Professional Development

Thirty years of grammar with Raymond Murphy #4 – tips for teachers

Alastair Horne

In the final part of our exclusive interview with Raymond, we discuss how English Grammar in Use has adapted to the twenty-first century world of apps and ebooks.

So, what advice would you give teachers on teaching grammar?

RM: I like to be careful about giving any advice to teachers because it’s a long time since I’ve done any teaching. I would say that if you’re teaching a language, teaching English, you should inform yourself of how the language works. It’s interesting anyway, and even if you’re not explicitly using that, you should be aware of it. And not just your language, but the language of the people that you’re teaching. Even if you don’t speak the language, don’t get very far with learning it, you can still learn about it.

But don’t get obsessed about it, and don’t feel that your students have to learn grammar. Because they’re not there to learn grammar. Grammar’s a part of the language; they’re learning the language. You don’t learn grammar as a separate thing. So I think the focus in teaching and learning should be, most of the time, somewhere else. Occasionally, you can focus on grammar, but generally speaking you should be focusing on other things.

I also think it’s important to realise how grammar – and language generally, really – is learned. You can’t really talk about grammar being learned: it’s language. I mean, you can’t have grammar without words, or words without grammar. You need to be aware of the way in which it’s learned, and the variety of ways. Because you’re dealing with people – if you’re dealing with adults, particularly – they’re very, very different from each other, and people learn in different ways and at different speeds.

It’s important to be aware that learning a language is a bit like learning to drive, or learning to do anything like that: learning to dance, learning to play a sport. People learn at different speeds, and learning happens in different ways, and the brain acquires things almost when you’re not aware of it. You know, you suddenly find you can drive one day, and the day before you couldn’t. It’s just when things come together. And grammar comes together in the same way. So you might teach a lesson on using this tense or something, and… don’t expect it to work immediately, you know. It’s going to be a while. That’s just one little bit of input, and hopefully there’d be lots of other bits of input. And then things come together, quite sort of miraculously, really. And differently for different people.

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