‘Ma, the dog bited me because I eated his food.’
Learning to use English grammar accurately poses an enormous challenge to all non-native speakers, especially to younger children, who are perhaps still struggling with the mastery of the nuances of grammar in their first language. Accuracy in grammar is essential in formal speaking and writing and therefore, it is crucial that children learn the rules governing its various elements. Fortunately for us, grammar rules are simple to learn, although, there is always the proverbial ‘exception to the rule’, that once known can be easily remembered and used. The whole idea of presenting grammar to children is to make the challenge fun.
Why do children say, ‘Ma, the dog bited me because I eated his food.’?
- Form:Children are taught that the rule to make a past tense verb from a present tense verb, one just has to add an ‘ed’ or‘d’ to the present tense verb. Children being children, religiously implement it with all the verbs. Hence ‘bite’ becomes ‘bited’ and eat becomes ‘eated’. There is nothing to panic and nothing irreversible because, this ‘extrapolating’ skill is part of language learning.
- Children need to be aware of ‘irregular’ past tense verbs. These verbs, like some kids, don’t follow rules!Once children are made aware of the list of irregular past tense verbs the accuracy in using them becomes simple and not so challenging.Your child will automatically stop using ‘bited’ and ‘eated’ and resort to using ‘bit’ and ‘ate’ instead.
- Use: Children, often don’t realise, when to use the past tense which often results in them saying, ‘Yesterday my teacher give me homework to do.’ Also, they tend to use the present tense to talk about something that happened in the past and therefore every past incident is described using the present tense verb.
- Pronunciation:Another common error made in the use of the past tense verb is the pronunciation of the verb. Very often people stress the ‘ed’ or ‘d’ of the past tense verb ending as a separate syllable, which results in a harsh -sounding, inaccurately pronounced past tense verb.Pronunciation is an important component of grammar usage and needs to be addressed when learning English.
Here are a few fun things that can be done to help your children better understand the form, meaning and use and pronunciation of grammarin sucha way that they will be better able to identify and correct these commonly made errors.
- Grammar games: Including games in teaching makes learning more fun and non-threatening because children can learn at their own pace and, more advantageously, there is no limit to the number of times they can play the game. The more times they play, the better!There are many interactive grammar games accessible to children and parents on the internet and, what’s more, many of them are free. “Learn English” websites make grammar fun to learn and teach. These websites have many creative ideas for games that can be used at home for an individual or for smaller groups of children. Remember, games in a group are always more enjoyable andprovide a tiny element of competition which could give the children the necessary motivation to learn. Here’s a simple, practical and enjoyable grammar game that any parent can try right now for teaching irregular past tense verbs.
Pair them up: Make a set of cards with present tense verbs (those that have irregular past tense verbs for eg: bite; sleep; bring etc.) written on them and another set of corresponding past tense verbs (for eg: bit; slept; brought etc.). Drop the cards on the table/ floor and ask the children to pair them up. An easier alternative to this game is writing the list of the present tense verbs in column ‘A’ and a thoroughly jumbled up corresponding irregular past tense verbs in column ‘B’ for children to match.
There are many such games that you can try out for teaching grammar points. You can always use your imagination to make it more creative and customise it to suit your child’s /children’s needs. Cambridge English offers some interesting games and interactive videos to make learning English fun.
- Face-to-face instructions: While e-learning is convenient and provides games and activities that are both interesting and challenging, children will greatly benefit from a teacher led session too. There are many institutions approved by Cambridge that conduct workshops and classes to enable children to have a better understanding of the language. Cambridge has preparation centres in all the major cities in India, find a preparation center near you. A classroom environment also provides for a structured learning of the various skills, vocabulary and grammar aspects of English.
Although the websites and dictionaries have pronunciation sections, having a real teacher teach pronunciation helps immensely. Learning in a group encourages children to use the language, both in the spoken and written form, freely among their peers while the teacher effectively monitors.Children often don’t hesitate to experiment within a group, and we all are aware of how quick and directly honest children are to spot and correct errors, be it language issues or social ones.
- E- learning : One can’t deny the fact that children are extremely competent in using the computer and this fact has encouraged Cambridge to design user-friendly English learning websites that enable your children to acquire an awareness of rules governing grammar that can be appropriately used for achieving accuracy . These sites also provide tests that assess and validate the knowledge gained. This method of evaluation will, in the long run, guide the children progressively to become more competent and accurate in the use of the English language. The Young Learners English website has a variety of sample online resources and other learning activities that can help your child with the learning.
- One grammar point at a time please!: Many parents are anxious for their children to learn all aspects of grammar simultaneously and instantly but unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to language learning, where it is always better to get a clearer understanding of the meaning, form, use and pronunciation of a language point, one at a time. Tackling the complexities of English grammar and vocabulary is best taken slowly for better understanding and right communication.
Therefore, don’t overload your children with too much information about grammar and always remember that children learn at different speeds and learn best, when it is at their own pace.