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News & views

Govian grammar tests may stretch teachers too

[5 Nov 2013] The English tests designed for pupils up to the age of 14 introduced by Michael Gove, the education secretary, demand more knowledge than many teachers possess, declares Bas Aarts, professor of English linguistics at University College London. ‘Many teachers feel uncomfortable with grammar and don’t know how to use it formally,’ he told The Times (4 Oct).

Professor Aarts and his team are designing an online tool, Englicious, which will give schools access to a large database of the English language, based on millions of examples of expressions from text messages to BBC recordings.

Perhaps the professor will find a copy of a new grammar book in his Christmas stocking. Just published, Harry Ritchie’s English for the Natives, which aims to demystify grammar for people who have English as their mother tongue, has been selling well.

Ritchie says what is peddled in traditional grammar guides is ‘invariably tosh’, asserting: 

‘We don’t even know what grammar is – we think it means ultra-correct, literary etiquette and the proper meaning of words such as “disinterested” and “hopefully”. Not so – grammar is the way a language organises words in a sentence, and changes those words to signal different functions or meanings. And, without realising it, we are all brilliant at it – “Discover the grammar you don’t know you know”, pleads my subtitle.’ (Sunday Times, 27 Nov) 

His book may be of little help to one teacher whose efforts were described thus in the Sunday Times by one of her colleagues: 

‘I know of a primary school teacher who writes in children’s books, and on classroom displays, comments such as “you could of wrote more”, “you done great” and “we wasn’t there”. This young woman has in theory 40 years ahead of her in a classroom. I fear she is not alone.’ 

Good to know she managed to pass all the stringent tests required of this now all-graduate profession. [cont] 

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