A few years ago, I wrote this essay after participating in NaNoWriMo (a project where you write 50,000 words towards a novel in November). I thought I’d share it here… enjoy!
So I just finished writing in my journal about how much I love writing, and I’m already up way past my bedtime. I’m on a writing high. I took a hot bath to relax, but it didn’t work very well because my mind started straying towards something that actually was kind of distracting me from the end of my write-a-fiction-novel-in-a-month project. Something that I love. And I’m not sure whether loving it made me an awesome teacher or an awful teacher. So here is my confession, and this is what’s keeping me up tonight … No joke …
I love grammar.
I mean, I really love grammar.
It’s just so cool! Seriously!
Here’s the thing. I don’t think I’ve always loved grammar. I guess I’ve always been a words person. I enjoyed English class, Spanish class, and writing. I took some creative writing classes and even decided that I wanted to try to major in English for my first semester at college, before I switched majors (twice). But it wasn’t GRAMMAR that I thought I enjoyed. I enjoyed the stories. Or maybe it was just that I didn’t know enough about grammar to enjoy it. I really didn’t. Especially Spanish grammar. I actually took an “Advanced Spanish Grammar” class my freshman year of college, before I had any clue that I would end up majoring in the Teaching of Spanish, and it was very hard and I hated it and got the lowest grade of any of my Spanish classes that I took in college. I mean, I still got a good grade because I cared about my grades and I’m a perfectionist. But I didn’t get the grade I wanted.
Why did I hate that class? It wasn’t meaningful – no conversation, no interaction, no context, just isolated drills. At the time, I would say, “it was JUST grammar.” But now … I don’t think that was grammar at all.
See, there are two ways to look at “grammar.” Grammar as what people SHOULD speak or grammar as what people DO speak. And if you’re looking at it as what people SHOULD speak, it’s not nearly as interesting. But as what people DO speak … it changes things. All of a sudden, grammar can be used to understand people. Dialect differences, variations in the way individual people speak, the magic and wonder of how infants learn speech, how a monolingual speaker can become multilingual through study and practice … it’s amazing. And it’s so deeply personal and intimate. Did you know that not a single person speaks in the same way? Everyone’s got a different idiolect, different patterns that make up a uniquely wonderful way of speaking. The way people speak reveals information about them, their history, and their culture. It’s amazing.
And the patterns and the structures themselves … how they fit together is so cool. It’s like grammar paints a beautiful splash of color over words that can fall in place in a million different ways to make up an infinite amount of unique and wonderful expressions. It’s the connection to the senses. It turns something visual into something auditory. It turns something you taste or touch into something you can hear and remember and share with others.
I love the system of grammar. I love DESCRIPTIVE grammar – the kind that describes how people speak. That’s really what it is. When I taught I tried to emphasize that. In a language classroom we often learn PRESCRIPTIVE grammar, which tells you how people *should* speak. Well, even that I prefer to think of as describing the “standard dialect” for a language. We learn the standard because that’s the way that most speakers of that language use the language, and so you’ll be able to speak clearly and naturally with the most people that way and interact appropriately in professional and social situations. And it’s okay to make mistakes, both when you’re learning in the classroom and when you’re in the real world. Even the mistakes are interesting and cool because they tend to follow patterns, and we learn from that also.
I am not nearly done with this rant on why I love grammar. I mean, I haven’t even talked at all about the debate of exactly how much grammar, if any at all, should be taught in the foreign language classroom, and how it should be taught. But I think that I got enough of this rant out that I can sleep. I hope that I won’t be back in 15 minutes with more thoughts on grammar. Grammar, please release me from your hypnotic gaze. Lovely though you are, I really need my sleep.
#grammar is dreamy