Tuesday, May 13, 2008

English and Chinese Grammar

Recently I've noticed my son makes lots of grammatical mistakes in his homework. While I corrected some of them, I remember his teacher told us that parents shouldn't correct students' homework. So, I left some mistakes for the teachers to correct.

But when I get the homework back, there are only check marks and no corrections. I'm puzzled. Should I correct the mistakes or should the teachers correct them? If nobody corrects these mistakes, how can students learn to write correctly? Is this the American way of teaching, free and creative? (Sorry, every time I see things like this, I compare American and Chinese education.) Or is it just that my son didn't learn grammar well and his teachers don't correct mistakes?

When I first came to the US and asked people about grammar, many of them said they hadn't learned grammar or didn't know much about it. But when I learned English in China, all we learned was grammar. We had so many grammar drills, just like Chinese character drills. We knew the ins and outs of English grammar; that's how it helps us speak, understand, read, and write English. I cannot imagine how I could communicate in English if I didn't learn grammar.

Why do we have to learn English grammar? Because the Chinese language doesn't have much grammar. (I am sure some Chinese professors disagree with me!) It's not the kind of complex grammar used in English and other Roman languages. For example, we don't have past tense, past perfect tense, and future tense. Everything is present tense. For example, we say word by word in Chinese "we go school," "we yesterday go school," "we tomorrow go school." Also, verbs stay the same with different pronouns, such as "I go school," "he go school," "she go school," "we go school." You notice we don't use "to" to connect verbs and nouns or two verbs. We just say "I want go school!" See how simple Chinese grammar is? If you know those basic words, you can easily make sentences.

So in dealing with my son's grammatical errors, I really don't know how much schools here teach grammar and how kids learn it. I also realize some people born and educated in the US really don't know how to write English well. I wonder if it's because of the overall education or simply because they didn't learn grammar. Do you think schools should teach grammar more thoroughly? How can I imrove my son's grammar?



Anonymous said...

Ni hao, I feel that the American Educational system , overall' is insufficient! My opinion; , you should correct your son's homework and see what his grades are the next time. Most teachers are under-paid, and sometimes don't have the time to correct each student, or unfortunately don't care. We helped our son at home as much as we could, and his marks were always good, plus we developed a very close parent/child relationship. Hao Fu', xiexie, Li Ma-Ke

Xiaoning said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and for your recommendations. Interestingly, I asked a Chinese friend if her children's teachers correct the homework. She responded : "No, I have to do it myself". She told me I should not expect teachers to correct students' homework, it is the parent's work, just like what you mentioned. She also told me she works everyday with her children on the homework, especially the essays. Since many Chinese cannot write English well (including myself), this is their biggest challenge, but they still ask their children to practice writing everyday. So now I do the same! I correct my son's homework and ask him to write an essay everyday. I do hope it will help him.

You also mentioned most teachers are under-paid, but how about teachers in China? I still remember my elementary teacher who earned only about 40 yuan/month (ok, this was during the culture revolution) and she had more than 40 students for each class, but she corrected each math and Chinese homework we did, my parents didn't help me with anything or corrected my homework, in fact, my mother was even sent to the countryside. If we could receive such kind of education during the cultural revolution, why the kids in the US cannot receive what we had at that time?

Glenda said...

I learned to speak, read and write from my parents, especially my mother who was a teacher. I am an older part-time university student and have tutored students for English composition I. I am shocked to see that a high percentage of students are poorly prepared. At our tutoring training sessions I learned from the Professor to guide the student into meeting his/her expectations. However, international students who may not be prepared,work very hard and do well by the time they graduate.

Unknown said...

You don't mention how old your children are. As a an English teacher I do correct blatant grammatical mistakes, however the purpose of writing is to communicate. If that goal is reached, then the piece of writing is successful. Most of us learn out native languages by a process of osmosis, even American children make grammatical errors. Sadly, the written expression of some teachers is not flawless either.
I have taught English in China also. Though those students have been drilled in English grammar, they as not as easily able to communicate in spoken and written English. Finally, as a student of the Chinese language, I find Chinese grammar difficult and I too make grammatical errors in my writing. However, when I am in China I can communicate. The Chinese likewise, are tolerant of my mistakes, helping with communication rather than correcting every mistake.

Anonymous said...

People should read this.

Unknown said...

Hi, This is a touchy subject because it is probably hard to admit that the American Educational system isn't going that well. I live in a state that just ranked 50th as the worst! You must help your child learn it is really all up to you! I am American and I now home-school my children. We are also teaching them Mandarin. I also notice as a general rule Chinese parents teach more structured than Americans because you were taught to be more structured when you were little. I would like to be more structured with my own boys but it is hard because I wasn't taught like that either. Neither were American teachers. In fact I didn't learn much till I was 21 I thought I was just dumb but now I am learning mandarin and teaching my kids things I never knew. I just wasn't educated. Sorry Teachers, I know there are some good ones out there, just not enough! Also not enough parents who will say If I see my kid isn't getting it, it is my job to help them get it! I love them the most if I don't do it no one will! Baining

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