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Talk to me about the importance of studying grammar

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

I believe grammar is important, but I just can't decide HOW important or HOW in-depth to go as I look at curriculum choices for next year.  For the past 2 years dd (who will be doing 4th grade work next fall) has been doing the short little 'Daily Language Reviews' put out by Evan Moore.  Each day is only about 5 questions, but over the years it has covered the basics pretty well.  As dd gets older I can't help but wonder if she should do more?  Is it critical, for instance, that she be able to correctly identify prepositional phrases or predicates?  Will her writing improve indirectly by learning how to diagram sentences? 


I am an academic writer, and I once had to look up the definition of a predicate so she could do her Daily Language Review bag.gif.  I'm sure at one point in my life I was instructed in the identification of predicates, but did this knowledge affect my ability to write coherent sentences later in life?  Or, is the best way to absorb grammar simply by actual reading and writing? 


I would LOVE to hear your opinions either way, and what (if any) materials you are using. TIA!

post #2 of 15
I think grammar is among the most important things a person can learn. I highly value verbal and written expression, and believe that being able to express oneself correctly, accurately, and succinctly is a mark of intelligence. It's hard to take someone seriously when they're using bad grammar.

I worked as a copyeditor, an editor, and then as a technical writer for years. As a writer, grammar was always more intuitive to me (and in talking to other writers, I've found many good writers feel intuitive about grammar), but to be a good editor, one MUST know the rules. And when one is a writer, one is also by definition a copyeditor. So, whereas I will still say that I'm more intuitive about grammer, and still need to look up things like "gerund," I think it's important to know the rules. Yes, knowing what a participle is will make a difference in writing - because if a person knows what a participle is, then he will know how to recognize when he has left one dangling. Diagramming sentences helps a person understand the parts of speech, how they work together, and helps identify a well-constructed sentence vs a poorly-constructed one. If your student already writes well-constructed sentences, it's probably not necessary. I sat through endless units of sentence diagramming in school, and didn't benefit from it at all, but I watched several friends struggle with the process and ultimately benefit from it. I love grammar. LOVE it.

I did not use any curriculum for reading, grammar, phonics, math - OK, anything - for first grade, but in second grade, we're going to use First Language Lessons For the Well-Trained Mind. Those books go thru grade 4.

Please note, someone sent me a button once that said "I am the grammar snob about whom your mother warned." And, yes, that's me. not everyone sees grammar like I do.
post #3 of 15

Well, unless my children aim for a doctorate in literature, I'm guessing they won't need to know the names of many of the parts of grammar to get through life.  To me, being able to put together coherent sentences, writing them properly (ugh, homonyms anyone? mistakes like that drive me batty!) and spell correctly is perfect. 


Amen on not being able to take someone seriously when they cannot get their point across correctly.  I can barely understand some of that texting shorthand - it just looks like a foreign language to me.  I do believe I'd have a hissy fit if my children try to use that kind of "language."  Granted, I'm sure most of my online posts and such are far from perfect, but I try to keep typos to a minimum and have a tendency to just write how I'm thinking in my head versus what may or may not be 100% proper.  ;)

Heck, I didn't know what on earth a verb or a noun or adjectives or anything like that were.  Until 9th grade French.  I wrote many, many book reports and other papers long before that, and received respectable enough grades.  I honestly think it was my early bookworm ways that helped me in that regard - I know the difference between their, they're and there and how to properly use them among other things just from soaking up so much of the written word (well, until 6th grade with evil Mrs. H., but that's beside the point).  In part because of all the reading, I also am a decent speller.  Unlike several relatives/friends of mine that either had worse schools or weren't as interested in reading, and spell-check can't help you that much.

post #4 of 15
Originally Posted by sarahtar View Post

I think grammar is among the most important things a person can learn. I highly value verbal and written expression, and believe that being able to express oneself correctly, accurately, and succinctly is a mark of intelligence. It's hard to take someone seriously when they're using bad grammar.

I agree with this.

post #5 of 15

I also think it is very important.  


I knew my parts of speech early on.  I think they taught them in elementary school.  I hadn't ever heard of any type of phrase (except for the prepositional) in school.  I didn't know what a direct object or indirect object was until high school French.  Even then, I didn't understand them.  To top it all off, I usually received an A or B+ on my English papers and thought that I was pretty good at writing.  I also thought grading composition was largely subjective.  


