Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Use of Terminology in Grammar Teaching- Part I

By Betty Azar
Author, Azar Grammar Series

Does it help a student to be able to identify subjects and verbs? To know what a clause is? To have names for verb forms, such as infinitive or modal auxiliary?

I believe that grammar terminology and grammatical analysis in the ESL/EFL classroom are only means to an end, never ends in themselves. Often the teacher finds it useful to have temporary labels (simplified grammar terminology) in order to answer students’ many questions and show students how English works.

Terminology (e.g., present perfect or noun clause) can be forgotten as soon as students leave the English class with no ill effects. These terms are just temporary teaching tools. Once students leave a program of language instruction, it seems to me they need only enough terminology to help them use a dictionary or reference book, roughly the same grammar terminology an educated native speaker of English benefits from knowing: noun, verb, adjective, sentence, comma, etc. The deeper understandings of structural patterns that help with reading comprehension and the expression of complex ideas will remain–with or without students being able to recall grammar terminology. The terminology is not what is important; what IS important is understanding the structures and the way that form conveys meaning.

The use of simplified grammar terminology in the ESL/EFL classroom is just a tool, a way of helping students understand patterns in the language. In my experience, adult students “get” patterns of form and meaning from understanding examples — how they work, what’s happening, how ideas are put together and interrelated. Explanations, which can come in many forms, are used only as needed. What we’re after is for the students to understand–deductively, inductively, or any mixture of the two–examples of usage, to “see” how they work structurally. Leveraging our adult students’ cognitive skills can be beneficial as they develop their interlanguage, but it’s just one part of a well-balanced classroom. At any rate, mastery of terminology or skill at parsing is never what we’re after.


Comment from Anonymous
February 24, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Hi, I am a student. I am learning English with your books. Thank you so much. I think that you are great teacher.

Comment from Anonymous
September 11, 2009 at 10:29 am

Hello Betty.

May I quote one of your phrases:

"Leveraging our adult students' cognitive skills can be beneficial as they develop their interlanguage, …"

The word "leveraging" is one of those nonsensical corporate buzz-words. It is improper English language, despite being added to respectable dictionaries recently, along with other similarly mashed-up modern expressions.

Modifying the noun or root verb "lever", and the noun "leverage", into some ambiguous contrived verb is wrong!!

The English language's nuances are difficult enough for people to grasp without injecting junk words.

In context with the quoted phrase given above, it makes as little sense as a statement like "Water is leakaging from my faulty faucet", rather than the correct alternatives:

"Water is leaking from my faulty faucet",


"My faulty faucet is leaking".

I fail to see the benefit of using the word "leaveraging", and am struggling to understand the precise meaning of the word, when referring to "adult students' cognitive skills".

Wouldn't the following statements have implied what you were trying to say, but in a less ambiguous way?

"Taking advantage of our adult students' cognitive skills …"

"Using our adult students' cognitive skills …"

The word "lever" in its verb form is generally used to describe the act of using a tool or some other method of applying pressure to open or lift something, eg. using a crowbar or a fulcrum point of some description.

The word "leverage" generally refers to the force applied a lever, or to the effects of "levering" something.

Why combine the two into one silly word?

There is a simple and correct word that can be correctly applied to most statements where the new "leveraging" buzz word is used. That word is "using", or if you must, "utilizing".

Here is another example of how ridiculous the parallel expression "leveraged" has become. The simple statement that follows is fine. There is nothing wrong with it.

"The kidnappers used their hostages as a lever to demand money."

Would this now be reported as:
"The kidnappers leveraged their captives to demand money from their relatives",


"The kidnappers leveraged their captives' relatives to demand money".

This demonstrates the total ambiguity so often seen when a contrived word is used by people who believe that they look foolish using simple but correct grammar.


Comment from Anonymous
September 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Wow, you sure did shake Bill's tree, Betty. Better not ask him for his opinions on the use of pre as in pre-book, pre-order, pre-board (as in boarding aircraft.) We won't hear the end of it. On the subject I recently noticed "Please prepay in advance" on a gas pump! That is just so wrong on so many levels…… Oops, nearly got me going.

Kind Regards,
Dr Eberhard Pfister

Comment from baher azer
March 31, 2013 at 2:14 pm

baher azer

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