In the mood for conjugative rights

Structure and Meaning in English - Applying English Grammar

November 26, 2004

It is common nowadays to hear people decry the lack of grammar in education, although few critics would probably have an opinion as to whether this should include grammars that are structural, functional or generative, or whether other ways of classifying structures in language should be included in the national curriculum. It is also true that many people who find themselves teaching English do not have a firm grounding in grammar and may be flummoxed by questions from keen students or cornered by tough questions from the more knowledgeable ones.

Structure and Meaning in English will help teachers with classroom preparation in particular. It is intended for those wanting to acquire a relevant knowledge of English grammar in the context of teaching, and therefore concentrates on the uses of grammar and the nature of learner error and problems that might arise in class. There are useful notes about the kind of mistakes learners make and the thinking behind them.

Exercises appear regularly as “tasks”, and there is an answers section at the back, although some exercises are designed to be open-ended, which raises a question about whom these are intended for. Are they an aide-mémoire for the conscientious teacher, or is the material intended to support advanced learners? As a grammar, the book is laid out in a logical sequence of readable sections, although some of the points seem rather arcane.

The preface suggests that the material could be covered in 50 hours of class instruction, which suggests a rate of some seven pages an hour. This seems ambitious and belies the attention to detail that characterises the book. It also overlooks the practical issues that arise in teaching English, such as which variety of English is to be taken as standard. The section on vowel production, for instance, has diagrams for American, British Received and New Zealand varieties, but not Australian.

Although accents are covered in more detail elsewhere, it is disappointing to see that sociolinguistic phenomena such as the use of “singin’” instead of “singing” are not explored. It would also have been useful to include more about homonyms and synonyms. The fact that “seal” has 25 meanings in some dictionaries takes us towards the legendary discussions as to whether there really are 100 words in Inuit for snow, in Arabic for sand, or in Icelandic for cod.
Significant use has been made of corpora in the preparation of this book - a useful illustration of the value of the kind of linguistic analysis made possible by such diverse databases as the British National Corpus and work based on dissertations by MBA students.

This approach to the study of English grammar is the subject of Applying English Grammar: Functional and Corpus Approaches , which draws on the sub-corpora found within the BNC. Of particular interest is “Sunnow”, which draws on The Sun and News of the World and can be used not only to study points such as negative collocation (by tapping in a phrase such as “United States of Europe”) but also the political use of language (by looking for uses of words such as “flocks” and “migrants”). Other sub-corpora in the Bank of English can then be used for further points of reference, such as Guard (which draws on past editions of The Guardian ).

Both books have been carefully thought out and neatly produced and are clearly the end product of a great deal of research. Finding suitable textbooks for language teaching and learning is less of a problem nowadays than finding the time to read them in detail, hence the value of having clear section headings with proper indices to make them more accessible and handy for classroom use. Graeme Kennedy’s book also includes a handy index with useful sources of information about English.

Finally, it is interesting to note the extent to which English as a world language is reflected in both books in terms of the sources used and the range of contributors - fellow academics, critical readers, helpful colleagues and groups of students. The development of a pedagogical method to meet the needs of students from different nationalities in the same classroom has been one of the great English as a Foreign Language successes, one that has contributed significantly to the modernisation of language teaching as a whole.

Tim Connell is professor of languages for the professions, City University, London.

Structure and Meaning in English: A Guide for Teachers. First edition

Author - Graeme Kennedy
Publisher - Pearson Longman
Pages - 390
Price - £20.99
ISBN - 0 582 50632 8

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