Why Adherence to English Grammar Matters

Does fear of being corrected and even ridiculed prevent you from expressing yourself in English?

Do you edit and write at the same time?

Does it take you a loooong time to finish a write-up or even a simple email because you’re so finicky about grammar and keep revising your work?

Or, are you the type who couldn’t care less about grammar for as long as you can pen your thoughts?
Are you one among those who sneer, “Hay, naku, ba’t kailangan pa ng grammar? Ang mahalaga, masabi mo ang dapat sabihin. Bakit, marami naman diyan mali-mali ang grammar. Basta magkaintindihan, tapos.” (Why do we still need grammar? What is important is you can say what you want to say. Why, there are many out there whose grammar sucks as well. As long as you understand each other, then that’s it.)

In the many workshops we have conducted over the years, we have observed how poorly majority of the participants fared in the diagnostic test. This test covers identifying errors in subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, verb forms and tenses and use of punctuations and mechanics. It only has a grade six level of difficulty (we had a test run on this, and we are still using the same these days) yet, barely 20% of the participants in our previous workshops passed it.

How important is grammar in the communication process?

As a communication arts graduate, the definition of communication is ingrained in my system as a leech is inextricably attached to its host. “It is the transfer of ideas from one person to another for the purpose of mutual understanding. Blah, blah.”

Grammar comes in essentially to facilitate and promote this mutual understanding.

In short grammar spells the difference between communication and miscommunication.

Now, when you break grammar rules, but at the same time, retaining the intended meaning of your message, that can be passed off as a lesser offense (that can be attributed to inadvertence) because there is no communication breakdown.

One example is in the area of subject-verb agreement (SVA). In some sentences, whether you use is or are, with s or without s when confronted with tricky subjects, the meaning does not alter. However, just because your sentence is understandable does not mean you no longer need to follow the standard rules in writing and speaking (that’s what grammar is).

Ignorance is no excuse. It is more costly than you think.

What if somebody tells you that your knowledge in the SVA rules or appropriate use of verb tenses may determine where your job application letter will eventually land? Yes, it’s either on top of your prospective employer’s desk or under it, lying cold and crumpled in the dust bin.

You may then contend that you have the technical skills and experience to do the job. But between you and another person who has the same qualifications as you have but with the distinctive advantage of having better communication skills than you do, it is obvious who gets the handshake in the end. After all, having excellent communication skills both in speaking and writing, always comes out as one of the top requirements by hiring companies.

So, when does bad grammar become a serious offense?

If the violation causes misunderstanding on the part of the intended listener or recipient of the message, that is a major offense cool grammarians cannot tolerate. This is where we realize—mastery of grammar is important, indeed.

Bad grammar, which is often the cause of mangled usage of English, has always been, by experience, the butt of jokes—especially among those who learned their English from work texts than from real situations or actual practice.

Surely, you wouldn’t want your writing to be a subject of the latest memes?

Like these samples below written by college graduates.

How do you feel reading “essays” like these from future law enforcers who will be confronted with report writing tasks day in and day out in their career?  How will criminals be prosecuted if police reports are subjects of jokes and ridicule?

Much has been written about the state of the English proficiency of Filipinos these days. The following are some of the links I preserved as I gobbled up readings on anything related to Filipinos’ English proficiency. I cannot agree more with the authors’ observations and insights.

We Are Losing Our Edge in the Use of English Language

Should Filipinos Go Back to Pursuing Excellence in English?

Lost in Subject-Verb Agreement; Should Filipinos Go Back to Grammar School?

The deteriorating proficiency in the use of the English language particularly in grammar is now epidemic (and just like the drug menace, it is reaching pandemic proportion). And who’s to blame for this?

Okay, we can always come up with a thousand and one reasons:

My English teacher in elementary concentrated on selling adobong mani and yema, instead of teaching. During class hours, she would let the time pass by making us perform writing jogs and copy work, or just parrot whatever it was she was reading on the board.”

The days when grammar lessons were supposed to be taught were those days when we were badly hit by typhoons. And you bet, we lost count of ‘em. When we returned to school, the chalkboards were wet, so…”

My high school teacher just let us memorize classic poems and perform drama or plays.”

“We didn’t have the right reference materials to use…”

“Lack of focus. Information overload in other subjects. There was so much to study and memorize, why bother with grammar?”

“It’s the bilingual policy. Teachers no longer require students to speak in English.”

