Your students are better at English grammar than they (or you) realize

 Photo from Creative Commons user Nicholas Nova. 

Photo from Creative Commons user Nicholas Nova. 

This is the third in a series of short posts framing adult English language learning experiences for volunteers in a local English class in my city. 

When we learn a language we are gaining both vocabulary knowledge (words, words, words!) and grammatical knowledge (rules about words and sentences). Sometimes the mistakes we make are vocabulary related, but we think they’re related to grammar. For example, if someone says “I thinked about it” – we might say “Bad Grammar!” but actually their grammar is perfect. Because the grammar says “add –ed to make past tense”. This works for a lot of words: walkàwalked and cook à cooked, but it doesn’t work for thinkà thought. Which means that you just have to memorize “thought”, and that it is vocabulary knowledge. But it gets more complicated because “doing vocabulary” and “doing grammar” are different brain functions, and they race against each other! So maybe you DID memorize the word “thought” but when you go to say it in a sentence, the grammar knowledge beats the vocabulary knowledge and you say “thinked” instead. All this goes to show is that when we’re learning a new language, we’re often way better at grammar and vocabulary then we might realize based on the mistakes we make.

To learn more, you can check out this presentation material put together by people who work on issues of bilingualism and education.