Nov 12, 2008


I've been most successful as a teacher when I've stopped teaching. I know that sounds like some stereotypically "Zen" thing to say or whatnot, but it's true.

People don't learn English (or any language) to do grammar drills or rote practices. Those things are, at best, a necessary burden. At worst such blunt, direct means serve as dangerous demotivators. Language is communication. It is one human talking to another. It is not grammar or vocabulary. Grammar and vocabulary are tools that humans make use of in order to make communication better and more specific. They are means to a universal end.

One of the best ways to teach new language items is to expose students to the meaning and feeling behind them, to show them that there is life and verve in words and structure. I've started telling students that "grammar has feeling," and they tend to look at me oddly, but it's true. Consider the examples-

"Having done that task, I will do my homework."


"I'll do my homework when I'm done."

Tell me: which one sounds like something voiced by a normal schoolkid, and which one sounds like a precocious little poindexter said it? There really is a lot of feeling conveyed grammar, and it's cool to see when students realize that.

To say that I've taught best when I've stopped teaching, then, is to say that I know that I impart the emotional character and feeling of language best on students when they see me as an approachable fellow human rather who happens to be knowledgeable about a particular subject (English) rather than as a teacher. I've been least successful when I've tried to use my supposed authority to pound and drill language into other people's heads. When I've been the most honest with students, the most friendly, and the most genuine, I've also been the most successful as a source of English.

Funny, that.

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