I is a student.
I be a student.
I are a student.

We had a lot of English grammar (synonymous for us with ‘Wren and Martin’) in school. We also had to learn grammar for the other Indian languages that we learned.

English was my first language in school and the medium of instruction. Although my mother tongue is Tamil, I did not study it in school, and so my second language was Hindi. But I hardly spoke Hindi. Unfortunately, the method of teaching Hindi required that the student know the language already. For eight years or so, I really learned little from my Hindi classes. There seemed no hope for the likes of me, and if I did not pass the board exam, I would not be able to go to college.

Suddenly things changed. My principal Mr. Flack, an Australian, became our teacher for Hindi grammar. He taught Hindi as if it were a foreign language. My classmates found his method dreary and dull. But to me, things began to make sense; I understood the syntax.  Today, thanks to those classes, I can speak Hindi enough to communicate.

My children also studied Hindi. They knew even less Hindi than I had known.  The education system in India is fodder for another post, and suffice to say that I was fed up. The only way I knew to make them pass each year was to make tunes for everything in their Hindi books and they literally sang their way through their exams.  It was pathetic. In Std 8, my daughter Prisy changed over to French from Hindi. Suddenly, she was doing really well. It doesn’t take long to guess, does it, why this was the case? She was being taught French as  a foreign language. The teacher was taking the trouble to really explain grammar and syntax. It was even more interesting when she began to understand things that she had studied in her Hindi classes through ‘French’ eyes, although she no longer was studied Hindi.

So my opinion is that:

  • Grammar unravels mysteries of language for foreign students.
  • If you find grammar hard, try to take a course that is designed for foreign students.