Is grammar really that important? Is it necessary to communicate? What do boring grammar exercises have in common with speaking?
These are the often heard and asked questions which become especially important when we talk about exams.
I'll try to answer them.
Imagine you are at an important meeting in which very important decisions are to be made. Everyone is dressed formally and the atmosphere is serious. The person in charge starts speaking, but it soon turns out that this individual's grammar makes it hardly possible to understand what he or she means. How would you feel? Confused, irritated, frustrated? What would you think of this person? Incompetent, disrespectful, unprepared?
I found myself in such a situation once, working as a trainee at a city hall. I was asked to make phone calls to European partners of the city in a project of some sort. I talked to them in English, but when I got through to a French office, they expected me to speak French, which I tried. Unfortunately, my French grammar was far from perfect and the last words I heard before the lady hung up on me were: "Is this a joke?"
I hope this has convinced you that grammar IS important.
What do we need grammar for?
TO BE PRECISE.
Vocabulary and phrases are the content of your statement, but grammar is the backbone and the framework. It allows to present the information in the right aspect and from the right perspective.
TO AVOID MISUNDERSTANDINGS.
When your grammar is not right, you may be easily misunderstood or unintentionally offend someone. If your grammar is confusing, you will need to answer embarrassing questions about what you mean, explain and paraphrase.
TO BE BRIEF. Using the right grammatical structure, you may be brief and concise. You may express what you mean in a straightforward way, without having to explain too much.
TO BE PROFESSIONAL AND CREDIBLE.
There are situations in which you want to be taken seriously. Inaccuracy and mistakes won't help you achieve this objective. Your credibility may be questioned if you cannot communicate effectively.
TO PASS EXAMS.
Since correctness and accuracy are the criteria evaluated at language exams, you need to be aware that they may lower your mark at the exam or evan cause a failure.
How to use and learn grammar effectively?
I believe that the best method is to learn grammar in meaningful contexts. What I mean is that whenever you learn a new grammatical form, you should find real life contexts in which you could use it. In my opinion, unless you are learning the form of the grammatical structure (e.g. I have, she has) and not the usage, there is no point doing hundreds of exercises without paying attention and analysing the context.
The aim of grammar exercises should be to analyse the context which a grammatical form creates or is used in.
Let's relate this to the exam.
If you know that your letters should be formal, you may use PASSIVE VOICE to achieve this effect.
If you are asked to give advice, you can use the SECOND CONDITIONAL.
If you are supposed to ask for information, try INDIRECT QUESTIONS to sound more polite and official.
If you generalise, remember about PRESENT SIMPLE or a ZERO CONDITIONAL.
If you want to guess and infer, MODALS OF DEDUCTION can be useful.
What I mean is that, we should focus more on the functions different grammatical forms and aspects fulfil. Like the ones listed above.
What are the most frequent mistakes made and penalised at the exam?
GUARD YOUR ESES.
People tend to lose their 'S' sound at the end of plural or third person words. Whether it is a grammatical or pronunciation mistake doesn't really matter. The effect is always the same. It is confusing and may be annoying if repeated throughout a statement, like in "There is one advantages of..." or "If you have any question, don't hesitate to ask them". (words in italics lack an 'S').
Using English words and a native language word order is a common problem, which results from the fact that people translate from the native language as they speak or write in English and calque the native word order. For example, in Polish the word order is not as fixed as in English, because of inflexion (the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, and mood. )
Word order in questions seems to be problematic even at quite high levels of English. One of its aspects are also indirect questions, which don't require inversion in contrast to direct questions.
IF and FUTURE TIME CLAUSES.
It is very common to hear "WILL" after IF or TIME WORDS such as when, as soon as, until. These clauses require the use of a present tense, but non-native speakers of English tend to calque the meaning from their native language and use future forms where they don't belong.
WHICH or WHO?
"People who" and "things which" is a rule worth remembering, but often forgotten.
Some people tend to use the infinitive form of verbs, no endings, no tenses, which is not only confusing, but also simplistic.
PRESENT SIMPLE OR CONTINUOUS?
We all know this, but again because of calque people tend to forget that Present Simple and not Continuous is the right one to generalise.
Can you think of any other typical mistakes? Do you agree that bad grammar can make as ridiculous?
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