• Another species endangered!


    Another species endangered

    Hoang Vi Bui

    English teacher, Hochiminh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam


    Today many species are being endangered with extinction; their names can be found listed in a book called the Red Book. In some sense of the word, the Teacher of English Grammar today should be added in the list, too. The mere difference between the two cases is that whereas the former means species being hunted, the latter – being chased away, to near extinction.

    If you are going to be interviewed for a teaching job at an English Center like those in Saigon, where I am now living, it is well advised that you not confess you are a grammar teacher even if you are a very smart and devoted one. Yes, you can just say you enjoy teaching listening or speaking (which is always heartily embraced by any school owner), or reading (which is also welcomed with open arms), or, at least, writing (which may be encouraged with a smile), but not grammar; no, never, unless you enjoy being sympathetically frowned at and then tactfully put in the waiting list until some other… century, perhaps.

    The school owners’ principle is quite simple: If they need to keep the tuition fee unraised (in this deluge of inflation) so as not to discourage their students’ parents (who would decide how much it seems reasonable to pay for their child’s today’s most fashionable need – the English language), the first thing to be cut down on should be the money paid to the teachers, and the first teacher to be pointed at should be the most (though just apparently) unpractical one – the grammar teacher, exactly.

    However, even if you are lucky enough to survive the school owner’s philosophy, it does not mean you will survive your co-workers’. One of mine, a young American who teaches speaking in our school, once claimed that he did not see any point in teaching (English) grammar to the students, as his classes were still well alive “without” grammar at all. Virtually all the others, present there and then, native or non-native English speakers, enthusiastically chimed in with him more or less at the same time.

    Whereas our school owners’ wisdom is simply economy-oriented (or money-inspired, actually), our well-learned colleagues’ is far more academically founded; that is, they would refer to Noam Chomsky, the great American linguist, who maintains that children are born with an innate ability to learn a language, that they intuitively extract the rules from the data to which they are exposed; in other words, our students should learn English by hearing and using it, not by learning explicit grammar rules”.

    You as a grammar teacher are then found in a least hopeful situation. On the one hand, you cannot, on your school owner’s behalf, get his students’ parents convinced that grammar is the very face, the very soul, the very beauty of a language, and nothing is worth studying without its “beauty” introduced first, and that even if we ever happen to get our memory lost, the only thing to remain will still be our (knowledge of) grammar! On the other hand, how can you have all the others, who do not teach grammar, recognize that your job is neither less noble nor less important than theirs? By reminding them that, by learning explicit grammar rules, one can save really enormous amounts of time, energy, and money, which would otherwise be paid for hundreds of 2-period classes “simulating” total exposure, or total immersion, in an EFL environment like ours? Or that one can, even with grammar, listen, speak, read and write poorly, yet no one can do well any of those things without grammar? Why should they, who are quite satisfied with their classes being well kept safe and sound “without” grammar at all, listen to you, after all?

    “The truth should side on the majority”, we should admit, in the end, enjoying it or not. And, since English has become an international living language (i.e. it is the most “highly” subjected to changes), and since Eastern countries (like ours) always outdo Western ones in population, you can expect that one (near) day we will hear a very Englishman complaining, “Last day a England people say a English different more than this day very many!”, instead of “Yesterday an Englishman spoke a very much different English than today!” And, in that near future, the English Grammar Teacher will sure enjoy being caressingly excavated, together with those unlucky species whose names will already have been listed in the by-then Black Book.


    Categories: Volume 3