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Accurate or grammatical?

Read an article explaining how different varieties of English are still valid and grammatical, even if they are not the standard dialect.
A red pen laid on a printed essay with corrections underlined and circled.

Instead of thinking about it as a constraint or list of rules, it can help to think of grammar as a toolkit or resource.

Learners can draw from their repertoire of language knowledge, including ‘non-standard’ regional and social varieties.

Instead of focussing on the rightness or wrongness of particular structures, we can instead understand that they are equally grammatically valid, and that they are used in different contexts to achieve different effects. In this way, we are prioritising appropriacy over accuracy.

Read the following sentences. Decide which ones are grammatical or not grammatical.

  1. I’ve been to the shop but I didn’t buy anything.
  2. I’ve went to shop but didn’t buy owt.
  3. I been gone to the shop but ain’t buy nothing.

In fact, all the above sentences are grammatical – they follow systematic rules and make sense. However, only the first sentence is grammatical according to the rules of British Standard English. The other three sentences could be considered inappropriate, but only in a context when British Standard English is expected.

Our learners bring a great resource of language variety to the classroom. These structures are grammatical and worthy of study and celebration. Learning British Standard English is important, but does not need to come at the expense of other varieties.

Importantly, learners will need to conform to whatever standards are laid out in relevant mark schemes and criteria when submitting assessed work.

Leave a comment in the discussion area below:

  • What forms of ‘non-standard’ English do your learners use?
  • Do you have opportunities to examine and use these forms in the classroom?
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Teaching English Grammar in Context

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