Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Return of the Horrorists

I was going to write something about the riots which took place in Paris last week, following the victory parade by Paris Saint Germain, and how they had been caused by a group of extreme football fans and criminals who used the celebration to attack the police and loot shops in the centre of the city.

But, yesterday, as I was trying to think what to write, I heard the news about the attack on a soldier in Woolwich, in South East London. Later, I watched as one of the attackers – his hands covered with blood – raged at the cameras of passers-by in a well-heeled London accent.

Was I more shocked because this happened here in Britain, rather than in Paris? Was the perpetrator more terrifying because he wasn’t a refugee or some unnamed migrant ‘foreigner’?

My son posted a message on Facebook when this happened, entreating others to refrain from racist comments, as this attack had been professionally designed to cause the maximum of terror and unease around the world.

With their multitude of weapons and manipulation of visual impact, these attackers played on fears stimulated by years of Hollywood horror. If the ‘9/11’ attacks in New York were inspired by 1970 disaster movies, last night’s visual iconography owes more to the Hammer House of Horror, and all the zombie movies so much beloved by my daughter’s generation.

But it is time now to come out from behind the sofa. While it is tragic for the family of the victim, the killers have been caught and they will be tried in a court of law. That is how we work.

An attack like this poses many questions – about society, security and safety of our soldiers – but it also prompts us to ask whether those bystanders could have done more than just watch and take photos on their phones.

The more we become passive watchers – dominated by the impact of image – the more horrifying such a dramatic attack becomes. And, consequently, the more attractive such an atrocity becomes. Those images will have been flashed around the world, making a real tragedy into a horrifying justification for more suffering.

It is only by activity that we will be able to counter these attacks. Active engagement between communities and individuals brings people together – as fellow citizens and human beings – to say that the horror of attacks like these cannot prevail.

Advertisements
Image

Season’s Greetings

2012 Xmas Card

Stephen Fry on Language.

Excellent Viddy. Watch, Watch, Watch!

In Defence of Grammar Teaching

I recently saw this blog post. It is written by a newly graduated English teacher. Anyone who teaches English, or languages in general, would do well to have a look.

Teaching grammar doesn’t stifle creativity.

Katherine Brandt 1st July 2011

ImageAlthough the rules of the English language are constantly changing and transforming, teaching grammar has great value in the school system because it gives students the background that they need to understand their language and use it effectively both in and out of the academic world.

By teaching grammar, educators provide students with the building blocks of language. When students understand each of the building blocks behind their language, they have a greater ability to communicate not only in their native tongue but also in other languages which employ similar building blocks, albeit in a different order.

Grammar is an important tool because people who do not understand it have difficulty communicating well, and as a result their ideas are often overlooked. Consider children who have yet to learn how to speak well or foreigners who misunderstand how to use prepositions or adjectives. For example, a Spanish-speaker learning English might say, “The sock red has a hole small.” Though people may understand sentences like this one, they might also need to make a conscious effort to achieve understanding.

Although the idea of the foreigner is an exaggerated example, students who understand the idiosyncrasies of English grammar will, in a much more subtle way, be able to control the voice, meaning, and level of formality with which they write. As a result, they will be able to write for an educated audience without the embarrassment of making obvious mistakes.

I have been able to see grammar’s importance in my own education. When I was a child, I attended a private elementary school where we were constantly drilled in grammar. We diagrammed sentences, learned parts of speech, and revised incorrect sentences time and again to master the language.

When I was twelve, my family moved, and I went to a public junior high school where the teaching of grammar was considered unimportant and indeed somewhat damaging to a child’s voice. Nevertheless, in my first month of class, my English teacher checked for students’ basic understanding of grammar. To my shock and dismay, I was the only person in the class who could recognize verbs and complete sentences. My peers consistently struggled with their essays because they had never been taught how to construct a complete idea within a sentence. They had been to school for seven years and could not write a simple sentence. I wondered what they had learned in all that time.

Imagine reading entire papers composed of fragments such as “When I went to the store.” These papers might convey meaning but certainly not in the way that the students intend – with clarity. From the time I entered the public school system, I was at the top of my class in English simply because I had been taught how to put words together correctly. As a result, my teachers could understand and respond to the ideas that I expressed in my papers. All children need to obtain at least a basic understanding of grammar in order to communicate effectively and meaningfully in the educated world.

Knowing grammar also gives students another advantage when it comes to learning foreign languages. When I first started taking Spanish, I had greater understanding simply because I knew some grammar. My teacher, in vain, explained how Spanish speakers position nouns and adjectives differently from English speakers; most of the students did not even know how to differentiate a noun from an adjective. On the other hand, I easily understood what she was explaining because I had been taught to identify parts of speech and their function within a sentence. The other students struggled and guessed their way through the course because every unit presented new parts of speech. Indefinite and definite articles, participles, and verbs were among the difficult concepts that they had not even learned in their native tongue.

I pity my peers who came from a system of those who have written off grammar as unimportant. I have heard these educators say that the study of grammar “stills the creative voice.” My personal experience has shown the contrary. Grammar has been my key to creativity because, with my basic knowledge of the language, I know how to coherently express my ideas so that others can appreciate them. I also know the building blocks to learning other languages which will only expand my creativity and not inhibit it.

It is time for educators to take a stand and teach children to use grammar well so that they may be able to participate both creatively and formally in the educated world. Even as we would not cripple architects by taking away the resources that they need to build beautiful buildings, so we should not cripple our young writers by refusing them grammatical knowledge. From a strong foundation in grammatical understanding will come better, stronger writers who will know how to use the tools educators give them to create beautiful and original writing.

Image

The Essential I-Test

The Essential I-Test

How important is your English to you? Contact the good people at HELLO English to see how they can help you.