Thursday, December 11, 2008

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.