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Many students learn about English and don’t use it. On the other hand, there are foreigners who use English and don’t know the technical details of their own language. My Thai colleagues are far better than me at explaining the finer points of English grammar. In fact, they are better at explaining any part of English grammar than me. It is time to come clean. 

 

It's all very well learning about a language; however, if you don’t use it you will lose whatever you thought you had in the first place. Being competent to talk about English in Thai will not get you very far when you come to use the language for real.

 

It gives me a great sense of gratification when I meet my old students and they tell me about their adventures, in English. They all seem thankful for the hours of grief I put them through when they were studying with me and realise now why it was so important for them to use English outside of the classroom when they were studying.

 

I also wonder about the others who are working in jobs where they are not using their English. How long will it be before they have forgotten everything they learned whilst at university (and the previous eight years)? It seems such a waste.
 

I have to admit to not knowing much about the language that I teach. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, I see myself as an expert user of the language, I am not an expert teacher. I don’t know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs without having to look up the word “verb” in the dictionary. It’s not something that comes up every day.

 

I don’t remember learning grammar at school. I was an extremely bad student, so maybe I was asleep or absent during those lessons, suffice to say that if I have to categorise grammar in my lessons it will involve hours of preparation delving into books to anticipate the questions my students might care to ask me.

 

Foreigners don’t usually get the opportunity teach explicit grammar courses at my university. Some years ago, I asked to teach a course called “Forms and Usage 1.” I have learned my lesson and will never volunteer to teach a course like that again. I found it really difficult and can safely say that it was an experience that does not need repeating again.

 

If you have seen the film “School of Rock” with Jack Black, you will be aware that those who can do; those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach, teach physical education.

 

Reflecting back to that grammar course that I inflicted on my students, it was difficult for me because I didn’t know my subject well enough. It took me three hours to prepare for a three hour lesson and I know that I was not teaching in my normal laid back style. I believe that it would have been better if we had all gone outside for a game of football.

 

Once a teacher has experienced a situation where they have felt uneasy and identified the reason why, it is important to address the shortfall and learn lessons from the experience. Now, I know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. I can even spell the words correctly too (if I have a dictionary).

Prathom 1 students
 

 

Prathom one students from Bantatprachanukoon School in Ban Phue district, Udon Thani explain the finer points of English Grammar to a visiting English language teacher.
(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 22nd September 2009)

 

 
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