“Tight your fist” the nurse in a white coat asked me firmly. Given that she had a syringe poised in her hand that was ready to draw blood (literally), I thought it best to ignore grammatical inaccuracies and do as instructed. Incidentally, the nurse was excellent at her job. She took blood samples from my arm and I barely felt the prick of the needle.
I have gone to hairdressers who have asked me how I would like to cut my hairs. I have gone to car showrooms where the salesman suggested I buy a heightful car since those are more comfortable. I have gone to doctor’s chambers where the attendant has asked me to put both my feets on the weighing scale. Do such grammar mistakes really matter as long as the workers are good at their jobs?
Yet, according to the WEF report The Future of Work, published in October 2020, grammar is one of the top 10 in-employment skills. Considering this, would it be right to dismiss grammar as an anachronism today. There are two opposing views on this. One advocates that without grammatical accuracy how would people understand each other. After all, language is a code, a shared code. Point taken! The other advocates that grammar is at the service of communication. As long as the listener or reader understands the intended message, one can call the communication to be successful and effective – grammar or no grammar. Point taken again!
Between the dogged push for perfect grammar and a complete disregard for it, lies a fine line. It gets even tougher for the language trainer who has to not only find that fine line but also implement it in training rooms. And the bad news is that the line keeps shifting each time there is a new set of learners. However, whatever the profile of the learners may be, one has to teach enough grammar so that learners go out there and get understood. The two words that stand out here are ‘enough’ and ‘out there’.
What is ‘enough’? To what extent should a trainer focus on verb conjugations, prepositions, sentence structures and so forth? We all know that every learner does not enter the training room with identical needs. It is up to the trainer to identify the point of ‘enough’ for each group. However, the solution to this may not be as vague and intangible as it sounds. The solution lies in ‘out there’.
What is the context within which the learners function and what do they need the language training for? For example, the nurse or the hairdresser needs a certain amount of grammar and vocabulary to communicate effectively with clients. In order to do that, the material used for training becomes critical. What kind of material should be used to teach grammar? Shouldn’t it be material that will resonate with the learner’s reality? Something that they can go out there and use immediately on their jobs?
The best option would be to source the material from the context of the learners. Hence, trainers have to function as material writers too. While a textbook on grammar would bring structure and sequence to any course, it would not make sense to follow that textbook blindly in the training room because it would have many structures and contexts completely irrelevant for the learners at hand. So, trainers today, not only require Faculty skills but also those of a content designer and material writer. They have to develop the crucial skills of identifying relevant raw material and converting them into training material that is compatible with the needs, proficiency level, learning style and delivery mode of the learner.
Dolon has 30+ years of experience in academia and industry. At Universities, she has designed Syllabi, Courses and Assessments. At TCS, she developed learning programs for a multilingual and multi-cultural workforce. She serves on advisory Boards of educational institutes.