Then I hit college.  Holy cow, what I didn't know was amazing!  I thought the nun who taught the comp 101 class was nuts when she began the first day with, "who can tell me what a noun is?"  Unfortunately, it didn't take long for her to find gaps in my education.  My first paper was a C-.  I was in tears.  I went to her office and she spent extra time actually "teaching" me grammar.  My grades climbed.  I learned that grading composition could be objective.  My second composition class, at a different school, proved that the nun was right.  Now I had two professors who were consistent, objective, and demanding.  I did very well in that class.  


However, I still consider grammar to be my weak area.  I have to review the types of phrases before I explain them to my daughter.  I know that I make mistakes (especially on-line).  I also know that she will benefit from my dedication to her grammar education.  




ETA:  Someone who writes well has a great advantage.  People often have to write essays to get into college.  They need to be able to write a cover letter.  Someday, as a parent, they may need to write letters on behalf of their children.  A person who writes well will appear organized, powerful, and someone to take seriously.  It is hard to take a person seriously if they look like they didn't even try to get the basics right.

post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 

Alright, you all have spoken compellingly and convincingly.  I will do a more comprehensive grammar program next year.  smile.gif

post #7 of 15

I think I could probably go on and on about the importance of learning good grammar - the fact is, however, that my son learned it and became exceptionally articulate without ever studying it but by absorbing it through conversation, being read to a lot, and then lots of reading of things that were well written and really interested him during his teen years. I assumed I'd need to run him through some remedial language arts skills when he entered the community college before his four year college, but before I ever got around to it, he was bringing home papers with raves from his English teachers. And on a side note, his vocabulary that was developed without ever studying it got him a near perfect score on the verbal part of the SAT. So, yes - it's important, but grinding through lots of lessons is a whole other thing. Being immersed in the use of well constructed language is, I think, the key.   - Lillian

post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 

Thank you Lillian J...I am struggling right now to find the right balance between book work and "immersion" as you put it.  I lean less toward bookwork than other homeschoolers I know, but then there's that insecurity that you're doing enough!  Grammar exercises in particular seem so dry...

post #9 of 15

We haven't arrived at the age where grammar would be a dilemma, so I have no advice as to whether or not. But as a student I LOVED diagramming sentences!  It was an awesome and challenging puzzle involving my favorite subject--language!  At a younger age, I howled at Mad Libs, and younger still I loved Grammar Rock, and can still sing a little of most of them (VERB!  Thats What's Happenin'!)  I loved finding atrocious, hilariously confusing sentences, especially common in journalism due to the need for cramming as much information as possible into one sentence.  At school, this was one of the most popular lessons.  (The winners of the Bullwer-Linton contest each year are also brilliantly awful.) 

     My love of languages quickly extended to learning foreign languages.  Some languages have complex verbal structures (Spanish!) and even though they only use a handful of forms primarily, the verb form changes when even slight changes are made, changes that in English we can only guess at in the context of the entire sentence.  So, foreign languages are a good way to learn English grammar, because to explain one and use it, you need to understand the English equivalent.

     This is not necessarily about grammar, but I didn't limit my love of languages to real ones: I started teaching myself Tolkien's elvish languages and even tried inventing some of my own (I didn't have JRRT's passion and perseverance, but I had a lot of alone-time.)

     All this lead me also to the actual artistic shape of the words, and I dabbled in calligraphy, both English and Elvish and the Dwarf runes.  Later, I started learning Celtic knotwork and on and on.....aaaah to have the TIME to play around with all that again!

post #10 of 15

I got to hear Susan Wise Bower speak at a homeschool conference this spring, and she pointed out that if you teach a child to diagram sentences in middle school, then when they are in high school and write something that doesn't sound quite right, you can ask them to diagram the sentence.  If you can't diagram it, something it wrong with it.  Then, also, the child can do the diagram and figure out the problem for themselves, rather than you saying "This doesn't sound right, make it better" which I know as a teen I would have hated hearing.


