Pesky Prepositions: final thoughts from the assignment

“I’ll meet you at SM Aura” or “I‘ll meet you in SM Aura”?  Which sounds better? Which one is grammatically correct? Do you sometimes wonder which preposition to use? Is it “in the plane” or “on the plane”? Those are the questions we resolved to address in our assignment.

I must admit I’m one of those rare dying breeds who find grammar fascinating and magical. I learned the Reed-Kellogg system of diagramming at 10 and was addicted to it. I was introduced to the phrase structure rules and the hybrid diagram not much later on and to the amazement of my professor, managed to catch on pretty quickly. I spent countless hours diagramming sentences, and like a cat that has caught a mouse, I would take my notes and practice sentences to the Faculty Center for consultation.

Over the years as a trainer, I’ve corrected a lot of people. (Now a part of me is beginning to wonder whether I became a Language Trainer for precisely that reason.) I have been that person who rants about misplaced or missing apostrophes, confused homophones,  incorrect sound production and other abuses to the English language. I would join other in ridiculing mistakes in signage and other print materials and poke fun at errors shared through social media, but I’m starting to turn a corner.

As a self-confessed language pedant, I had to ask myself my intentions behind my policing efforts. A part of me insists it’s the genuine concern for sliding standards and the duty to preserve the beauty of the language. But over the course of identifying possible misalignments in the assignment, it dawned on me that this insatiable need for error correction must be done with utmost caution to avoid sounding supercilious and egotistic.

People’s reactions to poor grammar are manifold and could range from quiet smugness, mock derision, actual derision, on-the-spot correction or a cursory tut for reproof. Don’t these serve to compound the cultural cringe phenomenon and the ESL learners’ feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness?

The speaking barrier

I must admit that in my years as a Language Specialist, I never really paid particular attention to the quiet ones who tend to fade in the background. Yet in the course of working on the assignment with my group mates, I found this muted minority being given careful consideration in the criteria. I realized that in assessing student knowledge and performance, it’s it important to understand the communication profiles of each learner and uncover the root of the speaking barrier for the quiet ones. More often than not, it’s easy to dismiss the quiet ones as the ones who lack the necessary language skills to express themselves. And it’s even easier to adopt the “horses-for-courses” attitude with them. It’s a language class after all. If they don’t want to talk, then so be it. The more I thought about it the more I realized I wasn’t being true to myself.

There is a difference between people being shy and people being quiet. They shy ones are insecure by nature and would have to be coaxed gently out of their shell, no matter what language they’re speaking. The quiet ones are stark observers who opt to accumulate and absorb information and reflect on these before going out and speaking. Looking back, I realize that as a learner, I was a sanguine observer who preferred to keep quiet and process the information before going out there and expressing myself.

Since we designed a program using the communicative language approach, the team activities might prove to be too overwhelming for the quiet ones, thereby compromising the results of the assessment. The initial silent period is a salient part of the learning process for the quiet ones and must be taken into consideration when planning assessments and activities.


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