Why grammar really is child’s play

Babies “babble” grammatically, according to new research. It just shows that young children can be excellent grammarians, says Sara Wernham, a former primary teacher and co-author of the Jolly Phonics series of grammar books. This is from the Telegraph…

…research published last week by Newcastle University, which shows that babies ‘babble’ grammatically, underlines what good teachers already know: young children can be excellent grammarians.

The research by Dr Christina Dye, a lecturer in child development, showed that very young children copy speech patterns and grammatical nuances which they then incorporate in their baby babble.

She recorded thousands of toddlers aged between 23 and 37 months and found that the little sounds and puffs of air inserted into their babble were in fact subtle stand-ins for grammatical words. This challenged the prevailing view among development specialists that children’s early language combinations are devoid of grammar.

Dr Dye found that the sounds produced by the children always came in the correct place in the sentence. This finding led the research team to believe that young children have an instinct for grammar.

This ground-breaking research provides extra weight to the argument that grammar itself could be taught from Reception year onwards.

As a former primary schoolteacher and author of grammar books I advocate multi sensory teaching and demystifying of the idea that grammar is difficult. I use colours, actions and games to help teach children the basics of grammar, and know that it is very possible to teach young children (in some countries as young as three) what a verb or a noun is. I know that if I make the lesson fun and relevant then pupils can easily understand quite complex concepts.

If the children and teacher share an understanding of grammar via a shared vocabulary then classroom discussions can become lively and explanation easy. We can talk about why ‘I ranned’ is not correct, rather than just saying ‘I ran’ is right and ‘I ranned’ is wrong. By building up their knowledge a bit at a time, children never doubt that good grammar is easily mastered.

As educators our drive must always be to make learning as easy and accessible as possible, so rather than attacking the Education Secretary Michael Gove and his seemingly insatiable drive for pupils to attain good grammar, perhaps we should be rejoicing in the fact that a topic which has been all but ignored for thirty years has been given a new lease of life.

Acquiring good grammar is essential and it deserves our attention. We should welcome the introduction of the new SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) test for primary schools children, the inclusion of the explicit teaching of grammar in the new draft National Curriculum and also the introduction this year of extra marks for good grammar in key GCSE subjects.

Reforms to the current GCSE, which will see continued assessment abolished in favour of exams, where pupils’ attainment will be judged on the strength of their grammar, gives educators food for thought.

We need to stop arguing about who has good grammar and who hasn’t, or whether we need good grammar, and get to grips with the idea of teaching it, and begin to teach it from a very young age.

More at:  Why grammar really is child’s play

Please tell us what you make of Sarah Wernham’s arguments and the idea of teaching grammar from Reception year onwards. Do you agree? let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Pre-school and Primary.


    • JeniHooper

      DrSue22 SchoolsImprove MichaelRosenYes why use precious time to teach 5 year olds formal grammar? Communication not deconstruction

  1. inwte

    SchoolsImprove If parents corrected poor grammar from children at an early age we would not be in this dilemma. My parents did.

  2. StewedCat

    Does Ms Wernham not think we were teaching grammar for years and years before the Spag test? The difference was we taught it immersed in language use and it was made relevant to the children’s spoken, written language and reading. So much richer than underlining the nouns. I am all for teaching grammar, just not sure the Spag test does it justice or will transfer into children’s becoming literate and articulate adults.

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