Wednesday, December 10, 2008

EVERYONE has an Achilles heel....

...Even teachers of grammar. This morning I spoke to Tracey Bretag - author and senior lecturer in business communication and communication ethics at the University of South Australia.
Tracey Bretag has a list of teaching credentials and awards as long as your arm.

She has been convener of the Asia Pacific Conference on Educational Integrity, editor of a journal on the same topic and has taught English as an additional language in both Australia and throughout Asia. Her credentials as grammar and academic writing teacher are beyond dispute. However this blogger had to ask, 'do you have your own Achilles* heel when it comes to grammar?'

'Of course!', Tracey said. 'Sometimes I get stuck on subject verb agreement and sometimes it's with the spelling of words. For example, I always put two 'ls' in necessarily [necessarilly...]'

Tracey points to the fact that even though English as an additional language learners might think native English speakers don't have as many problems, they do!

Tracey said 'it's often better to think in terms of comprehensibility than grammar. Making things easy to understand is essential in business writing because miscommunication can cause a breakdown in relationships or loss of business deals and loss of money.

'Where correct grammar enhances a sentence, being able to say things simply - sometimes with strong, direct headings - is especially important in cross cultural communication'.

However, Tracey stresses difficulties with grammar is not just the province of the international student. 'In fact', said Tracey, 'students with English as an additional language can often talk about the rules of grammar with much more authority than native speakers - the problem is often putting it all into action'.

Tracey points to her most favourite tools as being a hefty large thesaurus, dictionary and style guide. When I asked Tracey about the value of electronic checking devices (such as the language tools in Microsoft word) she felt they were inadequate for additional language learners because they don't give enough context to the word.

(Biggravee [photobucket] 2007)

Tracey insists that grammar can only be learned in the context of communication (ie with examples). However, she points to traditional rote learning as being one of the foundation blocks of learning to use correct grammar. She likens this to learning times tables, as a foundation skill for more complex mathematical tasks. Although education purists might not agree with this approach to learning, Tracey advocates that being drilled in the fundamentals builds bridges to the ability to use language competently later.

Like learning any new form of language or skill - such as music or even driving a car - the essentials can be painstaking at first but well worth the effort in the long run.

What's your grammar Achilles heel? Click on 'comments' and post away!

* Achilles was a Greek mythological character noted for his strength, but for a weakness in his heel. This one 'small' weakness in his otherwise powerful body was pierced by an arrow and caused his death.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Tracey that writing is hard work. My particular achilles heel is writing so fast that I forget to punctuate and my grammar is all over the place. For me editing my work is a crutial step in the writing process even though I am a native English speaker, I don't always get it right the first time.

Andrea said...

Did you mean 'crucial' Susanna ;)

Don't worry, I always spell Friend wrong (would you believe, Freind)

Virginia tells me Friend ends in end!!!!!

Virginia Hussin said...

I know Andrea really meant, "I always spell 'friend' wrongly" (wrong being an adjective and wrongly, an adverb). Actually, 'incorrectly' would probably sound better!

virginia Hussin said...

And now for my Achilles heel! It is that at the end of a letter I always want to write:
Yours Sincerely,

...when in fact,
'sincerely', 'faithfully', truly' etc are not spelt with a capital letter! Even though I know it's wrong, it still looks better to me WITH a capital letter because I wrote it like that (ie incorrectly) for so many years!

Andrea said...

Ahhhh - Virginia - that's probably how I would express myself in speech.

A blog (to me at least) sits somewhere inbetween talking and writing - hence my lapses.

All good fun!

Anonymous said...

Although I'm a self-confessed member of the 'grammar police'(sad, I know!) and get quite irritated by what I consider to be glaring errors by native speakers, I have problems with the spelling of some words and need to recall the rhymes I learnt in primary school to assist with the difference between words like 'practice' and 'pratise'. (You can see 'c' a noun). The rhyme " 'i' comes before 'e' except after 'c'" is still recalled with some words.

We learnt many such rhymes at school to assist with spelling and I wonder if children today are taught similar methods.


Anonymous said...

That should read the difference between 'practice' and 'practise'!


Andrea said...

I get stuck on that one, too, Kathy, but with me, it's more related to the meaning than the spelling.

For example, 'practise' is a verb: I need to practise piano harder in order to bemore accomplished. 'Practice' is a noun: at practice [rehearsal] the other night, we ran through a Beethoven concerto. Am I right? :)

'Affect' and 'effect' also cause a muddle!

Anonymous said...

In my comment I was associating the correct spelling of the words 'practice' and 'practise'with the correct meaning or context and your examples are spot-on.

I also think 'affect' and 'effect' are confusing, particularly as 'effect' can be used as both a noun and a verb. It helps to remember that 'affect' can't be used as a noun.


Brady Spangenberg said...

Though I didn't realize it at the time, my Achilles heel used to be long, drawn out sentences that made little sense and did not drive home my argument at all. Like many "good writers" who have never heard otherwise, I wasn't aware that an overuse of the passive voice can be so detrimental to clarity and style. I still struggle with the "to be written--not to be written" urge. I have found that a short, pithy sentence can have a much greater impact on your audience than a long, windy, and clause-strewn monolith of a sentence. Hearing and understanding is believing.


Anonymous said...

I had to retrain myself to type receive correctly, by stopping every time I began to type it. My other achilles heel is the underuse (or complete absence) of paragraphs in hand written text. I blame computers for making me believe I can somehow edit my writing as I go.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Kathy that "'affect' can't be used as a noun."

Ask any psychologist or psychiatrist.

Now, should I include a smiley (emoticon) after this comment?

Hard to say, really; I'm exhibiting flattened affect today. Drat that botox.


Andrea Duff said...

The grammar gang agrees. Yes, affect can be used as a noun.

It is more often than not used to describe an emotion which is low or depressed.

Obscure, but true!

Peggy said...

I always get mixed up with ibles and ables endings: Is it delectable or delectible? Am I able to delect?

Also, ants and ents, such as descendents or are they ants?

Andrea Duff said...

Thank you Peggy for your post. We have decided we will do a post just for this question (at least Julia will becauses it is a favourite of hers) :)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of grammar, isn't 'Achilles heel" written "Achilles' heel", i.e., with a possessive apostrophe?

Julia Miller said...

Good question. I've checked six leading English learner's dictionaries, and three of them have the apostrophe while three of them don't have the apostrophe which suggests that it's optional. A quick Google search revealed 190,000 instances of the incorrect "Achille's heel", so maybe it's safer to leave the apostrophe off in the long term!