We have only done simple lessons in grammar so far, but I intend to use the 4th grade level of First Language Lessons this fall for 4th grade.  I think the lessons are pretty short in themselves but cover a lot of ground.  I think learning grammar is important, but as long as she has a good grasp of it by 8th grade, that's all we need, so even if it takes us 2 years to do the book, that's fine with me. 



post #11 of 15

I am very much inclined towards math and spent much of my time in English class complaining that this stuff was useless.  However, in college I discovered a love for Russian language.  Studying a foreign language was so much easier with a firm grasp of grammar.  I was forced to eat my words (sorry Mrs. Lawrence!) and admit that learning grammar did indeed serve a purpose.  

post #12 of 15

My husband just returned from a week long intensive writing training for Canadian legal professionals, including judges. They spent 10 hours a day, learning to express themselves better in writing. He said that he, an immigrant, was one of the few who wasn't utterly lost. They were taught by university professors, who, with amazing patience, kept repeating, 'No, this is not how you form a sentence.' Interestingly, DH learned English in his twenties and never formally studied English grammar. However, he loved diagramming sentences in his language as a child,  and studied French grammar as well as a second language in school.


As we were talking about it, DH reiterated to DD that grammar is essential, and not that difficult either. I chuckled. Didn't his story prove otherwise? Those people "made it" as lawyers and judges, all without knowing grammar. Embarrassing for them, though, eh?

post #13 of 15
When I was teaching test prep classes, I noticed that my ESL students were much better at knowing actual grammatical terms and rules, and my native English speakers were much better at knowing what "sounds right".... and then I had some students who could do neither and they had a really, really hard time. I think knowing the rules of grammar works well when you're not a native speaker, because you can't rely on what "sounds right", but there are a lot of of grammatical structures you really just have to memorize in order to speak a language well (preposition use was always a big one).

Rain learned a lot of grammar when studying foreign languages, and she did have moments of being really confused (subjunctive? future perfect?) but she did get it all eventually... and it has been useful for her language studies. I'm not sure it's been useful for her English writing, though, because that was already pretty good... because she has read widely from books that use complex grammar correctly and she's been around a lot of people who do the same, and so that "sounds right" to her (I swear the only thing I corrected in her speech was less vs. fewer, because it is nails on a chalkboard to me). She did have me edit her writing when she first started to write, mostly for punctuation (she had comma overuse issues for a while), but that was about it,.. and some of that was more about how people talk vs how they write.

So, that's my long-winded way of saying that explicitly learning grammar, in my experience, can be useful in certain situations, but that a lot of kids will be able to pick up and correctly use correct grammar without explicit teaching, at least a good bit of the time.
post #14 of 15

I found that learning Spanish and German helped me with my English grammar, and to this day I think it's one of the best ways to study grammar beyond "noun" and "verb".  Those concepts I learned cold from Saturday mornings watching Schoolhouse Rock in between cartoons.  One of my best friends, an American-born daughter of two Columbian immigrants, had difficulty with the Spanish classes her parents made her take.  She was a fluent Spanish speaker.  Curious.....

     I brought Schoolhouse Rock home from the library for my two unschooled girls, and they love it (though Shaun the Sheep has been taking its place this last week).  I can hardly wait for Mad Libs!  I loved this stuff as a kid, and I was dancing and singing to "Conjunction Junction" and the enthusiasm rubs off onto them.  In the car I often burst into a spontaneous round of "Interjections" because I really love the tune.  I can't help myself, and the girls aren't old enough to mind..... most of the time!

post #15 of 15

I'm pretty traditionalist when it comes to grammar.


We teach diagramming sentences to kids in our early English classes (around age 8-10), and a bit later, they encounter "copy editing", which is when we give them real-life misspellings and grammar/syntax/conventions errors in print and they correct them.


School House Rock's Grammar Rock is also awesome for this ("Mr. Morton is the subject of the sentence, and what the predicate says he does" springs to mind).


I'm going to echo PPs a bit, but I, too, believe that learning formal grammar with the proper names for parts of speech and a thorough understanding of sentence structure is very important.  It makes children better writers, yes, but it also makes it easier to read denser material (Faulkner, for example...the king of the complex sentence!) and to learn the grammar of foreign languages.

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