10 Is grammar important? Interview with Matt Purland

Find Your English Voice | Smart Language Learning

This is a new episode of ‘Find Your English Voice’ podcast. Today we are talking about grammar with Matt Purland, an experienced English teacher with over fourteen years of experience teaching English full-time, in the UK and abroad. Matt has written and published 24 books and thousands of printable worksheets for teaching and learning English. His most popular course book is Big Grammar Book, which has been downloaded for free millions of times, and has been the number one most recommended resource on the Guardian Teacher’s Network for many months. You can find out more about him at purlandtraining.com, also follow him on Twitter @purlandtraining.

Some quotes from the episode:

01.21: Matt: I am excited to think about this topic, it’s very important for our students and for our lessons.

Daria: Do you think it is really important? How important is it for students to learn grammar when they are learning to speak English?


02.04 Matt: What you can say in one language will be totally different in the other language. That’s why grammar can help to control it, to control what is said and what is the meaning of this.

02.33: Matt: Yes, we need to have grammar to help control the meaning. It’s absolutely vital, it’s like a skeleton of our language.


02.45 Daria: While you were speaking, I started thinking: we, teachers, really see grammar as a help. We always say grammar will help you to express yourself.

03.02 Our students often feel limited by grammar. Why do you think it happens so?

03.08 Matt: I think they may be disappointed that they want to learn a different language so they can’t just simply translate what they think in their language into English because, then, because of the different grammar, they will maybe sound absolutely different.


05:35 Daria: Our task as teachers is to let them [students] know that they need to understand the language, I mean, not just translate word-by-word from their own language.


09:18 Daria: Does some grammar matter more for communication than other? I believe that there is grammar which will change your message completely if you do it wrong and you just can’t do without it [for example, word order or correct prepositions] even in a very simple communication and there is some grammar, yes, it will add to your reputation if you do it right but you will still be understood the right way.


10:39 Matt: When I start teaching someone and they say they don’t know anything, I start with the 5 tenses: Present Simple, Continuous, Past Simple, Present Perfect, and Future Simple.

11:42 Matt: I start with this. I think it’s not negotiable. If they don’t know these 5 tenses, or what are the auxiliary verbs, and what are the negative and question forms. And we work from there. … I believe if they can understand these 5 different times and five tenses, the rest of the tenses will make sense.


12:46 Daria: Sometimes I understand that this is not the problem of remembering the things, but the problem of acceptance. They keep protesting, they keep saying: ‘I don’t want to remember that because I don’t understand the sense of it’.


13:34 Daria: If you are a learner, it’s very important to understand: this is just a different thing. And you are struggling with acceptance of it, you will not be able to learn it just cognitively. It will be very hard.

13:51 Matt: You have to accept and you have to believe you can do it.

14:18 set the goal

14:38 don’t be hard on yourself


16:36 Matt: Try to find a good reference book

Matt’s recommendation: An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage;

Daria’s recommendation: Practical English Usage by M.Swan

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Key points:

1) Don’t translate; be ready to use a structure from English, but not your own language structures;

2) You have to believe you can do it.

3) Remember that grammar IS important because it does change the meaning when you don’t use it correctly.

4) Look for the differences in your language compared to English.

5) But don’t always think about grammar – remember about your meaning. Grammar just serves the meaning.

What do you think? Does grammar matter for your communication? Is knowing grammar well help?

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