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Talking about Grammar - It's more interesting than you think!

Updated: Apr 2

What grammatical questions arise when working with your student?

How often and what should you correct?

What if you don't know the "rule" of grammar but understand what's correct?

Fluency and Flow - Thinking in the language

Most English B'Yachad students join the program with the primary goal of improving confidence in speaking and gaining fluency in the language. So when and how should you correct your student? Tutor Julian Blumenfeld cautioned against over-correction. Letting the conversation flow, and allowing your student to think in English, is a very powerful approach. You may hear errors that warrant "intervention." But Julian suggests jotting down notes about the types of errors you hear your student making and rather than correcting or interrupting your student's errors, identify key issues you can work on together over time.

There is a whole body of research associated with how and when to correct English Language learners. This blog from an English Language Learner specialist can give you further insight into some of the dos and don'ts associated with correcting errors. Although written from a classroom perspective, there are some useful suggestions within.

Common Types of Errors

Hebrew speakers and other English language learners often make common errors.

Prepositions are very hard to learn in most languages. They are idiomatic and can be regional, even for native speakers (e.g. Waiting on line - NY, Waiting in line - Chicago!)

Verb Tenses are often difficult, especially for Hebrew speakers. Hebrew uses three tenses - past, present, and future. Compare that with English...I am not an English teacher and asked the internet (!) "How many tenses are there in English?" I found answers that there are from 12 tenses to 24 tenses! No wonder tenses are challenging for Israelis to learn and hard for non-English teachers to explain. This short PowerPoint is a very useful tool in explaining tenses in English.

The Hebrew language doesn't use capital letters. Thus you may observe errors in capitalization in your student's writing - whether formal or informal. It's not surprising, therefore, that capitalization is especially difficult for Hebrew speakers.

Creativity and Fun - even with grammar - is a good idea!

Don't hesitate to have fun while working on grammar. Udi Shorr uses rap songs with his students to talk about grammar. Rap doesn't use traditional grammar and thus provides an interesting platform for discussing and modeling conventional grammar.

Marjorie Zinman shared that she has used the lyrics of the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" as a tool for working on prepositions.

Boosting Confidence and Reinforcing Learning

Tutor Meryl Glickman shared that her rule of thumb when working with a student is two compliments for every comment or correction. We can't overstate how powerful confidence-building compliments can be!

While building confidence, it's also important to reinforce your students' learning. Reviewing concepts, vocabulary, and grammar corrections are important elements of the learning process. You may wish to reinforce concepts and vocabulary during your time together but also through a short written synopsis of the key work you covered. The topic of how and what to reinforce has come up in past Tutor Talks conversations and our blog post on Listening and Summarizing provides some tips that are relevant to reinforcing and modeling learning.

And use the power of the "ask" when working with your student. How does your student wish to be corrected? Take your cues from your student and use your judgment on when to correct and how to correct. What's important to your student? And remember that as your relationship deepens and the student's needs emerge or change, you may find that he or she becomes more open to correction as confidence grows.

General Perspectives on Grammar

Conversational grammar may not be as regimented as formal communication. Tutor Marjorie Zinman suggests that whether you are working on conversation, writing, or business communication, helping to correct errors associated with basic English grammar is important to how your student's English will be perceived. And that sometimes means working on grammatical issues.

Resources for Reference and Use

Tutor Judy Richman suggests a website that is free and includes the option to use a test to assess the student's level. The site also provides exercises that the student can do alone or with the tutor. 

Sample Worksheets

Mad Libs 1
Download PDF • 106KB

Download PDF • 126KB

Prepositions_ Lucy in the Sky
Download PDF • 56KB

Resources for Use

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