If you are a parent of a child in primary school, you will probably be becoming aware of the increased focus on grammar and punctuation contained in the new National Curriculum. Your child’s school may have provided information about the new English grammar, punctuation and spelling tests which Year 2 and Year 6 children will be taking next summer. Depending upon when and where you went to school, you may find the information coming from school (and the terminology being used by your child) challenging. Whether you are bewildered by the terminology used or just want to know a little more to support your child, I hope you will find this blog useful. You can click on the Parent’s Start Page to link to information about different areas of grammar and punctuation. Alternatively, enter a term in the search bar or click on a word in the cloud of labels. If you have further queries, get in touch and I will try to help where I can.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Thoughts about English grammar

The grammar of a language is really just the patterns (or order) of words, phrases and clauses that can be used to make sense.  If we use the correct order, we can be understood; if not, we will find it hard to communicate.  Children pick this up at a very early age.  They hear speech and start to make sense of the structure of our language long before they learn to read and write.  As soon as your child starts to understand you when you speak and starts to use words in order to communicate with you, they are using the rules of English grammar.   Of course, they don’t understand that they are using rules; they are just picking up the patterns in the language subconsciously and are rewarded in this learning by the communication with others that it enables.

We often think of English as having a subject (S), verb (V), object (O) word order.  (Subjects, verbs and objects are not the only sentence elements, but we will consider the others later.)  The subject in this structure is the main person, object or place we are considering: who or what the sentence is about.  The verb is the action or state of being/having in the sentence.  Not all sentences have objects but, where they do, this is the person, object or place affected by the verb.  Let's look at some examples.

The boy kicked the ball.      The dog chased the cat.       Dad had a cold.

Young children usually start to focus on the subject: they are concerned with communicating to you what they are talking about.  They may point at something and say the word, e.g. teddy, car, doggie.

As their communication improves, they move on to subject and verb:
Baby cry
Mummy gone
Car crashed

In a short space of time, dependent on the amount of verbal stimulation they experience, their vocabulary and speaking patterns expand dramatically and their attempts to speak increasingly conform to the patterns of English grammar.  

However, when we speak, we don’t speak in sentences, but in a stream of words, phrases and clauses, often joined together with words such as and, but, then, so, etc.  We use the correct grammar or word order, but we certainly don’t punctuate.  Rather, we use body language, expression, tone and volume to help our listener understand us.  And of course, the context is usually shared, so we easily understand each other.  Most pre-school children are able to communicate very effectively, using the grammar patterns of our language. Then we send them to school. 

To read and write, children need to learn new skills in order to communicate.  They use the same English grammar, but need to learn the conventions of punctuation so that they can understand and communicate in a different way.  When reading, they can understand something without the author being present; when writing, they need to communicate to a distant audience.

When children start to write, they once again use basic patterns.   They may have more information in their heads about what they want to write, but focusing on all the technical aspects, e.g. handwriting, spelling, often interferes with the quality of the content. 

As they become more comfortable with the process of writing, we need to help them understand how they can extend sentences to provide additional detail and use punctuation to help their reader understand what they mean.  Using the correct grammatical terminology will help them to talk about parts of sentences and develop these to improve their writing. 

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