Mega Explorer

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Why is it so difficult to master English grammar for ESL learners?

Stanley Yeung, 

Why is it so difficult to master English grammar for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? To people who are native English speakers, it seems as though they were born with the correct English grammar at birth. This tends to arouse the envy of ESL learners, who often stumble on the usage of English grammar in their sentences. As we non-native English speakers grow older, we tend to forget about the importance of English grammar in our lives, even after years of rigorous grammar exercises starting from kindergarten, to primary school, to secondary school, and even to university. So the question is, can we still go back in time to learn English grammar for those who have finished school?

In our Asian culture, people often say that the only opportunity that you get to learn English well is when you are small and young. Like scientists have said about language learning, our minds are more softly wired when we are young, and thus we can 'mould' it into any shape we want, like marshmallow. Then as we grow older, our brains become more hard-wired and much harder for us to 'mould' it into the shape that we want. We may still increase in knowledge, but the way we make utterances in English seems to be inevitably affected by our mother tongue language. But why do we see many adult and senior ESL learners still having a desire to improve their English skills at English learning centres?

The reality is that even when we study English at an older age, teachers don't tend to focus on grammar anymore, but rather, on increasing our knowledge as long as we get our messages across. Everybody seems to think that nobody would go back and take out all those grammar books to do all those rigorous grammar exercises when we were young because it just seems a very awkward thing to do. Whenever we make a grammar mistake in a sentence, teachers would also seldom point it out to us. Even if they do, they would do it in such a polite way, as if we should all treated with respect like adults. But after all, what is the importance of grammar if you can already get your message across to the other person?

Grammar, grammar, grammar - It seems like the word 'grammar' can sound a lot like the word 'grandma' the more we repeat saying it, especially for those of us ESL learners who don't pronounce the 'r' as much or like to follow the British pronunciation. But in fact, grammar is a bit like our grandma, who is verbose and likes to keep nagging at you all the time to serve the food when it is cooked, even though we would often like to do our own things in our bedroom until the food is really ready. Just like our grandma, grammar can nag at us to get it right with the same level of verbosity, even when we don't think it is that important. But if we can understand the underlying importance of doing something such as getting ourselves ready to serve the food cooked by our grandma, then maybe we can also fully understand the importance of grammar…

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