Through the very active Facebook page of EFL SMARTblog, I came across and read the column ‘20 Common Mistakes that (Almost) Everyone Makes‘. I was very curious to know how many of those 20 I make (and teach). And funnily enough, I found out that that I was among those ‘(almost) everyone’.
I must say that I don’t agree with this “grammar geekery”, as the author of the article puts it. I confess that my mistakes are not teaching the difference between ‘may’ and ‘might’, and teaching the use of ‘since’ as a synonym of ‘because’ in certain contexts. And I don’t think that is really a problem. I guess that the article, and the book it is based on, is aimed at native speakers who want to become authors or academics.
The problem with ‘grammar geeks’ in the context of EFL is that teachers who are not native speakers tend to be even more radical in their approach to grammar than natives, probably due to a lack of confidence or the way we were taught. This insistence on accuracy in grammar has determined how we grade the language level of our students for years, in detriment of fluency or the ability to communicate, and it might have been the cause of the poor level of English among Spanish students, who were unable to utter a word in the language despite spending years studying it at school.
Finding a balance is the key to success, but where is the balance here? An example of this attitude towards grammar can be exemplified with an attitude that I witnessed when I started teaching 20 years ago: one typical mistake that used to mean an automatic failure in the oral exam in some schools in an advanced level was saying ‘people is’, irrespective of what they had said. “He said ‘People is’. He can’t pass the oral exam at this level with that kind of mistakes.” This is not the case any more, I hope.
What are the mistakes that you consider ‘serious’? What’s the (recurrent) mistake that really annoys? Share it with us!