You Need to Study Your Grammar, Son

Quick. What’s the third conditional? Mixed conditional? Is there even something called zero conditional? What’s the difference between present perfect and present perfect progressive, and why can’t you use the progressive in this case but you can in the other one?

zoidberggrammarbadIf you’re a native speaker, you likely haven’t studied grammar from an academic point of view since 8th grade. And unless you majored in linguistics, you might not even know what nominative, dative, and subjunctive mean, let alone how they might relate to English language instruction.

Before I began teaching ESL, I thought of myself as a knowledgeable, highly-literate person. I had impeccable grammar and my the sophistication of vocabulary made men nod in respect and ladies swoon with desire. Yet, within the first week of teaching 1st and 2nd graders, I realized that my intuitive ability to use English well did not translate into a technical understanding of how English works. If we ever talked about the different conditionals in school, I have no memory of it.

I remember once, very early on, a Korean 3rd grader asked me when we should say “the” with a short ‘e’ sound and when was should say it with a long ‘e’. I was like, “LOL WUT?” I desperately needed to bone up on my technical knowledge, and quick.

Somewhat indirectly, I learned a great deal about the foundational components of language and important notions of grammar from the collected works of Stephen Pinker, the famed MIT linguist. His classic The Language Instinct is highly worth reading, as is his most recent tome, The Sense of Style, which bills itself as a writer’s guide, but it much more than that. Another great author in this context is Bill Bryson whose The Mother Tongue and Dictionary of Troublesome Words are fantastic and useful reads for English teachers. Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves is another fun, enlightening read.

Podcast’s were crucial in my late-game grammar education. Early on, I discovered Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s podcast. Her show’s range from simplistic questions like a student might have to more in-depth discussions of esoteric topics. Other great linguistic podcasts that I recommend are Lexicon Valley and the History of English.

There are, of course, a vast sea of websites for reviewing grammar. The ones I used years ago have mostly been lost to the fogs of time, and the ones you can google today are as good or better than what has come before. Purdue’s OWL, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is fantastic. Here are a few others to consider:

If you have any resources that you find particularly helpful, please share!


The ICELT Diaries: What Has Come Before

Part of my professional development plan for this school year is, for the first time, to learn how to teach.

I kid, I kid. When I first arrived in Korea in 2004, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the tender age of 27, I attended a specialized training program at a university, which was actually pretty useful for me. Up to that point, I had been teaching web scripting, database design, and software like Office and Photoshop for several years, and although I got good student and client evaluations, I had just cobbled together a theory of pedagogy. Luckily, between those university-sponsored workshops and a very good, highly experienced supervisor at my first hakwon, I learned how to teach more systematically. By the time I left my joyous, wonderful, so-so-awesome university gig in 2012, I felt pretty confident in my teaching acumen.

Jump to 2014. I’m a newbie in a university English prep program in Istanbul. Nearly all of my coworkers have, at the least, a CELTA. A good number sport DELTAs or MAs in related fields. I’d never been around so many eminently qualified professionals. While I never doubted that I could teach, and teach effectively, I realized that I could benefit from more education on education. Plus, having more qualifications would enhance my résumé. Never neglect your résumé.

Initially, I considered working on a CELTA. As chance would have it, though, our director of development offered a few of us the chance to do the ICELT – Cambridge’s In-Service Certificate of English Language Teaching – at my university, for a pleasantly reduced cost. Did I consider the various pros and cons, weighed the alternatives, investigated the curriculum, evaluated the training providers, or any sort of due diligence?


The ICELT is not nearly as well-known as its siblings, the CELTA and the DELTA. It’s purpose is a little different, naturally. The underlying idea is that teachers who are currently established in their career will take the course to learn new skills and practices, and gain deeper understanding of the theories underpinning their pedagogy. It places a heavy focus on self-reflection and peer observation. CELTA, by contrast, is aimed more at new language teachers, while DELTA is for experienced teachers who will assume roles of greater responsibility within their department, teacher trainers, or those who want more prestigious positions without getting an MA.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will share some of the insights I glean from the program. Next week, I’ll talk a little about task-based learning and presentatio-practice-production. Later, we’ll look at lesson planning, the role of observations, and much more. Stay tuned!


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