Grammar Limbo!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Today is a day off… I took Seema and her 17 year old daughter for lunch at The Marshes Golf Club (2 minutes from my place). Food was excellent, the view magnificent and the patrons, well… awesome! Two of the Backstreet Boys were there playing golf (there will be a concert tonight at the Scotia Bank Place)… apparently they were giving away tickets and backstage passes! Sam was on the verge of passing out! She certainly regretted her stop to the restrooms: those precious few minutes would have allowed her to actually meet with the guys when they dropped off their cart!!! Seema and I, being older, were not sharing her enthusiasm… but we certainly had fun watching her! She was told every time there is a concert at the Scotia Bank Place, the stars stop by The Marshes to play golf: she is now seriously thinking of getting a job there next summer!

Sam and Mom... slowly recovering from the fact she had missed the BOYS!

Sam and Mom... slowly recovering from the fact she missed the BOYS!... Sam! Not Mom!!!

Now back to French… and everything it entails! Sometimes I do wonder… Do I spend too much time teaching grammar? Some would argue that, what is the most important, is being able to communicate efficiently orally… I certainly do agree on that! But it is equally important to communicate efficiently in writing. Around here, written French is really poor and… it bugs me!

For a long time, studying languages has been depreciated : in school, intelligent students were encouraged to go in Sciences or, if they were really rebuffed by that field, in Social Sciences. Now that suddenly communication has a value, people are asked to know how to write correctly overnight! Francophones have a hard time writing in their mother tongue, therefore is it fair to ask Anglophones to master written French as a second language?

Personally, I see language learning as a package: speaking, understanding, writing and reading are inter-connected… And the mere idea of seing my trainees as illiterate products kills me! And… without the grammar basics, they cannot speak anyways!

With civil servants, I do not ask myself the question twice: they are trained to pass tests! Writing and reading are part of their learning (like it or not) and… those tests would not be more difficult if they were tailored for Francophones! There is a dichotomy though: their employer want them to be excellent in French yet that very same employer cannot communicate efficiently… in their everyday simple communications as well as on their numerous web sites. In my book, a web site that did not passed in the hands of a good editor or proof reader is like a boutique with dirty shop windows: I really do not feel like entering it and, if I find the courage to, I do not want to stay…

As for badly written job ads… would you apply? I would not! I will not even sign with snowblowing contractors when there are spelling mistakes in their flyers!!! For me, it shows a flagrant lack of professionalism and I have my doubts regarding their business success… Looking at the French version of the Public Service of Canada job posts, I really do wonder… But hey! It is the government… no matter what, they will survive!

I know how difficult it is for Anglos to learn French grammar (as a matter of fact, I do not know many Francophones who master it!)… but it is a necessary pain in their learning process… I certainly do try my best to alleviate the weight of all the non sense rules French has carried on thoughout centuries, but I do not ignore the most difficult ones either… and the day I will be asked to stop teaching grammar, I will retire… French is French… If you are up to the challenge, you will enjoy learning it… and if you are not, well… learn Esperanto!

“Quand on ne peut revenir en arrière, on ne doit se préoccuper que de la meilleure façon d’aller de l’avant.”

Paulo Coelho, écrivain brésilien



  1. Samantha said,

    August 5, 2008 at 5:25 am

    Hey, so glad to have discovered your blog, it looks very interesting! I’ve linked you on my blogroll! Looking forward to reading more!

  2. August 5, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Hi Samantha!

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It’s always a pleasure to have a new regular reader…

    I saw that your site is under construction… Let me know when it will be “live”! And thank you for having linked me to your blogroll.

  3. foreignlanguageteacher said,

    August 8, 2008 at 1:29 am

    As much as I love to use intuitive, communicative approaches, I agree that you simply must teach grammar as well. My university professor always reminded us not to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” The past few years I’ve felt a certain frustration with my students’ training in English grammar, their native language. There seems to be a movement to eliminate the teaching of grammar altogether. But this new approach just makes understanding a second language that much more difficult. I was flabbergasted a few months ago when my high school students had no clue what an object pronoun was. I stopped everything and did a little English lesson. My colleague reminded me not to be too hard on them because they really hadn’t learned it before. Too bad. I might be a bit of a nerd, but I LOVE grammar. And it’s absolutely necessary, n’est-ce pas?

  4. August 8, 2008 at 2:21 am

    Absolutely! Our students cannot understand a second language without the grammar basics of their mother tongue. I am confronted with this problem every day, because it seems there is a trend in English to eliminate good old grammar! You and I know we cannot teach French without opening the Pandora box!!!

    I always give a list of essential books to the companies I contract with (besides the ones I do provide myself) to distribute to their employees under’going French training. I do not know if you ever used this one, but I highly recommend it:

    “English Grammar for Students of French, The Study Guide for Those learning French”, by Jacqueline Morton. It explains English grammar in a very simple way and it makes the connection with French grammar… I find it very useful!

    And yes! often I have to stop and teach English grammar… in spite of my love for creative and intuitive approaches, I do loooove grammar! And actually I manage to communicate this passion of mine to my students…

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