Do Seven-Year-Olds Need to Know Grammar? Why?

This is a real question, sort of.

I suppose there’s no way—at this point—that you can convince me that the best way to teach a child how to read in Arabic is to feed them a steady diet of grammatical terms and exercises. This is how my son is being taught Arabic (at school), and how it’s advocated on the website eHow. (Never mind a love of the written word! Never mind a good story! Never mind…!)

You’d need quite a load of evidence to convince me this method is more effective than reading a fun book. In fact, you’d need an absolute mountain of evidence to convince me this method is effective for anything other than teaching children that reading Arabic is akin to a trip to the dentist.

Grammar is useful when we want to talk about language, I grant you. But I’d like to borrow an insight from reviewer Ann Hodgman at the NYTimes, in discussing two newish books that teach English grammar:

Here’s a problem neither Truss nor O’Conner addresses: People who care about punctuation and good grammar don’t misuse them. People who don’t care won’t care. Children who like to read will pick up good grammar automatically. Children who don’t like to read are not going to pick up books about grammar unless someone forces them. And if you want to force a child to read a grammar book … well, I don’t know what to tell you.

Blogger Nancy Friedman rebuts Hodgman a bit, and discusses the worth of grammar education. However, she discusses it in the context of middle school and beyond, not primary school. Before she learned to diagram a sentence, she certainly learned to love it.

A month or so back, Bloomsbury-Qatar consultant publisher Andy Smart told me:

They’re [children in most Arabic-language programs] supposed to understand metalanguage before they can even read a word. If children can’t read, there’s no point in putting a textbook in their hand.

Unfortunately, the textbook is hardly the worst of it. There’s also copying from the textbook, diagramming sentences from the textbook, and the supplementary Grade 2 grammar guide.

Sometimes, it feels like a long road ahead.

Sorry for the blue mood today! I guess it was an Islamic New Year holiday filled with lots of copying and grammar homework. We’ll read some good books today and get over it!

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