Dealing with the Onslaught of Terminology

Hear the Lecture

I hope that you started this session by working your way through the PowerPoint slide overview of Chapter 2 in the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English.  If you haven't been to that part of Lecture 3, it would be a good idea to stop this lecture and go to the overview first. 

Chapter two includes in its 24 pages very close to 50 important terms that are used to talk about 50 important grammatical concepts.  Reading this type of overview chapter can be daunting if you do not already know all of the terms.  In some ways, such chapters make better conclusions than introductions since at the end of the book or of the course based on the book most students will find the terminology easier to follow.  However, such overview chapters are a tradition in academic books and as academics--as scholar-teachers--we need to learn to deal with them. 

Specialized Language in Graduate Studies in Applied Linguistics

Specialized language is a feature of any disciplinary area.  In the U.S., undergraduate education is about creation of the educated citizenry--giving a general education to the people who make up the educated "elite" in the country.  Graduate education here is about creating members of the professions. 

Much of the work in graduate school has to do with introducing you to the field--showing you how to write and talk like an applied linguist.  You learn what the major issues are; you learn the methods being used to analyze and discuss those issues; and you learn the specialized language of the field. 

So, it's not surprising that you are faced with learning a lot of new words--or new definitions and uses for words you already know.  One value of Chapter 2 is that it lays out for us most of the specialized language that will be used in this book to present and analyze English grammar.  The language used in the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English is not eccentric to these writers but is fairly standard in discussions of English grammar.  That is, these are important words and concepts for you that will remain part of your work as long as you are a teacher of ESL/EFL.  As long as you are a scholar-teacher seeking better understanding of the work that you are doing with your students, you will continue to study and learn about the nature of the English language. 

Knowing how to define noun is one thing--finding good examples of nouns in real world English can be another.  Our general practice as teachers is to snatch examples out of our heads on the spur of the moment. A practice that does work--although we sometimes end up providing inappropriate or inaccurate examples and creating teaching problems for ourselves. Even though the practice works, it doesn't work nearly as well as a more thoughtful process would. I hope that this semester we'll continue to think about examples and exemplification and to find more effective ways of giving examples that employ vocabulary and content of use to students while also showing grammar in action.

Specialized Language in TESL/TEFL

The use of grammar terms with students in your ESL/EFL classes is an issue about which some people feel very strongly.  "Never!" they shout, "never will I force my ESL/EFL students to learn grammar terms!  They just need to do the grammar not talk about it."

I don't entirely disagree with such statements but do take a different angle on the topic based on my experience with ESL learners.  That is, my experience in teaching English to ESL writers has been that we need to have some vocabulary in common to talk about their written grammar.  I agree that learning the words for the sake of learning the words isn't worth the students' time--or my time for that matter.  But they can't talk with me about problems in their sentences if we don't share some grammar vocabulary in common.  Nor can we talk about new things they need to learn without some words in common as we work on expanding their knowledge and skill with English.

A list that teachers generally need to use with ESL writers includes words such as 

sentence, simple sentence, compound sentence, conjunction, coordinating conjunction, subordinating conjunction, complex sentence, verb, contraction, passive voice, noun, article, transition word, punctuation, comma, period, semi-colon, apostrophe, question, yes-no question, information question....
Students do not need, I have found, to know abstract definitions for these terms but rather to recognize examples of them, especially to recognize pieces of their own written English that fit the terms (or don't quite fit them  yet).  

Please email me your questions and comments.  I look forward to hearing from you about your questions on English grammar, especially when you are puzzled by the content of the assigned reading in the Longman Grammar.