Dierdre Honnold, in English With Ease, provides the context for studying the rules of grammar. Much of the agonizing over the teaching of grammar occurred before our public schools had to deal with a large group of students for whom English was not their native language.
Patrick Hartwell acknowledges the efforts of those who have considered the problems of teachers who must find rules and develop methods for teaching English to non-native speakers. There's no real recognition, however, that in the meantime we've gotten away with ignoring teaching grammar to native English speakers (see our editorial on the teaching of grammar). There's no way you can get away with doing this to non-native speakers. People Like Dierdre Honnold have to come up with something to tell their students.
Dierdre Honnold has taught the grammars of five different languages to students of all ages over the past 25 years. And you know what? She's discovered that for the teaching of grammar to make sense, there has to be a story. Her story is how English has become a blend of different languages and cultures as one civilization influenced another. If you understand a bit of the story, you can understand, as she says:
Along the way, as English developed, choices were made. Understanding some of those choices will allow you to master this language that you've spoken for years. (p. 7)
Dierdre says that memorizing grammar rules in school didn't work because you didn't understand the reasons for the choices you had.
I won't go into any more grammatical detail than absolutely necessary, but I will delve into the reasons for that structure, by referring to etymology (the origin of words), other languages, deep structure (what a phrase really means), and whatever else I think will help you understand why. (p. 8)
She uses cooking as a metaphor for what students really learn when they study grammar. Now, a "cookbook" approach is a common term for mindless following of rules, but Dierdre Honnold is talking about something else:
It's like cooking. If you truly understand what each ingredient does to the mixture in front of you, you'll be able not only to follow established recipes, but also to make up your own. (p. 9)
True to her word, Dierdre uses references to other languages throughout the book. She notes, for example, that the term phrase means a group of words in English, even though in other languages it often means a complete sentence. In her discussion of the subjunctive, she notes that speakers of Romance languages will recognize this construction and gives one each of the three sample sentences in Spanish, French, and Italian. This is the kind of sensitivity to student needs that marks a great teacher!
There are sidebars about things to remember and sidebars of helpful hints for recognizing certain constructions, interspersed with relevant cartoon strips and clip art.
Diagnostic exercises (with answers in back of book) allow you to test yourself and see if you need more work on a particular type of construction or concept. Diagnostic is the key word here.
She even includes an essay on commas and a poem about the crazy English language, both from her students, offering a different perspective to native speakers of English.
Dierdre maintains the cooking metaphor throughout the book, as shown by the table of contents.
The First Step: What's in the KitchenMy only complaint about the book is that the pages are packed with information, and the document designer in me would like to see more white space. The content, however, is terrific!
- Part I. Basic Ingredients (letters and their sounds)
- Part II. What's That Called and How Does It Taste (parts of speech)
The Next Step: Combining the Ingredients
- Part III. Mixing the Dough and Slicing the Apples (phrases and clauses)
- Part IV. Putting the Pie Together (sentences)
The Final Step
- Part V. Seasoning the Ingredients (punctuation)
- Part VI. Conventions, or the Parsley Sprig (spelling)
Pitfalls (glossary of difficult usages)
Of course, there's the question of whether I would like this book this much if it didn't agree with my long held notion that grammar is teachable. Suffice it to say this is the second edition of the book. I'm not the only one who likes it.
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