Grammar matters
Grammar matters

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Grammar matters

1 Why does grammar matter?

In this introductory activity you will hear a short extract from an interview with Lise Fontaine, a Senior Lecturer in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. She is widely known for her work in Systemic Functional Linguistics, and is author of the book Analysing English Grammar: A Systemic Functional Introduction (Fontaine, 2013).

Activity 1: Why is grammar awareness important?

Timing: 15 minutes

Listen to the interview with Lise Fontaine and then answer the following questions:

  1. What two reasons does Lise give for the importance of raising one’s knowledge about grammar?
  2. Do you agree with Lise? Can you think of any other reasons why it may be worth while studying grammar? 
Figure 1 Lise Fontaine
Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Lise Fontaine
Skip transcript: Interview with Lise Fontaine

Transcript: Interview with Lise Fontaine

I think that people really underestimate why grammar matters. It doesn’t matter because we need to improve the way people speak, or we need to have everybody going to university, or whatever reasons you might come up with. But there are two reasons why I think grammar is really important and it needs our attention.
One is that success in almost everything – anything – means you need good communication skills. That could be because you’re a parent; it could be because you’re in a relationship; it could be because you’ve got to negotiate a contract; it could be because you’re having to handle calls in a call centre. There could be lots of reasons why you need that kind of flexibility, adaptability and dexterity, really, with the language. This is something that all kids have very early, and school takes it out of them for the vast majority of the time. That’s not for everybody, but I think, as a population, that that’s the case.
So it’s about self-esteem and confidence, as well. It’s about having that feeling that you can solve problems, and we need communicative strategies to do that. It’s part of our thinking processes.
The second point is the age we’re in. We’ve gone through various ages, and we’re now in probably what people would call the information age, possibly even passing out of that into the digital age, I’m not sure. But what’s very fascinating about this age – mobile technologies and everything – it’s put in the hands of everybody the desire to communicate much more so than it ever was before.
So you have people who probably never would’ve used a computer using a computer, and they’re on Facebook, and they’re on Twitter, and some of them are writing blogs, and they’re contributing in a way that people wouldn’t have thought of doing 20 years ago. And so there’s a new kind of literacy that’s developing, it’s a digital literacy. And at the basis of it all is language, and those who master it will do better. They’ll achieve different things, possibly better things, because of it.
So there’s information and technology on the one hand, and that can relate to success and career and personal development. On the other hand, there’s a fundamental right, I suppose I might call it, to value the language that you have and that you’re using and to develop it to a point that you feel confident about it. And I think that that probably captures everything in life, and it puts grammar, really, right at the centre.
End transcript: Interview with Lise Fontaine
Interview with Lise Fontaine
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  1. The first reason Lise gives for grammar being important is that success in almost anything means you need good communication skills, whether this is in your role as a parent, in your social relationships, when you negotiate a contract, or handle calls in a call centre. All these roles and tasks require flexibility and dexterity with language, and perhaps especially oral language. There is an implicit assumption in what Lise says that a dedicated study of grammar will provide someone with the understanding they need to develop such skills. The second reason given by Lise is that the age we live in – labelled by Lise as moving from the information into the digital age – puts communication in the hands of us all. Everyone has the possibility to use mobile technologies, Facebook, Twitter and to write blogs. This generates demand for a new kind of literacy – a digital literacy. And again, the assumption here is that a heightened awareness of what language can do is very useful in developing digital literacy skills.
  2. Lise argues persuasively for the value of grammar awareness particularly in the context of a world in which many more of us are text producers as well as readers. However, some would argue that, rather than focus on grammar per se, it is more helpful to think of language awareness, as the word ‘grammar’ can seem off-putting to some people. You may have come up with a number of other reasons why it may be worthwhile focusing on grammar – for example:
    • the importance of giving a good impression of yourself as a writer
    • enhanced ability to pass exams and succeed in job applications
    • getting your message across clearly
    • upholding proper standards of language use.

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