What is a (grammar) rule?

I recently read an article with my classes about business ethics (or the lack thereof in the corperate world). You can find it on onestopenglish.com, Business Spotlight Worksheet: Money or Morals. Highly recommendable lesson by the way.

In the introductory paragraphs, the author (Vicky Sussens) describes a group of children playing hide and seek:

It is a beautiful autumn day. The sun shines golden on a small group of children who excitedly agree to play hide and seek. “Whoopee!” calls Sarah, racing off to a tree to hide her eyes. “Count to ten!” shouts Johnny, “That’s the rule.”

Rules are so much part of human interaction that even children can stick to them – especially in a game where there are winners and losers. (p 2)

This passage led to a discussion on the nature of rules, laws, regulations etc. and someone remarked that especially – not even – children insist on following the rules of a game. We all remembered such incidences. Without everybody sticking to the rules, many games would simply be unplayable. Rules are the defining features of a game.

In larger groups, like societies, rules become laws to insure, in the best of cases, a cooperate and peaceful life among all members of the community. In any case, there are significant reasons for rules and they are always made by humans (manmade so to speak).

Do languages have rules too?

If the answer were yes, what would be their nature? What would they be for? And who made them up or developed them?

My answer to the question if languages have rules is a clear, loud, emphatic, big fat NO! Continue reading

When the ‘past’ tense does not refer to past time or: Confusion by Misnomers

One of my main issues over the last years of teaching has been with traditional grammar terminology, especially with ‘present’ and ‘past’. To a certain extent I believe in linguistic relativity i.e. that the language we use to describe something has an influence on how we perceive this something. It is not such a surprising insight, if you think about it. When someone refers to an object as table, I will not think of a chair. Well, I actually might think of a chair in association with the table, but that is a different point.

So when a form is called ‘past’ tense, most people – if not all – will believe that the term refers to the meaning of the form. However … Continue reading

Europe greets Trump

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELD2AwFN9Nc

Most people I know have probably watched the video created by the Netherlands in response to Trumps aggressive inaugural speech whose leading slogan was ‘America first’. In the meantime not only has the video gone viral, but the idea as well. All over Europe, videos have mushroomed. They follow the pattern of the Dutch original with some variations of their own. The English is plain and simple, so for learners of English even on an intermediate level nicely comprehensible 😉

 

Verb Structure Circle

This year I have given several of my classes an overview of the English verb system using my concept of the Verb Circle. It seems to be helpful and clarifying.  Being a different way of conceptualizing the system, the different perspective is not always immediately accessible.It takes a little time, but, as I  have learned through dancing and guitar practice: there is only one way of becoming better at a skill – repeat, repeat, repeat.

So go to the page above and let me know what you think.

 

Why linguistic terminology can be useful and misnomers problematic

PART 1 Tense and aspect

What are tenses? And why is the answer not: all verb structures? How many tenses does English really have? And does it matter? What is the semantic relationship between verb form and time? What is time? What do we mean when we talk about time? How do we talk about time? And why should this be important?

In my introduction to the concept of the Verb Structure Circle I mentioned the technical definition of ‘tense’. Tense and aspect are two terms crucial to explaining, and in my opinion, understanding, the English verb structure system. I also noted that in many if not most course books of English ALL verb structures are referred to as tenses and, as far as I can tell, ‘aspect’ is rarely used. Perfect and continuous forms are commonly related to as ‘tenses’ though they are actually referred to as ‘aspects’ in linguistic literature.

Note (2016): Some publishers of English course books like MacMillan make the distinction, as I have found in the meantime.

The reason I believe this issue to be important is because I believe understanding the difference between ‘tense’ and ‘aspect’ could help understanding English verb structures’ meaning and function better. Continue reading

Resources on Food, Diet, and Health

This post was written for an English course I gave for dieticians at the MHH. I decided to keep it here, as I find the issues discussed to be of general interest.

In this post I have listed some of the internet resources and literature I have read and looked at myself and would and can recommend for anybody interested in going into the issues of food and health more deeply. It is, of course, an incomprehensive list and totally selective.

Webpages

There are loads of pages specifically interesting for dieticians. One is an American magazine:Today’s Dietician. We read one article from this website that was, admittedly, a little difficult. Nevertheless I would recommend students of nutrition, diet and health to browse through this website, especially the articles archive. Continue reading

The Third Person Singular -s or: let’s talk about priorities

Recently I was shocked – if not really surprised – to hear that not much seems to have changed in some English classes of (German) schools. I learned about a fifth grader who was not doing very well in English. I asked what his problem seems to be and was told that he had made a lot of mistakes in his last test. Naturally, my next question was: well, what kind of mistakes, and was totally astonished as to the prime nature of his failure. Continue reading

Emails: Requests

An Example

These days I received an email from someone from a company that had asked me for a special English course. I had already spoken to someone else about the course and had a little background information. As I am quite busy, we will have to find a time that fits into my schedule, but I am interested in giving the course as it is a new company of a kind I haven’t taught at yet, so it could be an interesting challenge, and I am willing to squeeze it in. Continue reading

Decluttering

Last year, January 14, I wrote about one of my New Year resolutions: decluttering. Turns out, decluttering is a longer process than anticipated. Most difficult: to stop bringing new stuff in, though I believe I have gotten better. However, I have decided not to check in detail in case it turns out I have not been as successful as intended. I will just keep on trying. Continue reading

Order of Operations

Last week we had an interesting little debate about math education. It does happen every once in a while that we talk about maths, and I always find it interesting. I have quite a few mathematicians in my groups and in general like to know a little about my group participants’ fields of expertise. I also used to like maths in school before I had the wrong teachers. And yes, there is no doubt about it: your success in maths has little to do with your brain (or gender) and all with your maths teacher/s. Continue reading