“It’s the mass media. Taglish has become the norm. And where Taglish is concerned, grammar flies out of the window.”

Our rants can go on and on. We blame others. Yet we do not realize that the responsibility to learn is solely ours.

A Personal Journey

My fascination with the English language dates back during my high school years thirty years ago when my English teacher required each member of our class to maintain a diary. Every Monday, she would check in our small ticklers everything that we had written for an entire week. Diligently, I took to heart this writing challenge until it stuck with me even after the class was over. From being a mere academic assignment, it soon became an important part of my life. Thanks to the inspiration of dedicated teachers (there are still many of them, I believe) who took the time to correct and guide us in our feeble attempts to write coherently.

So, while my classmates ditched their diaries, I kept on stitching clean pages of old notebooks to give way to this new passion. To further enhance my writing skill, I devoured books of different genres. Reading led me to know what good writing was. I wrote poems, short stories, personal thoughts and essays even if nobody was egging me to do it. Every time I would come up with a finished writing project, I would feel spent like a blown-out tire, but nonetheless pleased and liberated for having expressed myself. (It still holds true now.)

To make a long story short, I learned English and its nuances through sheer determination and practice. I have always been a self-directed learner, even if I didn’t know what  “self-directed” meant then.

My husband, who co-authors our books, likewise attributes his communication skills to those times of self-studies more than those times spent inside the classroom. He was encouraged by his English teacher to learn beyond what she could teach — learn new words, read and self-study. According to him, when you are engaged in self-directed learning, you are not limited to what you can learn. You are free to discover and even to commit mistakes.

This means that even in the study of the nuances of English grammar, we should not rely on the spoon-feeding of our teachers whose true function in reality, is just to provide a “favorable condition for self-learning.” (That’s what American educator  John Milton Gregory once said.)

An Institutional Study

In 2012, we were commissioned by a government agency to conduct a study on the English Grammar proficiency of police recruits. Instead of using a sampling approach, we did a population study among PNP recruits in 18 regional training schools all over the country. The result revealed much about the state of English proficiency among college graduates (yes, nobody enters the police force without a college degree and a civil service eligibility). Of the 13,000 participants, only 19 percent passed the diagnostic test.

The result was later submitted to the DepEd in an official communication. Lamentably, no reply ever came in response to that study. Not even a note of acknowledgment, even as it was officially received.

So, it should not come as a surprise at all when we get to read news of serious “errors” (and not just typographical ones) in text books in public schools, given the seeming lack of quality control teams to make sure that quality references and books get into the hands of the millions of eager learners across the archipelago.

Remember the recent fuss over “Banana Rice Tereses” found in a grade 7 text book?

Netizens reacted, “OMG! I kennat!” There is simply no plausible explanation for this appalling publishing mishap, except that those who should have done their job right, opted to sleep on it, instead.

Was some kind of spell cast upon those where the manuscript passed through, that not a single soul ever noticed the glaring errors that were even printed in bold letters? On the other hand, it might have been a case of bungled editing or non-editing, and the publishers must have agonized over it. (By experience, errors do still show up somewhere in the pages of a published book even as it has been read, re-read and mercilessly edited many times over.)

But is it enough to criticize?

No, we need to offer a solution.

As early as 2011, we published a book to help address the worsening grammar deficiency among Filipino students and professionals. It was mentioned in the Sunday Lifestyle section of the Philippine Star on January 8, 2012.

Seven years after the release of our first book, we decided to make a more updated and comprehensive version under the a new title – Review Your Grammar and Ace Exams, which recently gained a 5-star rating from Readers’ Favorite. It is an ultimate reference book for English Grammar which combines all that my high school English teachers taught me (Oh, yes, they did teach, and passionately so), our family’s homeschooling journey, my analytical and organizational aptitude, personal readings, my love of writing and our two teenage sons’ creativity and graphic design skills.

It is the one book I wish I had had back when I was still fumbling my way to keep a diary.
I encourage you to get a copy of your own. By the time you are done with it, you will have gained the one thing you desperately need where the use of English is concerned:

CONFIDENCE.

And if you are confident, you are free to express those brilliant thoughts only you can possibly share with the rest of the world. Most of all, your message will come through exactly as you intended it.

That is true connection, whether you’re online (in the social media) or offline (in your own spheres of work and influence).

Order the eBook or printed copy today.

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