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Strategies to improve your grammar
Prajjwal Rai
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March 12, 2007

Some days ago, I was invited by a school to assist their teachers. At one of the classes, I asked students what their favourite and not-so-favourite subjects were. The response was far from new. While all kinds of subjects cropped up in response to my first question, the most common answer to the second was English grammar.

Most learners find it difficult to cope with the subject. The reasons vary, but the cause is the same. Most of us prefer to stick to our very own 'Wren and Martin'. Others choose other options. So, what is the best way to learn a language and be proficient in it?

Grammar is a section of linguistics that deals with the form and structure of words (morphology) and how they fit in best in a sentence (syntax). The study of grammar divulges how a language works or functions. Here are a few points that can help you with your grammar:

Speak in English

In India, a majority of people first come across grammar as a second language, in a school curriculum. This kind of grammar is called normative, or prescriptive grammar. It defines the role of various parts of speech and tells us what is the norm or 'correct' usage.

Prescriptive grammar defines the way words and sentences are to be composed so a speaker will be perceived as possessing good grammar. We can really improve our grammar if we continue to speak in English. Your speech will reflect patterns you hear and the rest will fall in place. Find a friend who can speak with you in English, and move on. Whenever you feel stuck, ask!

Read and practise

The more you read, the better you get with your vocabulary. It improves grammar too. If possible, read aloud. Functional grammar deals with the way in which words and word order are used in social perspectives to get the message across. However, if you have a sudden dislike towards heavy grammar books, try the 'parrot method.' This refers to listening and repeating things as many times as possible, so it becomes natural for you to say it that way. 'Pimsleur', a company that has done some work in this area, also offers a program based on this. Visit its Web site (www.pimsleurapproach.com) for more.

Reading aloud is simpler, because you eventually are listening to correct grammar as you read it. Watching television also helps. It works better if we watch what we are really interested in, although the BBC is always a great option. The English spoken in America is different from that spoken in England, which is what we are taught in India. Some parts of spelling and grammar vary between the two countries as well.

Find a tutor

Some of us may disagree with the idea of going to a teacher for grammar lessons, but why not? If you are looking for an alternative, practice grammar using online exercises. There are a number of sites that offer exercises on a range of topics. While using a computer to type a document, grammar checkers can be very helpful too. Grammar Station (www.grammarstation.com) has a good grammar checker you can use.

There are some common perceptions about spoken English, but it is always good to have an open mind. Also, stick to basics as far as possible. It will take time, but continuous practice will help. We often use phrasal verbs and idioms without a complete knowledge of where they fit in. For example, we use 'passed out' to describe clearing an exam or assessment. However, for a native speaker, it would mean 'to faint, or lose consciousness'. People may make fun of poor grammar, but it's your choice to pay attention and lose focus or ignore them and move on. Remember, an accent is never a requirement for speaking in English. As long, as you are clear and able to communicate your thoughts well, all is well.
 
-- Prajjwal Rai is a Lead Training Consultant with WCH Training Solutions. He is a Cambridge CELTA certified Trainer and can be reached at prajjwal@wchsolutions.com


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