“Yes” means “No,” isn’t it?

T Sriraman

Teachers and syllabus makers always come up against the problem of selection while designing remedial courses, or “bridge courses” as they were once called. While there is general agreement about the problem areas for Indian learners of English – articles, tenses, prepositions, interrogatives, word order, position of adverbs and so on – prioritising the areas that need attention often proves difficult in view of constraints of space (with regard to materials) and time (with regard to classroom teaching). I would like to look at a couple of these areas of “error” and ask whether we should include them in our programme of remediation at all, or at least whether they deserve to be high on our list of priorities.

The question whether grammar should be taught at all is no longer as vexing as it was a few decades ago. There is now general agreement about the following:

  • Grammar teaching in some form is inevitable (especially for the majority of our learners who come from regional language backgrounds).
  • The grammar taught should be as little rule-oriented and as much use-and context-oriented as possible.
  • Grammar is best taught not in isolation but in conjunction with other language skills, especially writing skills.
    The focus should be on production rather than on transformation of sentences.
  • The development of accuracy need not take place at the cost of fluency.

The areas I propose to consider however seem to demand a high and conscious level of accuracy if our target is the acquisition of native-speaker like competence. Strict adherence to the “rules” here is clearly felt to hamper fluency while not necessarily facilitating clear communication.

The author is a retired faculty member of The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.

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