I hated studying grammar when I was in school. Unfortunately for me, I went to a school where we learned a lot of grammar. The irony, of course, is that I would grow up to become a writer and teacher—someone who is fascinated by grammatical knowledge and inflicts it on others for a living.
In eighth grade, I had no idea yet that I would one day write or teach professionally. I enjoyed reading and writing, both skills which came naturally to me. Because I generally found it easy to write grammatically correct sentences, using my ear rather than any formal knowledge of grammar, I didn’t understand why I needed to learn all of these arcane terms and labels. And so I didn’t.
Years later, in grad school, I took a job as an English tutor. Since my livelihood depended on my knowledge of grammar, I learned quickly. In the process, I discovered that it wasn’t so painful after all. In fact, I enjoyed understanding better how my language worked and being able to communicate this to my students. I also gained a deeper appreciation of how our language relates to other languages and how grammatical patterns give shape to our thoughts as well as our words.
As I have continued to develop as a writer , I’ve gained a more nuanced understanding of the importance of teaching and learning the grammar of one’s native language. For all of those reluctant students of grammar out there, and their parents—I feel your pain. And I’d like to argue for why learning grammar is not only a necessary component of one’s education, but also something that can be deeply rewarding and possibly even fun.
We tend to think of grammar as a nitpicky subject concerned with arcane dos and don’ts. Ideally, though, the study of grammar is less about learning what not to do than about expanding one’s sense of what the language can do. When we study grammar, we learn about the different components of our language, how they function, and how they relate to each other. With this knowledge, we can have confidence in building increasingly complex sentences that allow us to clearly communicate our most complicated and interesting thoughts.
Imagine an architect who only learned through trial and error; it would take him or her a long time to construct a viable building. However, with training in the rules of engineering and design, architects can quickly progress to designing functioning structures. Learning to write without learning grammar is a bit like being that trial and error architect. You can get to your end goal—clear, concise, and elegant communication—but it’s going to take you a very long time.
Understanding Grammatical Concepts
Many people get hung up on grammar terminology; this isn’t as important as knowing the concepts themselves, and when I taught in school, I had rather that my students absorbed the latter at the expense of the former. However, grammatical terminology is useful because it gives us a way to talk about our language. This is vital for anyone who intends to teach English or writing, but it’s also important for any student of language or literature—or any citizen, for that matter.
When we are able to talk about how our language functions, we can then discuss why authors make certain stylistic or structural choices or decipher difficult prose and poetry, from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot. We can also begin to identify the grammatical and rhetorical devices that speakers and writers—from newspaper columnists to senators—use to sway us, allowing us to form our own critical opinions.
Proper English Grammar Helps In Learning Different Languages
Finally, knowing English grammar helped my students to learn the grammars of other European languages more easily and to understand how these languages relate to our own. Seeing the common patterns that underlie all of the languages in the Indo-European family is a pleasure in and of itself, as is understanding the radical ways in which our language family differs from others. We gain a greater appreciation for both our own culture and the cultures of others when we see our similarities and differences through the lens of language.
Though at first glance it may seem mundane, the study of grammar provides an entry into fascinating realms of study and thought. The ability to speak and write precisely and accurately is also a valuable practical skill.
Good writing is valued in almost every profession, and, in fact, the further the profession is from language-related disciplines, the more valuable strong writing skills are. I’ve never had my writing ability appreciated as much as it was when I worked in finance. Additionally, strong grammar skills help students to achieve high scores on the SAT and other standardized tests.
Students can acquire a thorough knowledge of grammar at any age, though it’s ideal to start young, so that these concepts become integrated into children’s natural understanding of their language. Many schools no longer cover grammar in their curricula, or their grammar units are at best cursory.
For this reason, we worked on grammar with all of our students at, from the first through the twelfth grade. In my classes and tutoring sessions, I tried out different strategies for teaching grammar, looking for the best combinations for each student.
I tended to focus more on grammar in context, having students learn by imitating model sentences from well-known authors or by analyzing the grammar in the texts we are studying. I hope that, rather than seeing grammar as an arduous chore, they come to appreciate it as a useful and interesting tool—preferably sooner than I did, though it’s better late than never.