An approach to teaching can be described as child-friendly if it is appropriate for the ways in which children learn. Although children are often very flexible, they cannot always learn in the way that we might wish to teach. If we want our teaching to be effective we must use a child-friendly approach.
In this context we are not interested in a definition of grammar. We are concerned with linguistic performance rather than linguistic knowledge. We want the children to be able to speak and write English with a reasonable degree of accuracy and fluency. We are not training them to write grammar books or give grammar lessons.
We know that if A = B and B = C, then A = C. But this type of logical thinking is beyond a 7-11 year-old child\u2019s capability. You can try to teach this, but you will always fail because the child does not have the mental resources to understand it. Logical thought of this type can only apply to real and concrete objects in the real world. So the child can understand that if stick A is longer than stick B, and stick B is longer than stick C, then stick A is longer than stick C. Grammatical knowledge is based on abstract concepts which the child cannot understand.
Even at the age of 3 or 4, a child can understand that if Mummy is putting on her overcoat, she is going to go out. The child does not understand this logically. It is just that the child has seen this pattern of behaviour repeatedly and can remember the next item in the sequence.
12-15 months single words
In the same book, Jean Aitchison points out that children do not simply imitate adults. Utterances such as \u2018Me drinked tea\u2019, \u2018No Teddy go\u2019, which have not been copied from adults, demonstrate that the child is operating their own system of linguistic \u2018rules\u2019 which they devise and modify as they get older. The development of these rules is an unconscious process.
The evidence above refers to the acquisition of the mother tongue. As we can see the child does not begin tounderstand the grammar of the mother tongue until at least the age of ten or eleven. Younger children canoperate the grammatical system of the mother tongue, but the child is simply copying patterns.
But an eight-year-old child has already had more than thirty-thousand hours of exposure and use of the mother tongue. A child learning a foreign language has less than 100 hours of exposure and use in any year.
The textbook writer requires a very good understanding of the grammar of the language in order to devise the content and sequence of lessons in the syllabus. Grammar is fundamental to the development of English language programmes.
I was painting the fence when Peter came by.
I was cutting the grass when Katy came by.
I was sweeping the yard when Susan came by.
I was watching TV when my mum came home.
The children are learning a pattern which combines the Past Continuous (Progressive) form with the Past Simple. Of course, we don\u2019t tell them this. It is enough that they learn the repeated pattern.
Pattern practice alone is not enough. It should exist within a comprehensible context. If we look at all of Unit 4 (\u2018Blue Skies Book 4\u2019), we see that it begins with a review of the Present Continuous (Progressive) \u2018I\u2019m drawing\u2019 pattern. This is not new. The children have been using this pattern for two or three years.
It is practised with the teacher, Miss Grady, coming into the classroom and asking the children \u2018What are you doing?\u2019 The children respond \u2018I\u2019m reading\u2019, I\u2019m writing\u2019, \u2018I\u2019m drawing\u2019, \u2018I\u2019m painting\u2019, \u2018We\u2019re talking\u2019. (Notice the repeated pattern.)
On the following page, the children are now out in the playground. One of the children says \u2018When Miss Grady came in, I was reading. What were you doing?\u2019 The other children respond \u2018I was painting\u2019, \u2018I was writing\u2019, \u2018I was drawing\u2019, \u2018We were talking\u2019. (Again notice the repeated pattern.)
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