Koki Shimazu is the ELT Director at TAKTOPIA & CO. and a founder of English Language schools in Japan. He is an award-winning teacher and has received recognition for his innovative English camps and enthusiasm for his original English language teaching methodology. In his first blog post for the World of Better Learning, he makes a case for the enduring value of grammar reference books.
As a second language learner and a teacher, I was never fully comfortable with my English. While I have fully grasped the basic concepts and have no problems forming my ideas, I was always nervous about my speaking ability. I always felt that it was lacking and somewhat basic. During the first week of my CELTA course (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults), this nervousness made me feel insecure about being the only non-native English speaker on the course.
I soon realized however, that even though I was the only non-native English speaker there, I was the only participant who could explicitly explain the complex structures of English grammar. Despite my basic speaking ability, the native speakers came to me for clarification. This was the first time I felt that I was making a meaningful contribution. I felt thankful for the simplistic English curriculum taught in the Japanese education systems that I had often belittled in the past.
Japanese students are all experts in English grammar. Immediately upon learning the alphabet, we are assessed on the accuracy of our understanding of the use of the third person – whether we can determine the appropriate conjugation. This is followed by an intense learning period where other structures, such as the present progressive, comparative, passive voice, and present perfect, are all tested. One small technical mistake in grammar, such as missing a single letter or a comma, could potentially lead to lower grades and disastrous consequences in Japanese exams. This is how rigorous the first three years of our compulsory English education is.
While the English classes in Japan may seem somewhat simplistic and lack any meaningful interactions, it teaches students how to accurately use grammar. This is rooted in our education program. We are traditionally trained to read and translate complex documents written in English into Japanese, and vice versa. Furthermore, we are encouraged to always carry our grammar books with us, to be ready to refer to them at any time.
My strong belief is that a grammar book is the key to understanding the fundamental structure of the English language, and this understanding underpins the ability to communicate effectively. By constantly carrying reference books, students will be able to regularly refer back to grammar rules and usage. This will not only improve their English levels but also their analytical skills, as they will learn how to break down sentences to understand their contextual meanings. A grammar book alone will not make someone a confident communicator in English, but as a language learner and a teacher, my grammar and vocabulary books are always with me.
Koki can be found on Twitter @kokishimazu. Keep an eye out for his next article on motivating students to study grammar!