Monday, January 27, 2014

Grammar Issues

Grammar can be a problem for two main reasons:

  1. It impedes communication of the ideas.   I cannot understand what you mean because of the grammar errors.
  2. While not creating a barrier to understanding,  it makes the paper look sloppy and the writer uneducated and unprofessional.

Most writers have issues with grammar at one point or another.     Native speakers will occasionally observe that something they have written "doesn't sound right".     English as a second language writers and speakers have different issues.    Often their  English grammar is influenced strongly by their first language,  and this can be dangerous as other languages can have quite radically different grammars.    Translation often makes for bad written or spoken communication.

English as a second language learners have different problems at different times of their English development. There are likely to be far fewer errors at higher levels of proficiency; however,  as a student progresses in his or her proficiency,  they communicate much more complex ideas which creates new grammar challenges.

The most troublesome grammar errors ESL writers include:
  • verb tenses (esp. the perfect tenses)
  • prepositions
  • articles
  • sentence structure
  • word form and word choice (appropriate to the sentence)
  • punctuation

Minimizing these errors requires focused and strategic efforts.     The following tips can help.

  • Try not to translate (especially if your own first language's grammar is very different from English grammar).
  • Notice your common mistakes,  and work to understand the grammar issue surrounding them,  then practice writing that includes that issue,  then getting feedback.
  • Spend a little bit of time every week with online grammar practice.
  • Remember that sentences are based on clauses (which are based on a single idea).   A sentence ought to represent a single coherent (albeit perhaps complex) idea.
  • The longer your sentences,   the more likely they are to contain grammar problems.
The heart of every sentence is the clause.   Most important, though,  is to know your clauses,  as they are at the heart of every sentence.  You can read more about clauses here and here.

You may also find the following online resources useful:

The Road to Grammar (provides more opportunity to practice and explore)


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