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TEFL Masterclass – Grammar – What You Thought You Knew Is Wrong!

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Cristina Nicolaou – Experienced CELTA Trainer, University Lecturer & Examiner.

Cristina Nicolaou, with 15 years in ELT, is a CELTA trainer, Cambridge examiner (IELTS, BEC, FCE), and a TESOL Master’s holder from the University of Manchester. She’s pursuing a Ph.D., focused on student-centered, enjoyable classrooms that enhance communication between learners and the world.

What you will learn

Do you think you know everything about English grammar and another grammatical training session won’t teach you anything new?

Think again! This workshop focuses on some of the differences between the grammar both newly-qualified and in-service teachers teach and how they use the language themselves.

Based on her 15-year+ experience training newly-qualified and in-service teachers in the subtlety of English grammar, in this workshop Cristina focuses on the truth behind tenses and conditionals. 

Workshop Summary

Unveiling Grammar Myths

The speaker introduces her masterclass, “Grammar: What You Thought You Knew Is Wrong,” addressing the common fear surrounding grammar among students and teachers. She highlights the discrepancy between the grammar taught in educational settings and the grammar used in real life, particularly noting the struggle of non-native English-speaking teachers. 

The Reality of English Tenses

The seminar begins by challenging the traditional belief in the vast number of English tenses, clarifying that English actually has only two true tenses: past and present. This section emphasises that the concept of future tense in English, contrary to common teaching, does not exist as such but is expressed through auxiliary verbs. It further explains the versatility of the present tense, which can denote not only present actions but also future plans and past events in specific contexts, illustrating the distinction between time and tense.

Tense Versus Time

The speaker delves into the nuanced use of the past tense beyond its conventional role of describing past events. She discusses how the past tense can signify various forms of distance—temporal, hypothetical, or social—thereby introducing a layer of complexity in its usage. This discussion serves to highlight the misleading nature of traditional tense names, urging teachers to adopt a more nuanced understanding of grammar that transcends rigid categorizations.

Rethinking Conditional Sentences

Addressing the teaching of conditionals, the session exposes the limitations of the traditional four-conditionals model, which fails to encompass the diversity and flexibility found in actual language use. The speaker critiques this model for its restrictive nature and proposes a lexical approach as a more effective teaching method. This approach, focusing on the combination of familiar elements and meanings, allows for a more accurate reflection of how conditionals are used in real-life communication.

Grammar Teaching Reimagined

In her conclusion, the speaker advocates for a shift from established norms to a more nuanced understanding of language in grammar teaching. By acknowledging the limitations of traditional methods and embracing a flexible, meaning-focused approach, the speaker suggests that educators can significantly improve their teaching strategies. The session aims to demystify grammar, reduce teaching apprehensions, and highlight the language’s complexities, hoping to enrich students’ learning experiences.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Should teachers teach the grammatical rules in the book or the real rules of everyday language when it comes to tenses?
  2. Is the lexical approach teachable or even practical?
  3. Do you believe there is an order of acquisition when learning a foreign language?
  • Dave Willis. (1990). The Lexical Syllabus: A New Approach to Language Teaching. Collins CoBUILD.

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